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Hypnosis is a therapy that is used to focus a person's attention to a place where he or she feels in control. During hypnosis, a doctor suggests that a person experience a change in sensation, perception, thought, or behaviour. The person's attention is drawn away from the outside world or the area that may be causing problems. Attention is then refocused to the inner self. Someone experiencing hypnosis does not lose control over his or her behaviour. The person's attention and concentration are actually more focused. Participants usually describe hypnosis as:
  • an altered state of consciousness, focused attention, or deep relaxation
  • a pleasant and calming feeling
The state of being hypnotised makes it easier to accept and experience suggestions. Hypnosis does not force a person to do anything with these suggestions. It is not a treatment in and of itself. Hypnosis will not cure any underlying physical disorders but it can help with medical treatment.

Who is a candidate for the procedure?
Anyone who is hypnotisable may benefit from this procedure. Hypnosis may be used in many situations including: The very first session is usually used to see how well a person can accept suggestions. The therapist and person then set goals for each session. There are several tests that are commonly used to see if a person is a good candidate for hypnosis. These include:
  • Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scales. The therapist asks the person to complete 12 exercises. For example, the exercises may range from the person closing his or her eyes and falling forward, to imagining that they cannot lift a limb because it is too heavy.
  • Barber Suggestibility Scale. This scale uses 8 tasks. A person is asked to imagine different scenarios or perform easy tasks when the therapist makes certain sounds. The more exercises a person can complete, the greater the ability to receive hypnotic suggestions.
  • The Eye Roll Test. A person is asked to open his or her eyes and roll them up. Then he or she is asked to lower the eyelids without rolling the eyes down.
  • The Light Test. A person is asked to gaze at a small spot of light in a dark room. The more frequently a person sees the light move, the better the ability to be hypnotised.
  • The Lemon Test. A person is asked to imagine cutting and tasting a lemon. The more that he or she responds by salivating, the greater the chance of being hypnotised successfully.
None of these tests are foolproof. They do help the therapist figure out how well a person is likely to do under hypnosis. These tests also help determine whether work needs to be done first on improving the person's ability to accept suggestions.

How is the procedure performed?
A therapist will ask a person about to be hypnotised to get comfortable. Often the person will lie down. The therapist may use several different techniques to put the person under hypnosis, including having the person:
  • count backwards
  • watch an item sway back and forth
  • concentrate on the voice of the therapist
As the person becomes more and more relaxed, he or she allows the conscious mind to stop controlling and to accept suggestion. The therapist may suggest that the person begin to relax, visualise a peaceful scene, and move away from daily troubles and pains.

Once the person is fully relaxed, the therapist will make suggestions about the goals the person wants to achieve. For example, the goal may be to recall painful, yet buried memories. In this case, the therapist may ask the person to remember or regress into times past to find out what was going on when the uncomfortable feelings began. This is called regression hypnotherapy.

The therapist may also give posthypnotic suggestions that will help in achieving goals. For instance, a person may be asked to feel like exercising every time he or she smells fresh air. The therapist may suggest that a person ignore pain from a certain area of the body.

At the end of the session, a person is asked to wake up.

The trancelike state is very similar to daydreaming. In this situation, a person may become so lost in what he or she is doing that time is forgotten. During hypnosis, a person concentrates deeply and focuses on a particular subject, memory, sensation, or behaviour that they wish to understand or change.

What happens right after the procedure?
The hypnotherapist will ask the individual to wake up. If a person were not told to wake up by a hypnotherapist, he or she would simply fall asleep and wake up normally. Most people awake feeling fine. Some people feel sleepy for a few hours.

The hypnotherapist may also teach a person self-hypnosis. This technique can be learned from a professional, or from audiotapes, videotapes, or books. A self-hypnosis session usually contains these elements:
  • A person gets comfortable, lies down, and removes himself or herself from daily distractions and interruptions.
  • A trance is reached by concentrating on an object or scene while breathing slowly and deeply. The person may count backwards, think about relaxing, increase bodily sensations like heaviness or calmness, or use breathing to achieve a relaxed state.
  • A person may then speak out loud about what he or she wants to accomplish. He or she may also listen to a previously recorded tape with suggestions.
  • Waking up is achieved by reversing the image. For example, a person who started the hypnotic state by visualising walking into a meadow may end by leaving the meadow.
  • The person suggests that he or she awaken feeling refreshed and calm.
Sessions with a therapist are usually weekly. Self-hypnosis may be practiced each day.

What happens later at home?
A person who has been taught self-hypnosis may use this exercise daily to reinforce suggestions.

What are the potential complications after the procedure?
There are no real complications. Hypnosis does not cause anything to happen, but rather makes it easier for the person to achieve specific goals.

When people are relaxed and in a trancelike state, they are more open to suggestion. They can change the way they perceive situations, pain, addiction, or understand behaviour more completely. Hypnosis is a tool to help make changes.

Author: Terry Mason, MPH
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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