What is Hypnosis?

Hypnosis is a very particular state of mind.", Faymonville, Maquet and Laureys; La Recherche

Painting of Hypnos, the winged Greek god of sleep flying with his mother, Nyx.

The term “hypnosis” comes from the Greek word for sleep,  hypnos. However, the state of hypnosis, or trance,  is actually a kind of daydreamy state somewhere between being fully awake and sleep.  It is an altered state of consciousness, similar to but distinguishable from the one seen in meditation.  Indeed, hypnosis is a specific state of the brain unlike any other, as by a group of French researchers in 1998 who did brain scans of persons in a state of hypnosis.

It is a state of focused relaxation that is particularly conducive to learning.  In neurological terms, it increases neuroplasticity.  In psychological terms, it is a state of mind which allows you to bypass the limits of your conscious mind and access vast resources of your unconscious mind.  In practical terms, you can think of hypnosis as a state where accelerated learning (and thus changes) can occur.

This aspect of hypnosis has profound implications in therapy.  It is already known that successful psychotherapy can cause physical and biochemical modifications of the brain. The brain literally changes because it is learning new things.   Thus if hypnosis provides a boosting effect on learning,  you can imagine how psychotherapy in the hypnotic state can have profound effects in a very short period of  time.  This is the magic of hypnosis, and I have seen this effect in myself and others.  Studies have confirmed this effect as well.

There are probably as many definitions of hypnotherapy as there are hypnotherapists.  Below are a few:

From Richard Bandler, co-founder of NLP, hypnotherapist, and author:

“ Hypnosis can be thought of as a learning state in which we can optimize our thinking and refine our strategies.”

“By definition, we have to alter our state of consciousness to learn something new.  Hypnosis not only facilitates this but allows us to minimize or remove past experiences and to create and install in their place newer, more useful, and more appropriate states.  With hypnosis, we can help people discover choices and explore them.”  

From the Mayo Clinic:

“Hypnosis, also referred to as hypnotherapy or hypnotic suggestion, is a trance-like state in which you have heightened focus, concentration and inner absorption. When you’re under hypnosis, you usually feel calm and relaxed, and you can concentrate intensely on a specific thought, memory, feeling or sensation while blocking out distractions.

Under hypnosis, you’re more open than usual to suggestions, and this can be used to modify your perceptions, behavior, sensations and emotions. Therapeutic hypnosis is used to improve your health and well-being and is different from so-called stage hypnosis used by entertainers. Although you’re more open to suggestion during therapeutic hypnosis, your free will remains intact and you don’t lose control over your behavior.”   

From William Broom, Chief Executive and Registrar, The General Hypnotherapy Standards Council, UK

“Hypnosis is a state of mind, enhanced by (although not exclusively) mental or physical relaxation, in which our subconscious is able to communicate with our conscious mind.  It may be better to define hypnosis by what it does rather than what it is, and in this regard, it is widely accepted as a most excellent method by which we may access our inner potential.”  

From Melissa Tiers, New York hypnotherapist and author

All of hypnosis is self-hypnosis.  It’s an inside job.  And it’s a state of mind that you dip in and out of all the time.  You can think of it as a state of focused awareness, where you can push aside that judging, analyzing part of the conscious mind and it leads you to a state of heightened suggestibility.  This makes it easy to make changes.