What is Hypnosis? – The Complete Guide

The Curious Case of Hypnosis

When we talk about what is hypnosis, we often tend to be either talking about: the relaxed, focused, absorbed feelings associated with a ‘trance state’, or we tend to be talking about the interesting things people can do when hypnotised: such as not feeling pain, or experiencing hallucinations.

Some scientists think that hypnotism is an “altered state of consciousness” marked by changes in the way the brain functions. Others believe that hypnotised participants are actively motivated to behave in a hypnotic manner and are not simply passively responding to hypnotic suggestions. Therapists who use hypnosis sometimes talk about using hypnosis to access the contents and resources of the subconscious or as some call it the unconscious mind.

Like the story of the blind men and the elephant, it is possible that these explanations all describe different parts of the overall phenomenon of hypnosis.

hypnosis is like story of 5 blind men and elephant - What is Hypnosis? - The Complete Guide

So as a part of this complete guide on hypnosis all about, let us explore and answer the frequently asked questions about Hypnosis?

Frequently Asked Questions about Hypnosis?

Hypnosis/hypnotism is generally taken to mean the induction of a trance state.

Although trance has connotations of glassy-eyed automatism, it simply means a focused state of attention.

Attention can be focused externally, or it can be focused internally.

It is most often compared to daydreaming or the feeling of “losing yourself” in a book or movie.

You are fully conscious, but you tune out most of the stimuli around you. You focus intently on the subject at hand, to the near exclusion of any other thought.

The difference between only a focused state and a hypnotic state is that in a hypnotic state you are also highly suggestible. That is, when the hypnotist asks you to do something, you’ll probably embrace the idea completely.

Its application is based solely on the relationship between the conscious mind, the critical filter, and the subconscious mind.

The subconscious mind, in this state, accepts and acts upon any fact or suggestion given to it by the conscious mind.

However, the subject’s sense of safety and morality remain entrenched throughout the experience. In short, a hypnotist can’t get you to do anything you don’t want to do.

Now that you know what is hypnosis, let us look at the next obvious question…

Science Says Hypnosis is Real.

Child looking into a glowing ball exploring What is hypnosisHypnosis has been successfully utilized in a wide range of applications across a number of fields.

Unfortunately, the term ‘Hypnosis’ still evokes mixed emotions and many people wonder whether hypnosis is real or just some abracadabra stuff!

However, medical research continues to show how and when hypnosis can be used as a therapy tool.

Hypnosis is a highly effective change tool that is also used to treat various conditions. To do this, a certified hypnotist, who is also a trained therapist, guides you into a state of higher suggestibility or increased receptivity.

While you’re in this state, they can make suggestions to help you become more open to change or therapeutic improvement.

David Spiegel, MD, professor and associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences based on his Research shows that “(Hypnosis) is a very powerful means of changing the way we use our minds to control perception and our bodies.”

Many other researches have demonstrated that Hypnosis sessions are effective in:

  • Lessening chronic pain and the pain of childbirth and other medical procedures.
  • Treating smoking addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Easing anxiety or phobias.

If you are looking for more details about the application of hypnosis in therapy and more examples of researches about its effectiveness, do check out our comprehensive guide on Hypnotherapy.

For now it is important to remember that While more evidence continues to accumulate about the benefits and positive effects of hypnosis in ever-increasing areas of its application, there can be no doubt to the fact that HYPNOSIS IS REAL!

The best way to answer this question is by recognising that we have all experienced hypnosis and that Hypnosis is a naturally occurring state.


It is true. In fact, we experience hypnosis multiple times a day.

If you have ever been so engrossed in a movie or a book that you felt moved by it, or that your emotional state was influenced by it, then you have experienced a hypnotic state.

If you have ever told yourself that I wouldn’t be able to do something and when the time came to do it, you weren’t able to do it, you have been in a hypnotic state.

Or if you have ever told yourself I can do it and when the time came to do it, you automatically felt this surge of confidence, you have experienced a hypnotic state.

or if you have ever been to a supermarket to buy ketchup but by the time you reached the counter you had picked up a lot more than just ketchup, then you have been in a hypnotic state.

In short, Hypnosis is a natural & universal human trait. Each one of us, in some form or the other, experiences hypnosis on a daily basis.

