What Does Hypnosis or Hypnotherapy Feel Like?

Therapist working with patient on hypnosis
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Hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness, that is sometimes used in hypnotherapy to treat people with addictions. Although hypnotherapy is not typically the first line of treatment for people with addictions, there are many people who have successfully used it to quit smoking without any other interventions—and there are others who have tried it after relapsing. In fact, one study shows that hypnotherapy is even more effective than nicotine replacement therapy for quitting smoking.

Hypnotherapy can help with other addictions, as well, either on its own, or in combination with other therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. While it does not have the large body of research that some other therapies do, it is a very well-established approach that continues to be of interest to practitioners and researchers in the addictions field. If you have tried other treatments, and haven't yet successfully overcome your addiction, hypnotherapy might be worth considering.

What Is Hypnosis?

Like other states of consciousness, such as normal waking consciousness, sleep, dreaming, and intoxication from various drugs, the experience of hypnosis is unique to the person experiencing it. So although there are features of the hypnotic state that are common among people who are hypnotized, it is never exactly the same from one person to another, nor is it the same each time the same person is hypnotized.

Like all other states, it is highly affected by set and setting, and is somewhat unpredictable. However, many people are put off trying hypnotherapy because they have seen stage hypnotism or something like it on television, and fear that if they are hypnotized they will lose control, do something embarrassing, or that they will find the experience unpleasant.

Most of the time, the opposite is true. Hypnotherapeutic hypnosis is different from stage hypnosis, which is induced for the entertainment of an audience.

This article describes some common feelings and thought processes people tend to experience while undergoing hypnosis for therapeutic purposes. As hypnosis is experienced differently by people each time they are hypnotized, the description is not going to be an exact fit for every hypnotic subject all of the time. However, if you are considering hypnotherapy, it will give you an idea of what to expect.

Relaxation

Relaxation is a central aspect of hypnosis, and involves both mental and physical relaxation. Hypnosis does not actually cause relaxation per se, rather, the process of hypnotic induction involves you following the hypnotherapist's suggestions that you relax your mind and body. For example, the hypnotherapist might suggest a feeling of heaviness in one or more parts of your body. Because hypnosis is a collaborative process between the hypnotherapist and client, you might feel inclined to notice a feeling of heaviness in the body part(s) suggested, but it is actually you, not the therapist, who is causing the relaxation.

Unlike the way that hypnosis is often portrayed, where a hypnotic subject carries out the orders of a hypnotist, the suggestions made by the hypnotherapist are typically communicated as an invitation, not a command.

As you think about the suggestions the hypnotherapist makes, you might find yourself thinking something like, "Actually, it would be really nice to relax right now," then find it quite easy to let go of tension, and relax. There is no "have to" about it.

Intense Focus

Another feature of hypnosis is a particular kind of intense mental focus. As with relaxation, this is entirely under the control of the person being hypnotized, not the therapist. Because hypnotherapy typically takes place in a private, quiet space, focusing on the words of the therapist is usually quite natural and straightforward.

Most people find it easy to let go of distractions, and to focus their attention of the topic the hypnotherapist is talking about.

The therapist is trained to guide your thought processes in a particular way, that is known to be beneficial in the process of overcoming addictive behavioral, controlling pain, or helping with a variety of other mental, emotional, and behavioral problems, so people under hypnosis will naturally focus on what the therapist is saying.

With the agreement, called "informed consent," that all good therapists will make with clients before beginning hypnotherapy, you will have already decided with the hypnotherapist the reason you are seeking treatment, and what your goals are for therapy. The therapist will lead the process in a way that allows you to think about your addiction and related problems in a focused way. However, because care is taken to ensure you are relaxed and calm, it is not usually overwhelming, in the way it can be when you have a lot of conflicting information to process.

Open-mindedness

When people engage in counseling for addictive behaviors, they typically think of many reasons why the helpful suggestions of the counselor won't work. It can become a long series of "yes, buts." When people are under hypnosis, they often become more open to considering possibilities than they are in their normal, wide-awake state. This open-mindedness can, in some people, lead to an incredible sense of personal power, in which the person realizes they are capable of much more than they previously thought possible.

Again, this open-mindedness should not be confused with a lack of control. Although people under hypnosis might find themselves considering things they would not normally, they don't typically do anything that would violate their value system. Instead, there is a sense of possibilities that weren't apparent before, coupled with a willingness to see things differently. Sometimes, people realize their problems with addiction are worsened by inflexible ways of thinking, that disappear under hypnosis.

Sensory Changes

Hypnosis is well known for its ability to induce unusual sensory experiences, most notably, to allow people to experience sensations such as pain differently from usual. This effect is so profound, that some people have even undergone surgery without an anesthetic. It can also produce differences in the way that visual and auditory sensations are experienced.

As with other aspects of hypnosis, these changes are controlled by the person under hypnosis, not by the hypnotherapist, who is simply offering suggestions. Pain perception, for example, is strongly influenced by the level of anxiety being experienced by the person in pain. In a state of deep relaxation, many people find that without the anxiety present, they are more able to disconnect from pain. Which leads to the final aspect of hypnosis, detachment.

Detachment

Under hypnosis, some people experience a sense of detachment, as if they are slightly removed from what they are experiencing. Some people describe this as observing themselves, as if from outside, or as if they are a character on a TV screen. However, people under hypnosis continue to be aware of where they are, and what they are doing.

This feeling of detachment can range from feeling involved in the hypnotic process, yet observing it as if from an outside point of view simultaneously, to flipping back and forth between watching from the outside to being involved in the experience. Some people don't get this observer effect at all, whereas for others, it is very apparent. People can sometimes find this feeling of detachment can help them see situations more objectively, without being caught up in their usual emotions.

A Word From Verywell

The way people typically describe the feeling of being hypnotized, during hypnotherapy, is to be in a calm, physically, and mentally relaxed state, in which they are able to focus deeply on what they are thinking about. They usually feel open-minded, and willing to think about and experience life differently, often in a more detached way than usual.

That said, there is no right way to feel when undergoing hypnosis. If you are curious about trying hypnotherapy as a way of treating addiction, make sure that the person you are working with is qualified to treat you. For example, your state psychology licensing board should be able to direct you to psychologists who are qualified in hypnotherapy. A range of health professionals can be trained in hypnotherapy, including physicians, nurses, and dentists, although it is not usually part of their standard training.

Sources:

Alladin, A.. Cognitive hypnotherapy: a new vision and strategy for research and practice. The American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 54(4), 249-262. 2012.

Golabadi, M., Taban, H., Yaghoubi, M., & Gholamrzaei, A. Hypnotherapy in the treatment of opium addiction: a pilot study. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal, 11(3), 19-23. 2012.

Hasan, F.M, Zagarins, SE, Pischke, KM, et al. Hypnotherapy is more effective than nicotine replacement therapy for smoking cessation: Results of a randomized controlled trial. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 22(1), 1-8.2014. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2013.12.012

Laurence, J. & Perry, C. The hidden observer phenomenon in hypnosis: some additional findings. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 90:4, 334-344. 1981.

Zelig, J. The Induction of Hypnosis: An Ericksonian Elicitation Technique. 1st edition. Phoenix, AZ: Milton H. Erickson Foundation Press. 2014.

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