How Does Hypnosis Work?

How Does Hypnosis Work?


Hypnosis won’t make you cluck like a chicken or jump up when a bell rings . . . unless you want it to.

These sorts of stage hypnosis antics have the unfortunate side effect of making people worry that if they get hypnotized they will do weird things they don’t want to do. The reality is people don’t come away from hypnosis doing anything that they don’t want to do.

If some people are up on the stage clucking like a chicken, then they are perfectly happy clucking like a chicken. They’ve come to the fair or TV show to have a good time and they’ve taken the opportunity to do something unusual.


You’re in control

Hypnosis is not “mind control.” You will only take in and absorb suggestions that are suitable for you.

Dr. David Spiegel, Associate Chair of Psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine, has addressed this common concern: “. . .hypnosis is not mind control. It’s a naturally occurring state of concentration. It’s actually a means of enhancing your control over both your mind and your body.”


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And the Mayo Clinic has this to say: “Hypnosis can be used to help you gain control over undesired behaviors or to help you cope better with anxiety or pain. It's important to know that although you're more open to suggestion during hypnosis, you don't lose control over your behavior.”


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How hypnosis works

Hypnosis helps you relax, much like in guided meditation or visualization, or yoga relaxation techniques.

Hypnosis gets past the busy conscious mind and accesses your subconscious.

As you are reading this now, your conscious and subconscious are both working. Your conscious is in the foreground and your subconscious is in the background. In hypnosis, we simply flip that: your subconscious is in the foreground and your conscious is in the background. But your conscious isn’t completely gone.

You may have conscious thoughts during hypnosis. They just tend to float on through. Some common ones are: “This is weird” or “I’m not hypnotized.”


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What hypnosis feels like

In hypnosis, you relax and focus inward.

There are times in your day when you experience brainwaves like those experienced in hypnosis, including:

  • just before going to sleep,
  • just after waking up, and
  • in the shower. (If you like taking long showers and tend to lose track of time.)

Long before I was trained in hypnosis, I realized that I seemed to go into a creative mental zone in the shower. If I had a problem that I was struggling to solve before I went into the shower, I often solved that problem before the shower was over without even trying. The answer just seemed to come to me. It is similar with hypnosis. It’s a very creative problem-solving space.

Also, if you’ve ever lost track of things while driving and suddenly realize “Wow, I’m here but my brain has been somewhere else for the last 5 miles” – you’ve experienced the hypnosis brainwaves. You got 5 miles down the road just fine because you’re subconscious knew what to do.


Does hypnosis really work?

Many people worry that they can’t be hypnotized, but the reality is that there isn’t some exact level of relaxation you need to reach in order for hypnosis to be effective in making change.

Whatever level of relaxation you get to can be effective.

With practice, you may be able to get to even deeper levels of consciousness and find the experience even more rewarding.

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What is Hypnotherapy?

Hypnotherapy is hypnosis that is used therapeutically.

Hypnotherapy is hypnosis, but not all hypnosis is hypnotherapy. (Stage hypnosis, for example, is not hypnotherapy.)

Since most of the time hypnosis is used therapeutically, hypnotherapy often goes by the term hypnosis.


  • gets past the busy conscious mind that tends to keep us stuck,
  • uses suggestions and guided experiences to effect change,
  • helps the subconscious mind get on board with conscious goals, and
  • helps you relax, much like in meditation, guided visualization, or yoga relaxation techniques.
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    Why working with the subconscious is so helpful

    Getting access to the subconscious mind is helpful because much of what we think and do is on automatic pilot controlled by the subconscious.

    Getting out of bed in the morning is a simple concrete example of this. When you wake up, you don’t consciously think “How do I get out of bed?” ”What do I do first?”

    You throw back the covers, swing your legs around to get out of bed, and put your feet on the floor and stand up, or perform whatever your routine is for getting out of bed. You don’t have to think about every step in the process because it was laid down in your subconscious long ago.

    The rules of how to be, what to do, even what to think, are laid down in your subconscious. These rules control your thoughts and behaviors without you being consciously aware of what’s happening.

    Sometimes the subconscious gets us into trouble.

    The subconscious rules of how to be may have been created long ago with the limited wisdom and resources of a child. They may have been created in response to conditions that no longer exist. They may be based on overgeneralizations or faulty thinking.

    Hypnotherapy helps you undo subconscious roadblocks that keep you stuck or hold you back from reaching your potential and your healthy goals. Hypnotherapy helps you get your subconscious onboard with your conscious goals.

    The best of the best is to work on issues both on the conscious and the subconscious levels. Then you’ve got all the bases covered.

    Hypnosis can help you reduce anxiety and stress, help build your self-confidence, or help stop you from reaching for that chocolate chip cookie. The list of issues that can be helped by hypnosis is almost endless.

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    Uses of hypnosis

    Hypnosis can help you:
    • quit smoking,
    • reduce anxiety,
    • relieve stress,
    • release emotional pain,
    • change habits,
    • lose weight,
    • get over test anxiety and performance anxiety,
    • overcome fear of flying and other phobias,
    • build self-confidence and self-esteem,
    • manage anger,
    • achieve and maintain your goals,
    • deal with transitions,
    • learn how to relax,
    • process grief and other emotions,
    • break free of depression,
    • overcome abuse,
    • maximize your potential,
    • and much more.

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    The Dynamic Duo: working with the conscious and subconscious for change

    When you address issues on both the conscious and subconscious levels you more than double your chances of making change happen. You get both levels of your mind working together instead of battling each other.

    Hypnosis/hypnotherapy can be used to supplement and complement other types of therapy or self-help education and skill-building so that both the conscious and subconscious are changing, growing, and developing together.

    “Hypnosis can boost the effectiveness of psychotherapy for some conditions. Another meta-analysis that examined the outcomes of people in 18 separate studies found that patients who received cognitive behavioral therapy plus hypnosis for disorders such as obesity, insomnia, anxiety and hypertension showed greater improvement than 70 percent of those who received psychotherapy alone.” Scientific American, May 2005, Michael R. Nash and Grant Benham.

    [Note: Hypnosis is a great tool for the vast majority of people, but its use is controversial for people with epilepsy or severe mental illness such as psychosis, so people with those conditions should consult their doctor before using hypnosis.] 

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    • Ann Silvers
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