It may even be argued that we live most, if not all, of our lives in different types of hypnotic states.

As explained in the previous question, Hypnosis is a perfectly natural state that each of us have experienced in our lives.

So yes, everybody is hypnotizable. Some may take less time and some may take more time. But as long as the person is willing, he or she is capable of experiencing a  hypnotic state.

That said when hypnosis is being induced by another person, the hypnotist may need to modify the style or content of what they do, depending upon the client.

All that is required to be able to effectively experience and benefit from hypnotic state is:

  • Willingness to engage with the hypnotist.
  • The ability to understand and follow suggestions.

During hypnosis, you will generally remain conscious of your surroundings.

Some of the sensations you may experience when in a hypnotic state include:

  • Tingling in your fingertips or limbs.
  • A sense of numbness or limb distortion.
  • A sense of being light and floating away from your body.
  • A heavy feeling like you are sinking.
  • A sense of energy moving through your body.
  • Feelings of emotions.
  • Fluttering eyelids.
  • An increase or decrease in salivation.

It is important to remember that these are just some of the examples of sensations that you may experience.

In reality, you can actually experience any other sensation that the hypnotist suggests for you to experience.

The discovery of hypnosis has led to three different theories of hypnosis namely role theory, altered-state theory, dissociation theory.

Whether or not you believe that hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness (i.e. altered-state theory), the key characteristic of hypnotic responding is involuntariness.

This has been called the “classic suggestion effect” by André Muller Weitzenhoffer, who was one of the most prolific researchers in the field of hypnosis in the latter half of the 20th century.

As a hypnotic suggestion is carried out by a subject, the subjective experience is that the behaviour is happening all by itself, involuntarily.

For example, if the suggestion is that the subject’s arm is rigid like a bar of iron, the classic hypnotic experience is that one’s arm has really become rigid, on its own: it is not experienced that one is deliberately holding one’s arm stiffly.

While attempting to experience hypnosis, it is important to remember the following things:

  • When you notice that you are noticing these sensations, do not become alarmed or you may shock yourself right out of the hypnotic state.
  • Don’t try too hard to get in a hypnotic state, just expect the hypnotic state to occur gradually and it will.
  • Suggestions stay with some individuals indefinitely, others need reinforcement.
  • The effects of hypnosis are cumulative: The more the techniques are practiced and posthypnotic suggestions are brought into play, the more permanent the results become.

In order to understand the process of hypnosis and how it works, one needs to understand the model of mind and the functions of the different parts of the mind.

Different Parts of Mind and their functions

  1. The Conscious Mind (10-12 %):

    Model of MindNormally, you are only aware of the thought processes in your conscious mind. You consciously think over the problems that are right in front of you, consciously choose words as you speak, consciously try to remember where you left your keys. But in doing all these things, your conscious mind is working hand-in-hand with your subconscious mind
    • It is like the CPU of a computer with current rules of life.
    • Its functions include thinking, finding logic, feeling, analyzing, deciding, controlling voluntary body movements.
    • The conscious mind exercises what we call will power.
    • It is also the place of working memory (memory we use every day to function).
  2. The Subconscious Mind (88-90 %)

    It is the subconscious mind that does your behind the scenes thinking. Your subconscious mind accesses the vast reservoir of information that lets you solve problems, construct sentences or locate your keys. It puts together plans and ideas and runs them by your conscious mind. When a new idea comes to you out of the blue, it’s because you already thought through the process unconsciously. Your subconscious also takes care of all the stuff you do automatically. It controls all of the autonomic processes that you don’t have to think about – the heart rate, the blood pressure, tissue growth, cell regeneration, the immune system and so on. It’s where our thoughts, memories and accumulated experience reside. It controls our emotions, our habits and our responses to the world. You don’t actively work through the steps of breathing minute to minute – your subconscious mind does that. You don’t think through every little thing you do while driving a car – a lot of the small stuff is thought out in your subconscious mind. The vast majority of things that we do are unconscious, which we can be grateful for – if you had to consciously think about every single thing you did, you wouldn’t do anything. However, it can lead us astray. Most problems are things that we’ve learned how to do at an unconscious level in an unhelpful way.
    • It can be compared to the hard disk of a computer.
    • Basic function includes storing information and controlling involuntary body functions.
    • Divided into two parts:
      • Modern Memory (All current life experiences) and 
      • Primitive Mind (All instincts that a person is born with).
  3. Critical Filter

    The critical filter contains our beliefs & is responsible for the inhibitory process. It lies partly in the conscious and partly in the subconscious areas of your mind. The function of the critical mind is that of a gatekeeper who controls the flow of information from the conscious to the subconscious. The information flowing into the conscious mind is evaluated here and the decision is then made whether to accept or reject that input. If the information is accepted, it is immediately passed on to the subconscious mind for long-term storage. If the information is not accepted, it is either rejected immediately or vented later during sleep in the dream state.

