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Hypnotherapy is a type of complementary medicine in which hypnosis is used to create a state of focused attention and increased suggestibility.



The United States Department of Labor's Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) describes the job of the hypnotherapist:

"Induces hypnotic state in client to increase motivation or alter behavior patterns: Consults with client to determine nature of problem. Prepares client to enter hypnotic state by explaining how hypnosis works and what client will experience. Tests subject to determine degree of physical and emotional suggestibility. Induces hypnotic state in client, using individualized methods and techniques of hypnosis based on interpretation of test results and analysis of client's problem. May train client in self-hypnosis conditioning." [1]

This definition was created in 1973 by John Kappas, hypnotherapist and founder of the Hypnosis Motivation Institute. [2] [3]

Traditional hypnotherapy

The form of hypnotherapy practiced by most Victorian hypnotists, including James Braid and Hippolyte Bernheim, mainly employed direct suggestion of symptom removal, with some use of therapeutic relaxation and occasionally aversion to alcohol, drugs, etc. [4]

Ericksonian hypnotherapy

In the 1950s, Milton H. Erickson developed a radically different approach to hypnotism, which has subsequently become known as "Ericksonian hypnotherapy" or "Neo-Ericksonian hypnotherapy." Based on his belief that that dysfunctional behaviors were defined by social tension, Erickson coopted the subject's behavior to establish rapport, a strategy he termed "utilization." Once rapport was established, he made use of an informal conversational approach to direct awareness. His methods included complex language patterns and client-specific therapeutic strategies (reflecting the nature of utilization). He claimed to have developed ways to suggest behavior changes during apparently ordinary conversation. [5]

This divergence from tradition led some, including Andre Weitzenhoffer, to dispute whether Erickson was right to label his approach "hypnosis" at all. [6] Erickson's foundational paper, however, considers hypnosis as a mental state in which specific types of "work" may be done, rather than a technique of induction. [7]

The founders of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), a method somewhat similar in some regards to some versions of hypnotherapy, claimed that they had modelled the work of Erickson extensively and assimilated it into their approach. [8] [9] Weitzenhoffer disputed whether NLP bears any genuine resemblance to Erickson's work. [6]

Kappasinian hypnotherapy

John Kappas, who founded the Hypnosis Motivation Institute, taught a theory of personality based on brain hemisphere dominance.[ citation needed ]

According to his theory of personality, infants with right-brained parents were usually left-brain dominant, and vice versa. He also believed that left-brained people looked for left-brained friends but right-brained partners.

When it came to hypnosis, Kappas believed that left-brain dominant people (whom he called "analytical") were resistant to direct suggestion. He developed this opinion after treating tens of thousands of clients with behavior and psychological disorders.

In recorded training seminars from the seventies, Kappas frequently stated that psychosis was due to hypersuggestibility - a chronic state of hypnosis - that makes the client unable to distinguish real and imaginary experiences.[ citation needed ]

Solution-focused hypnotherapy

In the 2000s, hypnotherapists began to combine aspects of solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) with Ericksonian hypnotherapy to produce therapy that was goal-focused (what the client wanted to achieve) rather than the more traditional problem-focused approach (spending time discussing the issues that brought the client to seek help). A solution-focused hypnotherapy session may include techniques from NLP. [10]

Cognitive/behavioral hypnotherapy

Cognitive behavioral hypnotherapy (CBH) is an integrated psychological therapy employing clinical hypnosis and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). [11] The use of CBT in conjunction with hypnotherapy may result in greater treatment effectiveness. A meta-analysis of eight different researches revealed "a 70% greater improvement" for patients undergoing an integrated treatment to those using CBT only. [12]

In 1974, Theodore X. Barber and his colleagues published a review of the research which argued, following the earlier social psychology of Theodore R. Sarbin, that hypnotism was better understood not as a "special state" but as the result of normal psychological variables, such as active imagination, expectation, appropriate attitudes, and motivation. [13] Barber introduced the term "cognitive-behavioral" to describe the nonstate theory of hypnotism, and discussed its application to behavior therapy.

