Overview: What is hypnotherapy? And how does it differ from hypnosis? This guide provides an overview of what hypnotherapy is, how it works, and key differences between hypnosis and traditional therapies. 

For centuries, scientists, physicians and researchers have tried to answer a simple question: Does hypnotherapy provide medical benefits?

Today, we have decades worth of research that says it does. Hypnotherapy offers numerous benefits, from helping people quit smoking to reducing anxiety.

So what is hypnotherapy? And how is it different than hypnosis?

In short, hypnotherapy is the use of hypnosis for therapy and behavior modification.

We like to say that hypnotherapy is meditation with a goal. The hypnotic state is very similar to a meditative state. However, in this deeply relaxed state, the subconscious becomes more responsive to suggestions. 

In other words, you can provide suggestions directly to the subconscious mind, which holds all of our fears, emotional attachments, triggers, habits, and values. These suggestions help to dislodge negative thinking patterns that hold problematic behaviors in place. Ultimately, through repetition, hypnotherapy is very effective, and the research continues to back this up. 

Hypnotherapy vs Hypnosis: Key Differences

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The words “hypnosis” and “hypnotherapy” are used interchangeably. But there’s a key distinction between the two. Hypnosis describes the state, while hypnotherapy describes the process. 

There are three hypnotherapy terms that help to illustrate this point:

  • Hypnosis: This is a relaxed, deeply focused state, that's similar to the meditative state. We reach this after following an induction that might include focused breathing, visualization, or reciting a countdown.
  • Hypnotism: This refers to the process of reaching the hypnotic state. You can listen to a hypnosis recording, work with a certified hypnotherapist, or follow a script.
  • Hypnotherapy: Hypnotherapy is simply using hypnosis for a specific, therapeutic purpose, e.g. de-stressing, quitting a bad habit, or improving self-esteem.

Ultimately, if you've used hypnosis for a purpose, you've practiced hypnotherapy. For example, if you were to listen to a sleep hypnosis recording, this is hypnotherapy for insomnia or to improve sleep.

Who Can Perform Hypnotherapy?

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There are two forms of hypnotherapy: Self-hypnosis and one-on-one hypnotherapy. 

Self-hypnosis means practicing hypnotherapy by yourself. You can listen recordings on a hypnotherapy app. These recordings include an induction, as well as self-improvement suggestions.

However, you can also work with a certified hypnotherapist. Hypnotherapists are highly trained and offer a personalized experience. As you look for a hypnotherapist, you should pay particular attention to: 

  • Training: Hypnotherapists must undergo training prior to practicing, and often spend many more hours earning certification. Hypnotherapy certification often requires classroom and online coursework, and most receive in-person training with real-life patients. 
  • Competence: Thanks to the added training, hypnotherapists generally have broader knowledge of hypnosis. Therefore, hypnotherapists have a wider range of techniques to draw from, including re-learning, reframing, regression, root-cause and self-identification. 
  • Effectiveness: The best hypnotherapists tailor treatment plans. Therefore, they can more effectively identify negative behaviors in the subconscious, and they’re more qualified to remove and reframe these behaviors and thought patterns.   

Ultimately, many start with self-hypnosis or use both methods in tandem. Generally, hypnotherapy works best through repetition. The more times we can provide our subconscious with new beliefs, the more they stick.

Hypnotherapy vs Traditional Therapies: Key Differences

Increasingly, hypnotherapy is used for medicinal purposes. This is a recent trend. The medical establishment began endorsing the use of clinical hypnosis beginning in the 1950s.

Now, the list of healthcare providers that prescribe hypnosis includes some of the world’s top healthcare facilities, including the Mayo Clinic and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Promising research fuels this trend. In fact, some research suggests hypnotherapy is more effective than traditional therapy.

A classic hypnosis study found that, on average, patients required just six hypnotherapy sessions with a 93-percent recovery rate. Psychoanalysis, on the other hand, required roughly 600 sessions with just a 38-percent recovery rate.

How Does Hypnotherapy Work?

Hypnotherapy – whether performed by a hypnotherapist or yourself – helps you identify problematic thought patterns and behaviors. A hypnotherapist will spend time learning a client’s behaviors, the thoughts and thinking patterns that keep those behaviors in place, and the creation of a strategy for overcoming a negative behavior on an individual basis.

However, you can perform these assessments on your own. In particular, as you start hypnotherapy, you can expect four key steps:

1. Isolating Behaviors

At the subconscious level, many of habits and compulsions form over years. Our brains our hardwired to keep the habit in place, and we’re oblivious to how these subconscious thoughts control our actions.

In hypnotherapy, you spend time learning about your negative behaviors and triggers. You might do this by yourself or with a hypnotherapy coachUltimately, the goal is to determine the subconscious thinking that’s keeping the behavior in place.

For example, a procrastinator might be subconsciously motivated by the pleasure/pain principle. They’re avoiding a task like work or study because of the perceived pain. “It will be hard!” A hypnotherapy plan would then seek to reframe how the individual views work, e.g. that completing tasks can be pleasurable.

