Does hypnotherapy actually work? People say it does, but what’s the evidence? And can hypnotherapy help you?

Woman staring at a clock being swung in front of her face

You can only be hypnotised if you want to be

What is hypnotherapy?

Hypnotherapy is not to be confused with stage-show hypnotism. Instead, this popular complementary therapy involves placing the patient in a very light state of hypnosis, so they remain fully conscious but relaxed and open to carefully-constructed suggestion.

How does it work?

Having taken your full medical history, a trained hypnotherapist aims to draw your attention away from your immediate concerns and environment. By focusing on your breathing technique, they can then encourage you into a trance-like state. In theory, this opens up the subconscious part of the mind to gentle suggestion from the hypnotherapist. The aim is to uncover deeply embedded negative feelings, using a combination of hypnosis and counselling, and replace them with positive thoughts.

Hypnotherapy only works if you want to be hypnotised.

What are the benefits?

Hypnotherapy is often used to treat all kinds of stress-related disorders, phobias and addictions. It’s also used to help ease pain from different illnesses and conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). It’s also considered to be effective for people trying to pack in the smoking habit.

Where’s the proof?

Plenty of studies have been carried out, but much depends on the nature of the research. Empirical studies, based on experience and testimonials, claim there is a definitive link between hypnotherapy and the treatment of pain. However, there isn’t the hard scientific evidence other types of treatment have.

Either way, many people claim it works for them, and so long as it’s carried out by a trained hypnotherapist it’s considered safe.

Getting treatment

NHS Hypnotherapy is now available, in a limited capacity, while private treatment can begin from £50 per session. Talk to your GP about NHS treatment, or find a qualified private hypnotherapist.

You shouldn’t have hypnotherapy to treat psychosis or a personality disorder as this could make symptoms worse. And if you have another mental health problem or a serious illness, like cancer, you should make sure your hypnotherapist is experienced in this area.

Case study – Ilora-Danon (21)

“I had a course of hypnotherapy for what I believed to be Social Anxiety Disorder. I was undiagnosed at the time but knew the level of anxiety I was feeling wasn’t at all normal. I didn’t feel comfortable seeing my GP (I thought he’d laugh at me) so I found the name of a local hypnotherapist and my parents paid for my sessions with him.

“To be honest, I really hated going to the sessions. I found it very embarrassing and uncomfortable, sitting there with my eyes closed in front of a perfect stranger, so I didn’t complete the course. What did amaze me though, was the effectiveness of the CDs I’d been given to use between sessions. I used them every day and really found a difference in my confidence levels almost straight away. I used them so often I knew them off by heart. I even used them when out and about around town.

“It’s been about four years since the sessions, and I’m a completely different person. I honestly believe that having hypnotherapy had a positive effect on my whole outlook. It wasn’t instant nor was it a miracle cure, I did have to put in a lot of effort to keep it up, but it’s an amazing tool to have if you want to achieve the one thing you think is unachievable. I didn’t have an open mind to begin with, but now I’ll try anything!”


If you’re considering a complementary treatment or therapy for any medical condition, always consult your doctor (GP) first. This is to make sure it doesn’t conflict with any existing course of treatment you may be taking, and also to check it won’t have a negative impact on your health.

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015

Photo of woman being hypnotised by Shutterstock.