The growing application of cognitive and behavioral psychological theories and concepts to the explanation of hypnosis paved the way for a closer integration of hypnotherapy with various cognitive and behavioral therapies. [14]

Many cognitive and behavioral therapies were themselves originally influenced by older hypnotherapy techniques, [15] e.g., the systematic desensitisation of Joseph Wolpe, the cardinal technique of early behavior therapy, was originally called "hypnotic desensitisation" [16] and derived from the Medical Hypnosis (1948) of Lewis Wolberg. [17]

Curative hypnotherapy

Dr. Peter Marshall, author of A Handbook of Hypnotherapy, devised the Trance Theory of Mental Illness, which asserts that people suffering from depression, or certain other kinds of neuroses, are already living in a trance. He asserts that this means the hypnotherapist does not need to induce trance, but instead to make them understand this and lead them out of it. [18] [19]

Mindful hypnotherapy

Mindful hypnotherapy is therapy that incorporates mindfulness and hypnotherapy. A pilot study was made at Baylor University, Texas, and published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. Dr. Gary Elkins, director of the Mind-Body Medicine Research Laboratory at Baylor University called it "a valuable option for treating anxiety and stress reduction” and "an innovative mind-body therapy". The study showed a decrease in stress and an increase in mindfulness. [20]

Relationship to scientific medicine

Hypnotherapy practitioners occasionally attract the attention of mainstream medicine. Attempts to instill academic rigor have been frustrated by the complexity of client suggestibility, which has social and cultural aspects, including the reputation of the practitioner. Results achieved in one time and center of study have not been reliably transmitted to future generations. [21]

In the 1700s Anton Mesmer offered pseudoscientific justification for his practices, but his rationalizations were debunked by a commission that included Benjamin Franklin.


Clinicians choose hypnotherapy to address a wide range of circumstances; however, according to Yeates (2016), people choose to have hypnotherapy for many other reasons:

"Ignoring specific issues such as performance anxiety, road rage, weight, smoking, drinking, unsafe sex, etc., those seeking hypnotherapy today do so because of ill-defined, vague feelings that:
(a) their health is far from optimal;
(b) their worry about past/present/future events is excessive and debilitating;
(c) they are not comfortable with who they are;
(d) they’re not performing up to the level of their true potential; and/or
(e) their lives are lacking some significant (but unidentified) thing." [22]


Hypnotherapy is often applied in the birthing process and the post-natal period, [23] [24] [25] [26] [27] but there is insufficient evidence to determine if it alleviates pain during childbirth [28] and no evidence that it is effective against post-natal depression. [29] Until 2012, there was no thorough research on this topic. However, in 2013 the study was conducted during which it was found that: “The use of hypnosis in childbirth leads to a decrease in the amount of pharmacological analgesia and oxytocin used, which reduces the duration of the first stage of labor”. [30] In 2013, studies were conducted in Denmark, during which it was concluded that "The self-hypnosis course improves the experience of childbirth in women and also reduces the level of fear". [31] In 2015, a similar study was conducted in the UK by a group of researchers: "The positive experience of self-hypnosis gives a sense of calm, confidence and empowerment in childbirth". [32] Hypnobirthing has been used by stars such as Kate Middleton. [33]


Literature shows that a wide variety of hypnotic interventions have been investigated for the treatment of bulimia nervosa, with inconclusive effect. [34] Similar studies have shown that groups suffering from bulimia nervosa, undergoing hypnotherapy, were more exceptional to no treatment, placebos, or other alternative treatments. [34]

Other uses

Among its many other applications in other medical domains, [35] hypnotism was used therapeutically, by some alienists in the Victorian era, to treat the condition then known as hysteria. [36]

Modern hypnotherapy is widely accepted for the treatment of certain habit disorders, to control irrational fears, [37] [38] as well as in the treatment of conditions such as insomnia [39] and addiction. [40] Hypnosis has also been used to enhance recovery from non-psychological conditions such as after surgical procedures, [41] in breast cancer care [42] and even with gastro-intestinal problems, [43] including IBS. [44] [45]


Controlled study of hypnotherapy is frustrated by the complexity of behavioral expression. Most controlled studies use scripts that do not account for suggestibility (as understood by Kappas) or leverage utilization (as pioneered by Erickson). Meta-analysis of published studies should account for these factors. If not, they risk mischaracterization of the studies as pertaining to "hypnotherapy" where they are actually concerned with the efficacy of "hypnosis."

