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What is Hypnotherapy?

Hypnosis – On the Stage, On the Street, or in the Therapy Room...

What exactly is hypnotherapy, what is it all about and what has the hypnosis that gets used in the therapy room have in common with the kind of hypnosis we see used in other settings such as the stage and on the street?

These are questions that I get asked a lot by clients when they first get in touch with me and it’s understandable as it’s an area that generates a lot of confusion.

There is a good chance that the explanations I will be providing here might go against some of what you’ve heard about hypnosis and hypnotherapy before this so do keep an open mind and prepare to move beyond stereotypes.

"Until you are willing to be confused about what you already know, what you know will never grow bigger, better, or more useful." Milton H Erickson

What Is Hypnotherapy?

The most concise way that I can explain what hypnotherapy is to a client, in terms of the way that I work, is that

- In hypnotherapy, we have two sides of the coin. We have hypnosis on one side of the coin and we have therapy on the other side. During hypnotherapy we bring the skills involved in hypnosis and we combine these skills with particular types of therapy techniques with the aim of helping clients overcome whatever problem they have brought to the therapy room.

In terms of the type of therapy you should expect to receive- this will depend on the individual hypnotherapist that you see and the school of therapy they have been influenced by. In my own hypnotherapy practice, I combine the skills of hypnosis along with techniques and practices that come from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).

So, on one hand we have the therapy, and on the other hand we have the hypnosis and it is the hypnosis side of things where clients can become confused about what they should expect and how they should understand what’s happening.

What Is Hypnosis?

In my experience of speaking to clients, part of the reason there is confusion around hypnosis is due to the fact that this crops up in settings which bear no relation to a therapy setting – such as the hypnosis we see in stage shows. However, the fact that hypnosis can be applied in such varied conditions, I believe, makes it a point of interest rather than something we should be overlooking.

I’ve heard a lot of hypnotherapists tell their clients that hypnosis in the therapy room is not the same as the hypnosis that takes place on the stage or on the street. This is often said as a way to reassure clients.

While the hypnosis that’s happening in the therapy room does obviously differ in many ways to hypnosis on the stage, it’s also true that there are similarities involved that are missed, or misunderstood by many hypnotherapists. So, let me explain what I mean.

1. Hypnosis is About Creating Experience

One of the best ways to understand Hypnosis, wherever it is used, is to say that Hypnosis is about creating experience. Whether we’re referring to stage hypnosis or the hypnosis involved in hypnotherapy, what the hypnotist is doing is creating an experience for and with the hypnotised person.

On the stage, the experience created is usually intended to make the audience laugh and forms part of a comedy routine. Most of us are aware of the ‘dancing like a chicken’ cliché. In street hypnosis, this could be that the volunteer experiences their foot as being stuck to the ground.

In the therapy room, the experience created through hypnosis might be the experience of feeling calm, or more positive, or confident or resourceful or self-aware, or the experience of insight, or experiencing a high performance state.

These certainly tend to be the kind of experiences that I generate with and for the clients that I see.

Now, there are lots of different elements that go into the way this experience is created. There are also many myths that surround hypnosis and what it is that’s happening during the process.

2. Hypnosis Does Not Happen to You. It Happens with You.

The hypnosis experience is not happening TO the hypnotised person; it is happening WITH them. The person being hypnotised is a willing participant in the experience. They have volunteered or asked for the experience and then, although the circumstances are different in each case, they participate in and co-create the experience as it unfolds.

This point is crucial and I realise it might be a different way of understanding hypnosis to what you’ve previously been told about hypnosis


The person who goes up on stage is participating in and engaging in the experience as someone who wants to take part in the stage show, just as the client who comes to the hypnotherapist also engages in the hypnotherapy process and contributes to the direction this takes.

Stage hypnosis often looks like it’s being done TO the participant, as though the person on stage is being subjected to an experience that’s out of their control. BUT the fact is that that the person who volunteered for the hypnosis experience is collaborating in the experience by following the hypnotist’s instructions and using their imagination and their mind in the way the hypnotist is suggesting.

Hypnosis is a process that you take part in and engage with. It involves the use of focus and attention and is a process of directing the mind so that it begins to work for you and not against you. It is a process of directing your mind to change your experience in a way that serves you.

There are hypnotherapists who will tell you all you need to do is lie back, and drift off while your subconscious mind takes care of things for you. This is not, in my opinion, a sound working methodology and this is not what you get with me.

When you come to see me, you actively engage in the process. You become an active contributor to the change you want to see. This makes our work together exciting, fun and productive. It also puts you in the driving seat of what you want to achieve from our sessions together.

Hypnosis is not a passive experience where you, the client, close your eyes and wait for something to happen. It is a process that you take part in, you do your best to follow any instructions I give you and you engage your imagination with the suggestions.

This is when we get great results together.

3. Hypnosis is About Becoming Absorbed

A key component of the hypnotic process is the subject, or the client’s ability to become really absorbed in the suggestions being given to them. To really indulge their imagination for the duration of the experience in order to co-create the hypnotic experience. Some people are able to do this quite naturally, however this is also a skill which can be tapped into and improved. When a client finds that they struggle with the ability to become absorbed in suggestion, this is a skill which I help them develop from one session to the next.

And it is in this way that hypnosis and hypnotherapy become something that is engaged in, not something that is done TO the person involved.

4. Hypnosis is Not a State of Relaxation

Hypnosis and hypnotherapy do often feel very relaxing, however hypnosis in itself is not a state of relaxation. Hypnosis is a vehicle for experience and therefore it can be used very successfully to create the experience of relaxation. This however is not the same thing as hypnosis being a state of relaxation- a claim that is often made by hypnotherapists. Many of the clients that I work with have come to me with anxiety related issues and in this context, delivering relaxation through hypnosis can be incredibly effective, yet this should be understood as one of the uses of hypnosis rather than one of its properties.


In my opinion, the fact that hypnosis and hypnotherapy are so much more than a state of relaxation is something to be excited about.

Regardless of where it is taking place, hypnosis is about the creation of an experience; an experience that the client or the subject plays an active role in. This is something that is true of hypnosis on the stage as well as hypnosis in the therapy room. The similarities between the hypnosis that happens on the stage and in the therapy room is something to be embraced and celebrated. This is what allows us to bring the creativity and fun and potential of hypnosis into the therapy room and this is the very thing that distinguishes hypnotherapy from other types of therapy and makes it unique and can also make it incredibly effective. I think this is something to be celebrated and understood further.


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