The way to get to the subconscious mind and bypass the critical filter is:

The only way a real change can take place is to get the new programming into our subconscious mind.
  • First is through New Experiences, remember
    • Memories are only created through experience and you may need many positive experiences to diminish the effects the negative experience. This could take a long time to create.
    • Habits require willpower and time in order to become habits.
    • Emotions either happen randomly or require changing the way you think about a situation and that can take a lot of time and can also be enormously difficult to do.
  • Second is through hypnosis.

Hypnosis works by updating the subconscious mind with new and more helpful information.

It is like reprogramming a computer: updating existing software’s, adding new data or modifying existing data and changing the rules which control how the software’s make use of data.

All of this is possible because Hypnosis is the easiest and the fastest way to bypass the critical filter.

Under hypnosis, the critical filter goes to sleep for a while. The conscious mind stays awake, can still make decisions while the subconscious is receptive to any suggestion that your conscious mind wants to let in.

Top 10 Myths related to Hypnosis

  1. Myth 1: A hypnotist might turn you into a chicken or pull some other silly or embarrassing tricks on you.

    A clinical hypnotherapist would never do this. This is confusing a stage hypnotist with a therapeutic or clinical hypnotherapist. A stage hypnotist will do this because that is what is expected of them. You agree to this by stepping on stage and joining the show. However, you will easily return to your normal state at the end. In a clinical setting, you only agree to the therapeutic goals for the session, so that is all that will occur.

    It is important to remember that Stage and Clinical hypnosis are two very different disciplines, though both processes work because the subject or the client is willing to support the hypnotist.

  2. Myth 2: You must be weak-minded if you can be hypnotised.

    The truth is that everyone can be hypnotized.  As a matter of fact, each one of us is using hypnosis in some form every single day of our lives either consciously or unconsciously.

    We are experiencing some form of a trance-like hypnotic state each time we engage our imagination, each time we engage our emotions, each time our attention is focused upon our subjective experience.

    Strength of mind really has little to do with it. Either a weak-minded or strong-minded person who resists will make a poor hypnotic subject. On the other hand, a weak or strong-minded person who cooperates will be a good subject.

    However, because Hypnosis helps a person gain greater control over both mind and body, it can help a person develop a stronger mind.

  3. Myth 3: You are asleep when in a hypnotic trance.

    Many years ago hypnotherapists did use suggestions of ‘sleep’ when guiding someone into a hypnotic trance. However, this is rarely done now as most hypnotherapists agree that this can confuse the subject as to what state of mind they are aiming to achieve.

    Most now use suggestions of deep relaxation rather than sleep. However, the media seem to still continue to portray a very outdated image of a hypnotist.

  4. Myth 4: Hypnotists swing a watch in order to hypnotize a subject.

    Hypnotherapists rarely do this, although it is one technique that can be used out of thousands of others.

    I personally do not do this as I wish to distance myself from the stereotype of a stern and sinister hypnotist, with a thin black moustache, wearing a tall dark hat, and a manic stare in his eyes. However, I am happy to swing a watch if a subject specifically asks for this.

  5. Myth 5: People sometimes become stuck in hypnosis.

    This is simply not true, despite what the tabloid press occasionally claim. On rare occasions, a subject may not come out of the trance straight away. This is usually because they are enjoying the relaxing state so much that they don’t want to come out.

    A few gentle prompts, such as threatening to charge double for a longer session, is always sufficient to wake them!

  6. Myth 6: You will become stuck in hypnosis if something happens to the hypnotist.

    Again this is not true. A person will eventually become bored and will just get up when they feel like it. The hypnotist holds no special power over the subject whatsoever. In fact, a person can hypnotize themselves. This is called self-hypnosis, and they can wake themselves whenever they choose.