Occupational accreditation

United States

The laws regarding hypnosis and hypnotherapy vary by state and municipality. Some states, like Colorado, Connecticut and Washington, have mandatory licensing and registration requirements, while many other states have no specific regulations governing the practice of hypnotherapy. [52]

United Kingdom

UK National Occupational Standards

In 2002, the Department for Education and Skills developed National Occupational Standards for hypnotherapy [53] linked to National Vocational Qualifications based on the then National Qualifications Framework under the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. NCFE, a national awarding body, issues level four national vocational qualification diploma in hypnotherapy. Currently AIM Awards offers a Level 3 Certificate in Hypnotherapy and Counselling Skills at level 3 of the Regulated Qualifications Framework. [54]

UK Confederation of Hypnotherapy Organisations (UKCHO)

The regulation of the hypnotherapy profession in the UK is at present the main focus of UKCHO, a non-profit umbrella body for hypnotherapy organisations. Founded in 1998 to provide a non-political arena to discuss and implement changes to the profession of hypnotherapy, UKCHO currently represents 9 of the UK's professional hypnotherapy organisations and has developed standards of training for hypnotherapists, along with codes of conduct and practice that all UKCHO registered hypnotherapists are governed by. As a step towards the regulation of the profession, UKCHO's website now includes a National Public Register of Hypnotherapists [55] who have been registered by UKCHO's Member Organisations and are therefore subject to UKCHO's professional standards. Further steps to full regulation of the hypnotherapy profession will be taken in consultation with the Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health.


Professional hypnotherapy and use of the occupational titles hypnotherapist or clinical hypnotherapist are not government-regulated in Australia.

In 1996, as a result of a three-year research project led by Lindsay B. Yeates, the Australian Hypnotherapists Association [56] (founded in 1949), the oldest hypnotism-oriented professional organization in Australia, instituted a peer-group accreditation system for full-time Australian professional hypnotherapists, the first of its kind in the world, which "accredit[ed] specific individuals on the basis of their actual demonstrated knowledge and clinical performance; instead of approving particular 'courses' or approving particular 'teaching institutions'" (Yeates, 1996, p.iv; 1999, p.xiv). [57] The system was further revised in 1999. [58]

Australian hypnotism/hypnotherapy organizations (including the Australian Hypnotherapists Association) are seeking government regulation similar to other mental health professions. However, currently hypnotherapy is not subject to government regulation through the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

See also

Related Research Articles

Cognitive behavioral therapy Therapy to improve mental health

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psycho-social intervention that aims to improve mental health. CBT focuses on challenging and changing cognitive distortions and behaviors, improving emotional regulation, and the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems. It was originally designed to treat depression, but its uses have been expanded to include treatment of a number of mental health conditions, including anxiety, alcohol and drug use problems, marital problems, and eating disorders. CBT includes a number of cognitive or behavior psychotherapies that treat defined psychopathologies using evidence-based techniques and strategies.

Hypnosis State of increased receptivity to suggestion and direction

Hypnosis is a human condition involving focused attention, reduced peripheral awareness, and an enhanced capacity to respond to suggestion.

Psychotherapy is the use of psychological methods, particularly when based on regular personal interaction with adults, to help a person change behavior and overcome problems in desired ways. Psychotherapy aims to improve an individual's well-being and mental health, to resolve or mitigate troublesome behaviors, beliefs, compulsions, thoughts, or emotions, and to improve relationships and social skills. There are also numerous types of psychotherapy designed for children and adolescents, such as play therapy. Certain psychotherapies are considered evidence-based for treating some diagnosed mental disorders. Others have been criticized as pseudoscience.

Suggestibility is the quality of being inclined to accept and act on the suggestions of others. One may fill in gaps in certain memories with false information given by another when recalling a scenario or moment. Suggestibility uses cues to distort recollection: when the subject has been persistently told something about a past event, his or her memory of the event conforms to the repeated message.

Self-hypnosis or auto-hypnosis is a form, a process, or the result of a self-induced hypnotic state.

Mind–body interventions (MBI) describes health and fitness interventions that are supposed to work on a physical and mental level such as yoga, tai chi, and pilates.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of psychotherapy developed by Francine Shapiro starting in 1988 in which the person being treated is asked to recall distressing images; the therapist then directs the patient in one type of bilateral stimulation, such as side-to-side eye rapid movement or hand tapping. According to the 2013 World Health Organization practice guideline: "This therapy [EMDR] is based on the idea that negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours are the result of unprocessed memories. The treatment involves standardized procedures that include focusing simultaneously on (a) spontaneous associations of traumatic images, thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations and (b) bilateral stimulation that is most commonly in the form of repeated eye movements."

