The Quick Report

Is Hypnosis Real? Are Hypnotized People Faking It?

Artistic depiction of someone being hypnotized

There are familiar hypnosis stereotypes from TV, like making someone cluck like a chicken. However, psychologists actually use hypnotherapy to treat certain serious conditions. Is hypnosis real? Can it help? Or is this treatment all hype?

The Origins of Hypnosis

The earliest record of a hypnotic state goes back to the writings of Avicenna, a Persian physician who wrote about “trance” in 1027.

The modern-day practice of hypnosis began with the work of German physician Franz Mesmer, considered to be the father of “modern hypnotism.” He theorized that a process of natural energy transference existed between animate and inanimate objects. He called this “animal magnetism.” Others later named this after the doctor calling it “mesmerism.” This is also where we get the word “mesmerized.” These were the first attempts to get someone into a trance state. 

This practice would advance and eventually be called “hypnosis.” The term came from the ancient Greek hypnos, meaning sleep or “put to sleep.” The terms were popularized by Scottish surgeon James Braid who revitalized mesmerism with a new interpretation based upon “commonsense” laws of physiology and psychology.

Is Hypnosis Real?

Television shows and movies have done much to create a silly and fantastical impression of hypnotism. Clichés like the swinging pocket watch and the hypnotist telling the person to “look into my eyes.” Stage performance hypnotist getting high school students to “cluck like a chicken.”

However, in the real world, hypnotherapy is a legitimate practice conducted by licensed psychologists for treating a wide range of conditions. People undergo hypnosis to treat addiction, weight loss, depression, and many other conditions.

Study Shows Hypnosis Has Real Effects

In an interesting study, Stanford University School of Medicine researchers imaged the brains of 57 people during guided hypnosis. They found that the two areas of the brain responsible for processing and controlling what’s happening in the body showed greater activity during hypnosis. Further, the area of the brain responsible for our actions and the area aware of those actions appeared to be disconnected during hypnosis. 

Researchers concluded that hypnosis visibly altered distinct sections of the brain. The areas most affected were those that play a role in action control and awareness. This suggests that hypnosis has an effect that is stronger than simply a placebo effect.


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What Is Hypnotherapy?

In a clinical setting, a healthcare provider will guide a patient into a hypnotic state by the use of verbal repetition and mental images. The goal is to make the patient feel calm and relaxed. This is typically achieved by the provider speaking in a gentle, soothing tone. The provider will describe images that create a sense of real action, security, and well-being, according to the Mayo Clinic. The provider will guide the patient in relaxation, focusing their attention, and ignoring distractions.

Hypnosis works primarily through intense concentration and/or focused attention, according to Healthline. The patient will move into a trans-like state that is similar to sleep. However, the patient remains fully aware of what’s happening.

Next, the provider will guide the patient further into relaxation and take their focus to a deeper level. At this heightened stage of focus, the patient will respond more readily to suggestions. In this state, the patient may be more open to advice or proposals that they would ignore or brush off in their normal mental state.

Within the trance-like state, the goal of hypnotherapy is to now place the seedlings of different thoughts into the patient’s mind. The hypnotic state clears the way for the patient to engage in deeper mental processing and acceptance. In a normal mental state, someone’s mind may be “cluttered,” making it difficult to absorb suggestions and guidance. The hope is that, under the hypnotic state, the provider’s beneficial suggestions will take root and prosper. 

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What Are the Benefits of Hypnotherapy?

One of the primary benefits of hypnotherapy is to provide treatment for certain conditions without the use of medications.

Hypnotherapy sessions have been shown to successfully treat many conditions, such as smoking addiction, posttraumatic stress disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, easing anxieties and phobias, lessening chronic pain, relieving insomnia, post-surgical wound healing, weight loss, and more.

Hypnotherapy Side Effects

Some people who undergo hypnotherapy may experience mild-to-moderate side effects such as headache, dizziness, drowsiness, and situational anxiety.

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Multiple Sessions Are Typically Required

For those patients who can be hypnotized, they may not achieve a hypnotic state on their first visit with a hypnotherapist. Most therapists advise beginning with four to five sessions as an initial phase. More sessions may be needed. Some patients also require maintenance sessions to achieve long-term success.

It’s important to discuss the goals of a hypnotic session. The hypnotist will work with the patient to find a process that can be used to help them.

Does Hypnosis Work on Everyone?

Unfortunately, hypnosis does not work on everyone. Only 10 percent of the population is considered “highly hypnotizable.” There are various reasons for this. Some people are not able to achieve the deep relaxation that is necessary to achieve the hypnotic state. Others do not respond to the power of suggestion.

Read More: What is Self-Hypnosis and What Does It Do?