How does hypnotherapy work? Here we take a closer look at what hypnotherapy can help with and what to expect in a session

Hypnotherapy is one of those therapies that seems to be shrouded in mystery. Many of us have heard of it and may even have preconceived notions, but often we don’t know exactly what it is and how it can help. This sense of the unknown can stop us from looking at it as a viable option, which is a shame.

The beauty of the therapy world is that there are so many different options: from traditional talking therapies and life coaching to complementary therapies and hypnotherapy.

We always recommend discussing therapies with your doctor if you’re looking for support with a physical or mental illness and following their advice. In some cases, hypnotherapy can be used alongside counselling or other therapies, or you may turn to it when other approaches have failed.

To start with then – what exactly is hypnotherapy? It’s a therapy that works on the subconscious, the part of our mind we’re not consciously aware of. The subconscious is responsible for a great deal of thought processes and behaviours; the aim of hypnotherapy is to encourage positive change by communicating with it.

How does hypnotherapy work?

In order to communicate with your subconscious, you’ll need to be put into a hypnotic state. This may sound a little scary, but really it is just a very deep relaxation. You will still be completely aware of what’s happening around you. Speaking with us to dispel hypnotherapy myths, hypnotherapist Lorraine McReight explains:

“In hypnosis, a person will be more open to suggestion and therefore able to change patterns of behaviour that are unhelpful, but no one can make you do anything you don’t want to do.”

When you are in this state, your hypnotherapist will use suggestion techniques to talk to your subconscious. The idea is to help you uncover root causes of issues, change thought patterns and ultimately change behaviour. There are different tools and techniques hypnotherapists can use here, depending on what you need support with.

You may need multiple sessions or just one – again this will depend on what you’re seeking help for. Many hypnotherapists will also teach you self-hypnosis techniques so you can continue the work outside of your sessions.

What can hypnotherapy help with?

Hypnotherapy can be used for lots of different concerns. Any issue that could have roots in the way you think and behave may be addressed. Having said this, there are certain conditions that are believed to not be helped by hypnotherapy, including psychosis and personality disorders.

The most popular ways hypnotherapy can help is by changing habits, helping with stress-related conditions and easing anxiety. Here we look at some common issues that can be addressed with hypnotherapy.

Changing habits

Habits become hardwired into our subconscious which can make them difficult to change using willpower alone. If you have habits or behaviours you’re looking to alter, hypnotherapy may be able to support you. By suggesting different reactions and more positive behaviours, many people find success. Two areas people often turn to hypnotherapy for are changing eating habits and quitting smoking.

Eating habits – If you’re unhappy with your eating habits and your relationship with food, hypnotherapy could help. Many of us have a complex relationship with food and we may turn to it as a source of comfort. If this relationship becomes unhealthy and you’re looking for support with weight management, hypnotherapy can help you make positive and healthy changes.

Quitting smoking – There are several different methods to try and quit smoking, from going cold turkey to using nicotine replacement therapy. Hypnotherapy can be a great complement to these, or a stand-alone method to quit smoking. The aim of hypnotherapy is to break the thinking patterns associated with smoking.

Hypnotherapist Gavin Roberts explains, “Through hypnosis, your unconscious can generate healthy alternative behaviours which you will carry out automatically. In effect, your stop smoking hypnosis session will reprogram your unconscious mind to produce the same positive intentions that you believe cigarettes have given you but in far healthier and normal ways. The human body was never designed to smoke, it is not a ‘normal’ behaviour.”

When stress builds up it can really affect us, both physically and mentally. Hypnotherapy for stress looks to change negative responses to stress and offer a more healthy alternative. As well as helping with stress in general, hypnotherapy can help with many stress-related conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and sleep problems.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) The link between our digestive system and our brain is becoming more and more apparent. IBS, for example, is known to be triggered by stress. So by easing stress, symptoms can be reduced. Learning how to manage stress through hypnotherapy can therefore be very helpful for those with IBS.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) even recognise hypnotherapy as a treatment option for IBS.

Insomnia – Stress can often lead to problems sleeping and may lead to insomnia. When you struggle to sleep, the cycle of not sleeping and worrying about not sleeping can become a pattern in our subconscious. This is where hypnotherapy can help – by speaking to the subconscious and changing these thought patterns.

Another area hypnotherapy is proving to be powerful in is anxiety and anxiety-related conditions. Encouraging relaxation and new responses to stress, this approach can, in some cases, reach parts of the mind other therapies can’t.

Anxiety – The suggestions used in hypnotherapy to help with anxiety will depend on what specifically triggers you. Penny Ling spoke to us to explain why hypnotherapy for anxiety can be so powerful.

“Hypnotherapy works exceptionally well for anxiety. Many hypnotherapists find progressive relaxation very useful to help a person go into the trance state. We are allowing a person to be aware of the tension they’re carrying around with them, and to relax those muscles. By the time we work on the issue, the person is in a lovely relaxed state. It's like having a mental massage.”

Phobias – Phobias generally live in our subconscious, making them ideal to approach with hypnotherapy. Your sessions may include understanding what first triggered your phobia and offering positive suggestions to change the way you think and feel about the phobia in question.

What happens in a hypnotherapy session?

If you’ve made the decision to try hypnotherapy, having a clearer idea of what will happen in your session can be helpful. It’s important to note that hypnotherapists may differ in their approach and sessions will vary depending on your individual circumstances.

With this in mind, hypnotherapists will typically begin with a consultation. This is where you can discuss what you’re hoping to gain from hypnotherapy and they explain how it will be able to help. You’ll be able to discuss here how many sessions you’ll need and ask any questions you may have about the process.

After your consultation, many sessions will follow this pattern:

  • An initial chat where you can ask any more questions and get comfortable.
  • Induction. You will be led into a state of deep relaxation by your hypnotherapist.
  • Once you are in a state of hypnosis the 'change work' can begin. Various techniques and approaches will be used here to help you achieve your goal.
  • Once this is complete, you will be gradually brought out of your trance.
  • At the end you can ask any more questions you may have, chat through a summary of the session and progress made so far.

Hypnotherapy isn't the right approach for everyone, but  it can be worth exploring.