You've seen it on television or heard about it from a friend. A psychiatrist swinging a watch in front of a patient to access repressed memories, or a friend quitting smoking after four sessions of hypnotherapy. Whether you view it as a figment of fiction or as a rumored method to quit some health inequity, the question remains: Does hypnosis work? If it does, how? Read on to find out whether hypnosis is the real deal or no more than a parlor trick.

Is hypnosis real?

In short, yes. According to the American Psychological Association's (APA) Division of Psychological Hypnosis, hypnosis is a procedure used by a health professional to suggest a change in sensations, behavior, thoughts, or perceptions. In a way, hypnosis is a trance-like state that is used as a method of communication between a professional and a patient. The state is one of such focus that all outside stimuli is blocked out by the patient for an extended amount of time. One doctor associates a "trance" as a state akin to extreme daydreaming or meditation. Hypnotic suggestions can include:

  • experiences in which the listener visualizes, hears, or feels the suggestive stimuli of the health professional;
  • a state in which the listener is fully relaxed, calm, and open to suggestion;
  • or circumstances in which the listener anticipates future outcomes or goals.

Does hypnosis work?

Although results differ between individuals, studies have concluded that hypnotherapy can be used to effectively treat conditions ranging from stress and depression to pain and habit disorders. One such study conducted with 204 individuals with Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS) found that after 12 weekly sessions of hypnosis 75 percent of women and 58 percent of men experienced immediate improvements with their symptoms. What's even more interesting is that 80 percent of those that experienced progress in their condition did so 6 years after the treatment. Common applications for hypnosis include:

  • treatment of grief;
  • pain management;
  • sexual difficulties;
  • treating fears and phobias;
  • depression and anxiety;
  • relaxation during childbirth;
  • and habit control.

How does hypnosis work?

Hypnosis IS NOT mind control. The swinging watch and demands that "you are getting sleepy, very sleepy" have no standing in clinical hypnosis. Typically, hypnosis involves an introduction and a procedure during which a professional tells a subject that suggestion for an imaginative experience will take place.  During hypnosis, the hypnotist does not have control the patient. Instead, the subject is guided by the hypnotist to respond to alterations in behavior, thought or perception, or is encouraged to change subjective experiences. Specific details of hypnotic procedures differ depending on the goals of the practitioner and of the patient. Not everyone is able to be hypnotized. The majority of individuals are responsive to most suggestions; however, depending one one's focus and openness to the experience, some responses are negligible.