  7. Myth 7: Hypnosis is dangerous in the event of a fire or another disaster.

    A person in a hypnotic trance is just as aware, if not more so, of potential danger. If a fire broke out during a session, a person would easily come out of the trance and deal with the situation immediately, and in an appropriate way.

    If you drive a car, then you might be able to understand what I am about to say. When driving we often slip into a trance, especially when we are driving routes that we often take, such as to and from work. We can slip into a trance and daydream and barely remember the journey at all. Sometimes we may even wonder how we managed to get to our destination at all! Sound familiar?

    In the event of danger, we instantly snap out of this state and deal with the situation. In fact, we probably deal with it quicker and more effectively as our minds do not have a chance to ‘over think’ with the conscious mind and slow down the response.

  8. Myth 8: You are not hypnotized if you can hear the hypnotist.

    This is also not true. Each person has a unique experience of hypnosis. Some people consciously hear the hypnotist, whereas others do not.

    This has no bearing on the success of the session whatsoever. It is usually down to choice. You can choose to allow your mind to drift away, or you can choose to listen carefully to what the hypnotherapist is saying. Some people simply cannot resist allowing their minds to drift away, as they gain so much relaxation pleasure from it.

  9. Myth 9: You can be made to reveal your deepest secrets when in a hypnotic trance.

    Since your mind is fully aware and awake during a hypnotic session, this is not possible. If you really do not want to talk about something then you are under no compulsion to do so.

    A person can easily lie and are more likely to be creative with the truth when in a hypnotic trance, which is why courts will not accept the testimony of witnesses who are in hypnosis.

  10. Myth 10: Hypnotherapists have special powers.

    It’s funny how even quite intelligent people sometimes believe this! A hypnotist is a normal person who eats, sleep, feels happy and sad, and loses their car keys. There is nothing special or magical about them at all. We have simply been trained, and have honed this training with experience, to help guide people into a hypnotic state.

    A stage hypnotist may play on having ‘hypnotic powers’ in order to add excitement and drama to their shows, but they too will readily admit that they are simply using techniques that have been learnt and developed with practice and experience.

  11. Myth 11: Hypnosis is just another name for Relaxation.

    While relaxation is one of the ways of inducing a hypnotic state, it is not the only way. Hypnosis can be induced in multiple ways. Any intense emotional experience, be it excitement or even anxiety, can induce a hypnotic state.

    So in short Hypnosis is not just another name for relaxation, neither is relaxation a pre-requisite for Hypnosis.

  12. Myth 12: Hypnosis is just Role Playing.

    Some theorists say that people think or do things in hypnosis because it’s expected of them and by them. They are fulfilling a role. They want to please the hypnotist. So there’s no altered state of consciousness, there’s simply a motivation to act as though hypnotised.

    This theory might hold for stage performances and the like but can hardly apply to surgery. Thousands of hypnotised persons have benefited from operations with no chemical anaesthetic.

Hypnotic state can be used for making people receptive to any suggestion, be it for reducing pain or for creating behavioural change or to quit addictions or to even buy a product or a service. This means that hypnosis can be applied effectively in all those areas of life where you would interact with others.

Distinguished features of the Hypnosis based Career:

  1. As a Hypnotherapist / Hypno-Counselor
    A large number of behavioural and clinical issues are effectively addressed by using hypnotic modalities. People want to get rid of medicines and their side effects.

    Hypnosis provides remedial services for many diseases like headache, joint pain, baldness, diabetes, phobias, smoking, weight management, thumb sucking, nail biting, bed wetting and so on.

    In fact many of these disorders do not have any physiological reasons. It is universally accepted that most of the diseases are psychosomatic in nature. Hence use of hypnosis makes remedy easier. 

    Hypnosis is an emerging modality and number of experts is highly inadequate to meet the need.

  2. As Subject-matter Expert
    People want services from the experts for to be more confident of results. Hypnosis provides a scope of practically unlimited opportunities. People are hunting for experts in every part of the world.

    Some of the popular areas in which hypnosis experts practice globally are:

    • Sports,
    • Studies,
    • Communication,
    • Stage,
    • Phobias,
    • Impotence & Frigidity,
    • Inter-personal relationships,
    • Foreign Energy management,
    • Regression Services (Past life regression, age regression, future life projection),
    • Asthma.
    • Weight Control,
    • Depression and Anxiety management,
    • Motivation,
    • Confidence building.

