What is clinical hypnosis (hypnotherapy)?

When talking about clinical hypnosis some people use the term 'hypnotherapy'. The name 'hypnotherapy' is misleading though - hypnosis is not really a therapy in its own right. Hypnosis is better thought of as a 'tool' - it is a way of using hypnosis to achieve certain goals. In the same way that a mechanic will have an understanding of engineering, good hypnotherapists will have had training in models of human emotion and behaviour. If you want to have therapy involving hypnosis you should make sure that your therapist has had training in at least one model of therapy (such as CBT, or psychodynamic psychotherapy) before they completed additional training in hypnotherapy.

Definition of hypnotherapy

There are many different models and types of therapy. It is helpful to ask what model(s) your therapist has training in.

Model of therapyTools or techniques used in therapy
  • Cogntive Behavioural Therapy
  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy
  • Person-centred counselling
  • Cognitive analytic therapy
  • Humanistic therapy
  • Solution-focused therapy
  • Identifying unhelpful thinking styles
  • Relaxation
  • Changing unhelpful behaviours
  • Hypnosis & suggestions
  • EMDR
  • Free association
  • Exposure to a feared situation

What happens in a hypnotherapy session?

This very much depends on the therapist, the patient, and the problem being worked on. It would be normal for the therapist to guide the patient into a state of hypnosis with a 'hypnotic induction'. This might involve any of the following: instructions for relaxation, pleasant imagery, counting down, or suggestions for relaxation and deepening. Once hypotised there are many options, which may differ considerably depending upon the therapeutic orientation of the therapist:

Direct suggestion to alter a sensation

In some cases a therapist might give a direct suggestion (e.g. "as you focus on being in that pleasant place you can allow the intensity of that [sensation/pain/nausea] to reduce").

Revisiting and processing troublesome memories

Alternatively the therapist might help the client revisit memories from the past. If the therapist believes that particular memories of an event are causing difficulties, these might be identified, watched, and 'resolved' or 'processed' in different ways. For example, the therapist might invite the client to 'watch' a traumatic memory on a tv screen.

Exploring the origins of a problem

Hypnotic techniques can be used to explore the origins of a problem. According to some psychological models a cause of current distress can be unresolved emotion related to past events - but to which the client may have forgotten. One common way of uncovering the original event this is to use an 'affect bridge' technique. In this technique the client identifies a time in the present when they felt a certain emotion (e.g. shame) and might be invited to "allow your mind to find another significant event from your past when you felt the same way".

Will I remember what happens in a hypnotherapy session?

In the same way that hypnosis on its own doesn't affect memory, hypnotherapy will not affect memory either. Memory is typically only affected if a suggestion is given for forgetting (e.g if the hypnotist gives a suggestion such as "you will not remember anything from this session when you wake up")


About & contact

What is hypnosis?
Definitions of hypnosis
Types of suggestion
Scientific theories of hypnosis
History of hypnosis
Animal hypnosis
Key people in hypnosis
Demand characteristics
Scientific research
States of consciousness
Modification of suggestibility
Attention and hypnosis
Pain research
Hypnosis as a research tool
Genes and hypnotizability
What is hypnotherapy?
Is it effective?
Finding a therapist
Irritable bowel syndrome
Weight loss
Hypnosis research papers
Suggestibility scales
Book reviews

© 2007-2019 Dr Matthew Whalley