2. Developing Strategies

Once you've identified the limiting beliefs and negative attachments, you can develop a hypnotherapy plan to make changes. You might include

For overcoming procrastination, both a hypnotherapist and a psychologist might suggest using a kitchen timer. However, for this strategy to be effective, we have to remove the unconscious attachments – the fear of a task being hard – for long-term success.

Ultimately, you might find a hypnosis recording series that includes a program, or your hypnotherapist will develop a plan for sessions.

3. Suggestions Aligned to Your Goals

When you enter a state of hypnosis, your mind is highly suggestible, and because of this, you can begin to reframe the negative thought patterns that are holding behaviors (like procrastination) in place.

For example, let’s say you’re hoping to overcome procrastination. The hypnotherapist will guide you into hypnosis. Once you’ve achieved this hyper-focused, relaxed state, the hypnotherapist will provide tailored suggestions designed to help you overcome and reframe your existing subconscious thoughts.

For procrastination, the suggestion might be: “Working in 30-minute intervals should be a priority in your life. Because you’re working for just a half hour, work will come more easily. And it will feel more manageable than the past.”

Ultimately, because the subconscious is so suggestible, this suggestion is much more likely to “stick.” In other words, you’re reversing the negative thoughts that encourage you procrastination. 

4. Reinforcing the Strategy 

Hypnotherapy is a process. Many people will begin to see results after a single session, but for those results to stick long-term, the strategy requires maintenance.

During follow-up sessions, the hypnotherapist will guide you through exercises to reinforce the new behavior and make it stronger and stronger. Over time and with the proper technique, you can completely transform old, automatic subconscious thoughts. If you're working by yourself, you'll need to regularly listen to hypnotherapy recordings to make this stick.

Also, a hypnotherapist can help to improve upon results. For example, if the results were subtle following your first session, the hypnotherapist may choose another strategy to help you overcome procrastination.

What Can Hypnotherapy Help With?

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Hypnotherapy offers support for numerous conditions, habits, fears, and self-improvements.

Some of the most common uses for hypnotherapy include:

  • Compulsive behaviors – Compulsions like overeating or procrastination are rooted in faulty subconscious thinking patterns and associations. Hypnosis can help you identify these negative associations and develop strategies for overcoming them.
  • Phobias and Fears – Claustrophobia, fear of flying, or fear of the dentist may be the result of automatic, irrational thinking that has hijacked our conscious thought processes. Hypnosis provides a means for quieting these irrational thoughts.
  • Addictions – Addiction transforms the subconscious through repetition. Hypnosis works by attaching new emotions to the habit and reframing these automatic thinking process. For example, using hypnosis to quit smoking, we might attach the negative physical symptoms to the habit. 
  • Depression and Anxiety – Anxiety becomes a feedback loop of negativity in the mind. Hypnotherapy can help us isolate the root cause of our depression or anxiety and provide strategies to help quiet these negative thinking patterns.
  • Stress – Our subconscious thoughts triggers and amplify stress. Therefore, by using hypnosis to relieve stress, we can begin gain a firmer grasp on stress and reduce the number of stressors in our lives.  

This is just a short list of the most common uses for hypnosis. There are many more. If you’re curious if hypnotherapy can help you, reach out to a certified hypnotherapist.

What Does the Research Say About Hypnotherapy?

It would be impossible to highlight all of the research that has found hypnosis to be effective in medical treatment. But the short answer is that: When administered by a professional, and when used as a therapeutic device, hypnosis can be extremely effective. Here’s a look at some of the research:

  •  Surgical Pain Management: A 1998 study found that hypnosis provided improved comfort during surgery, reduced pain and anxiety post-op, as well as faster recovery.
  •  Smoking Cessation: A 2007 study found that compared to other types of smoking cessation methods (including cold turkey and nicotine replacement) hypnotherapy was much more effective at helping smokers quit. At six months, 50 percent of the hypnotherapy group were non-smokers compared to just 16 percent in the nicotine replacement therapy group.
  • Sleep Issues: A 2008 study looked at children and adolescents who were suffering from sleep issues like insomnia and nighttime awakenings. Following treatment with hypnotherapy, 87 percent of patients said their symptoms were significantly or completely resolved.
  • Stress: A 2013 Swedish study found that after two weeks of self-guided hypnotherapy, patients experienced a medium-to-strong reduction of stress. Similarly, a 1994 study found that students who received hypnotherapy prior to exams showed less exam anxiety and improved performance.

Getting Started on Your Hypnotherapy Journey

Ultimately, you have three methods for getting started with hypnotherapy: One-on-one sessions, hypnotherapy books, and our hypnotherapy app.

If you're skeptical, we recommend starting with our app. There are recordings and series designed for a variety of conditions, including cellphone addiction, quitting sugar, overcoming social anxiety, and much more.