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What is Clinical Hypnosis?

By Marlene Garcia
Updated May 17, 2024
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Clinical hypnosis is a form of therapy that uses the unconscious mind to solve problems or raise awareness of past events that affect a person's life. It can be effective to address bad habits, increase self-confidence, and manage pain. A clinical hypnosis session, if successful, transforms the patient into a deep state of relaxation where he or she can focus on a specific thought or idea. During this state, the conscious mind becomes quiet and free of random thoughts.

The therapist might use a hypnotism script discussed in advance with the patient to offer suggestions while he or she is hypnotized. The suggestions can be tailored to the specific issue that is interfering with the patient's enjoyment of life, such as sexual difficulties or preparing for an important job interview. Other uses of clinical hypnosis include medical hypnotism to manage chronic pain or reduce discomfort during childbirth.

Imagery is a common tool used in clinical hypnosis to put the patient into a deep trance-like state. The therapist might encourage the patient to visualize a place that is peaceful and calm to facilitate total relaxation. Once the person is fully relaxed, imagery can be used by the patient's unconscious mind to envision the results desired. For example, he or she can visualize facing a fearful situation and overcoming it.

Some people believe hypnotherapy causes them to lose control of their thoughts or actions. These myths likely stem from movies that show hypnotized subjects in a zombie state and at the complete control of the hypnotist. Hypnotized people are not asleep and are aware of everything that is happening. They can bring themselves out of the trance at any time, and cannot be forced to do anything that goes against their moral values. Clinical hypnotism is similar to meditation or daydreaming, when the mind is focused on a narrow concept.

Not all people can be put under hypnosis. Clinical hypnotists are not sure why some people are more receptive to hypnosis than others. Also, no clear evidence shows why some people benefit from clinical hypnosis while others do not. Sometimes practice with self-hypnosis can reduce a person's resistance to hypnotherapy and help him or her attain a state of deep relaxation.

Although hypnosis is not considered dangerous, it is not recommended for those with serious mental conditions, or for young children with short attention spans. When clinical hypnosis is used to retrieve childhood memories, especially if they are painful, it might produce "false memories" that never happened. Hypnosis is also not suggested for medical problems that need the attention of a physician.

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