The Dodo bird verdict is a controversial topic in psychotherapy, referring to the claim that all empirically validated psychotherapies, regardless of their specific components, produce equivalent outcomes. It is named after the Dodo character in Alice in Wonderland. The conjecture was introduced by Saul Rosenzweig in 1936, drawing on imagery from Lewis Carroll's novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, but only came into prominence with the emergence of new research evidence in the 1970s.

The Nancy School was a French hypnosis-centered school of psychotherapy. The origins of the thoughts were brought about by Ambroise-Auguste Liébeault in 1866, in Nancy, France. Through his publications and therapy sessions he was able to gain the attention/support from Hippolyte Bernheim: another Nancy Doctor that further evolved Liébeault's thoughts and practices to form what is known as the Nancy School.

Suggestion is the psychological process by which one person guides the thoughts, feelings, or behavior of another person.

The development of concepts, beliefs and practices related to hypnosis and hypnotherapy have been documented since prehistoric to modern times.

Hypnosurgery is surgery where the patient is sedated using hypnotherapy rather than traditional anaesthetics. It is claimed that hypnosis for anaesthesia has been used since the 1840s where it was pioneered by the surgeon James Braid. There are occasional media reports of surgery being conducted under hypnosis, but since these are not carried out under controlled conditions, nothing can be concluded from them.

Age regression in therapy is a psycho-therapeutic process that facilitates access to childhood memories, thoughts and feelings. Age regression can be induced by hypnotherapy, a process where patients move their focus to memories of an earlier stage of life in order to explore these memories or to access difficult aspects of their personality.

Depression is a symptom of some physical diseases; a side effect of some drugs and medical treatments; and a symptom of some mood disorders such as major depressive disorder or dysthymia. Physical causes are ruled out with a clinical assessment of depression that measures vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, and hormones. Management of depression may involve a number of different therapies: medications, behavior therapy, psychotherapy, and medical devices.

André Muller Weitzenhoffer was one of the most prolific researchers in the field of hypnosis in the latter half of the 20th century, having authored over 100 publications between 1949 and 2004. He was the recipient of several professional and academic awards, including the Distinguished Contributions to Scientific Hypnosis Award of the American Psychological Association in 1992.

Hypnotic induction is the process undertaken by a hypnotist to establish the state or conditions required for hypnosis to occur.

Michael D. Yapko is a clinical psychologist and author, whose work is focused in the areas of treating depression, developing brief psychotherapies and advancing the clinical applications of hypnosis.

Gil Boyne

Mark Thomas Gilboyne, nom de guerreGil Boyne, was an American pioneer in modern hypnotherapy.

Metacognitive therapy (MCT) is a psychotherapy focused on modifying metacognitive beliefs that perpetuate states of worry, rumination and attention fixation. It was created by Adrian Wells based on an information processing model by Wells and Gerald Matthews. It is supported by scientific evidence from a large number of studies.

Stefan Hofmann

Stefan G. Hofmann is a German-born clinical psychologist. He is the Alexander von Humboldt Professor and recipient of the LOEWE Spitzenprofessur for Translational Clinical Psychology at the Philipps University of Marburg in Germany and Professor for Psychology at the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Boston University. He is one of the foremost experts in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, especially for anxiety disorders


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  57. The accreditation criteria and the structure of the accreditation system were based on those described in Yeates, Lindsay B., A Set of Competency and Proficiency Standards for Australian Professional Clinical Hypnotherapists: A Descriptive Guide to the Australian Hypnotherapists' Association Accreditation System, Australian Hypnotherapists' Association, (Sydney), 1996. ISBN   0-646-27250-0
  58. The revised criteria, etc. are described in Yeates, Lindsay B., A Set of Competency and Proficiency Standards for Australian Professional Clinical Hypnotherapists: A Descriptive Guide to the Australian Hypnotherapists' Association Accreditation System (Second, Revised Edition), Australian Hypnotherapists' Association, (Sydney), 1999. ISBN   0-9577694-0-7.