    The above list is just a glimpse of the areas where hypnosis experts can apply their skills. Considering the above areas and similar other areas, the people are opting for specialized services even in the field of hypnosis. These days hypnotists have become integral part of different groups and teams across the globe.

  3. Entertainment Industry
    Many people know hypnotism only because of entertainment industry. Often people see stage shows conducted by the hypnotists at different places.

    It is still very powerful means of conducting stage activities for entertainment of the people in big groups. Many people also enjoy  conducting hypnotic activities in their family functions as well.

  4. Supportive services
    Hypnosis is useful for personal development as well. It teaches the individual to stay calm, relaxed, composed and motivated under different situations.

    Well adjusted and motivated people provide effective output to their enterprises.It is right time to empower yourself with hypnosis and build a rewarding and satisfying career. The beauty of this science is that no specialized education is required to become a successful Hypnotist.

    However, it has already become popular among the medical practitioners, psychologists, social scientists, social workers, teachers, coaches and therapists. We provide education in a very simplified form that too within manageable time limits.

  5. Sales
    The basic idea of sales is to sell a product or service to a customer. It requires great convincing and communication skills. The individual responsible for the sales should first believe in the product or service himself in order to convince potential buyers to buy the product or service.

    Next the salesperson should have the effective communication and persuasion skills, keen observation and patience along with the ability to manage his or her emotions effectively.

    Relevant and effective suggestions in combination with Hypnosis can be used to develop these skills and to manage emotional states.

    The salesperson can also benefit immensely by learning Conversational Hypnosis. Conversational Hypnosis can help him/her develop advanced persuasion and negotiation skills.

    Using appropriate Hypnotic language patterns during conversations can drastically enhance the quality of rapport and the degree of influence that the salesperson has on the client.

  6. Human Research
    Hypnosis can also be a very valuable tool for HR Professionals. The HR Professional can help the employees develop skills, improve their motivation, make better decisions with the help of Hypnosis.

    The HR professional will also be able to communicate the results of employee appraisals by using hypnotic language patterns in a way that motivates the employees to perform better. Concepts from hypnosis like Suggestibility, Sexuality can help HR Professionals understand employee’s more effectively.

    HR Professionals can use techniques like Paris Window to help employees resolve conflicts.

    Understanding of Hypnosis and the ability to use it effectively with employees and with management can be the key difference between a good HR Professional and a brilliant one.

  7. Training
    If there was one skill that trainers need to have apart from subject matter knowledge is the ability to hypnosis. Hypnosis can greatly enhance the effectiveness of training programs.

    The various concepts from hypnosis can help the trainer understand the working of mind. This understanding can transform the way a trainer conceptualizes, formats and structures the training programs.

    Effective use of conversational hypnosis can help the trainer convey information and knowledge to a large group of participants in a way that each participant feels that the information has been tailored to fit their needs.

    Hypnotic Processes can help the trainer create quick yet lasting change in the levels of motivation, thoughts, feelings, behaviours and productivity levels of the participants.

Quick Summary of What is Hypnosis?

So there you go, hypnosis is not magical or mysterious when you know the true facts. It is simply a group of techniques for focusing the mind so that the unconscious can absorb pre-agreed suggestions, in order to facilitate change.

However the reality has been bent and distorted by sensationalism.

This is a pity because not knowing this, can and probably does, prevent many people from trying it for the first time.

Remember, that it is perfectly safe so you have nothing to lose. Infact hypnosis can help you unlock a whole world of possibilities for personal growth, change and improvement. Many people’s lives have been turned around with hypnosis. Don’t let this potential opportunity slip you by.

If you are a mental health practitioner, you can greatly benefit by learning more about what is hypnosis and how to integrate it with different therapeutic techniques like CBT, REBT, Mindfulness, Behavioural Therapy, NLP and Psychoanalysis. Checkout this comprehensive eclectic course for mental health practitioners.

If you would not like to work with intensely emotional issues or traumas but limit the use of hypnosis towards Coaching, be it life, relationship or executive, do checkout our Diploma Program on Cognitive Hypnotic Coaching.