Overview of Hypnosis

Although everyone can experience daydreams, not everyone can or wants to experience hypnosis. Hypnosis is the act of facilitating an altered state of consciousness—either by a hypnotherapist or oneself—in order to make subconscious suggestions that promote specific, short-term objectives. The person being hypnotized must voluntarily choose hypnotherapy and must actively participate in the act of hypnosis in order to receive and act on the suggestions from the hypnotherapist.

Hypnosis relies on the theory that the subconscious is the repository of all of our emotions, memories, beliefs, and even some illnesses. In order to effectively reach the subconscious and make an appropriate posthypnotic suggestion, the hypnotherapist guides the client through five stages:

  1. Preparation
  2. Induction
  3. Deepening
  4. Utilization
  5. Termination

How Hypnosis Works

Researchers are not certain how exactly hypnosis works. Some argue that the hypnotic state results from physiological mechanisms, and others maintain that it results from psychological mechanisms. Others suggest that both processes are involved in inducing the hypnotic state.

Brain-wave activity has been associated with hypnotic states. There are four types of brain waves, each of which corresponds to certain mental functions.

  • Beta waves—normal waking consciousness; cognitive processes (reasoning, critical thinking, general perception of surroundings
  • Alpha waves—concentrated relaxation, meditation, hypnosis; the subconscious
  • Theta waves—deep meditation and some hypnotic states; seat of emotion; the subconscious
  • Delta waves—unconsciousness

People more easily and readily accept posthypnotic suggestions during alpha-wave activity.

Those who support the theory that hypnosis relies on psychological mechanisms believe that the usual critical state of the conscious mind is temporarily suspended and that a more passive state of mind is created. When the hypnotist communicates images of the desired goal or makes a posthypnotic suggestion, the client passively receives and acts on the information.

Because hypnosis succeeds only with the active participation of the client, some suggest that its effect is brought about by the client (i.e., all hypnosis is really self-hypnosis) and has little to do with any physiologic effects (brain-wave activity) of the hypnotic state.

After Effects of Hypnosis

After hypnosis, most people feel calm and may experience time distortion. In time distortion, the client may feel that half an hour has passed when in fact only 10 minutes have passed, or the client may feel the reverse, that only 5 minutes have gone by when 20 minutes have passed. Less commonly, people experience drowsiness.

If the client is experiencing severe confusion, dizziness, or intense emotions, he or she should tell the hypnotherapist. The client must be alert and able to return to normal daily activities before leaving the office. Once it is established that the client is fully prepared to leave, the hypnotherapist and client discuss any issues brought up by the session and then schedule subsequent sessions.

People remember most, if not all, of the session. How or when post-hypnotic suggestions will be carried out varies from client to client. The effect may take place days or weeks later, or may occur when the exact situation presents itself.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 01 Jan 2001

Last Modified: 22 Sep 2015