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According to the Mayo Clinic, hypnosis “is a trance-like state which allows for heightened focus and concentration.” [1] Today hypnotherapy, the use of hypnosis for therapeutic purposes, is fast becoming a complementary health care treatment. As the medical and psychological community begin to understand its benefits, it is being used more and more frequently to treat physical conditions and illnesses, and as an alternative to talk therapy. It’s unfortunate, however, that throughout its early history, it was considered not only as a medical treatment, but as a form of entertainment, creating fear and skepticism of the technique.

The first person in the modern age to embrace hypnosis was Anton Mesmer. Mesmer was a healer who was highly influential by the time he died in the early 19th century. However, he tainted the medical use of hypnosis by performing “stage hypnosis,” which became widely popular. Mesmer and other hypnotists would bring people up on stage and “command them” to do outrageous or funny acts. You may remember the famous hypnotic suggestion, “cluck like a chicken” which stemmed from the antics of stage hypnosis. Sadly, hypnosis as entertainment led to the notion that the hypnotist was doing some form of mind control and this created lasting fears that include:

  • doing things against your will

  • being unable to wake up from trance without the help of the hypnotist

  • remaining stuck in a trance-like state indefinitely

  • being hypnotizable means that you are mentally weak

These fears became so prevalent at one point that a diagnosis, hypnophobia (the fear of being hypnotized), was created. While this has led some to believe hypnosis is mysterious and scary, it’s actually something we have all experienced. If you have ever driven your car to a destination and realized you didn’t remember how you got there, if you have daydreamed, or if 20 minutes seemed like 2 as you browsed Facebook, you have actually been in a light trance.  It helps to understand that hypnosis is really nothing more than a common state of altered awareness.

Hypnotherapy survived as a medical and psychological treatment because early scientists and physicians such as James Braid, Sigmund Freud, Jean-Martin Charcot and Milton Erickson recognized that accessing the subconscious was a valuable tool for both psychological and physical healing. While they all established credible success it was Erickson’s work, in particular, that left an indelible legacy. He made a number of important contributions to the field, including decades of case notes with patients chronicling remarkable results. Erickson died in 1980, but his theories and techniques remain widely used. Because his work deliberately blurred the lines between hypnosis and other forms of talk therapy, it opened the door to many therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists using it in conjunction with other modalities today. [2]

The genius of hypnosis is its ability to bypass the conscious mind, working directly on the subconscious. It’s the subconscious that holds the keys to our behavior because it is where all of our memories, thoughts and experiences are stored. If our brain is like a computer, then the conscious mind is the data and the subconscious is the hard disk. In order to help us function in our daily lives, our conscious mind has built-in defense mechanisms that act like a gate-keeper to negative events and experiences, helping us  to feel more safe and secure. Yet that stored data tends to leak out in ways that create problems in our lives - bad habits, phobias, blocks, pain, illness, and self-sabotage are all signs that there are aspects of ourselves that need to be healed. Tapping directly into the unconscious means they are readily available and amenable to change.

While in trance, your subconscious can play back events in a safe, nurturing environment to achieve an understanding of how they have shaped you. Healing takes place when the hypnotherapist makes suggestions that change, or reframe, our perception of that event, shifting it into something much more positive that actually works to help, not hinder, you in your life. Therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists ultimately do the same thing, but as a rule, it takes much longer because they must work through those built-in defense mechanisms of the conscious. Hypnotherapy can by-pass them within a single session while talk therapy could take years, and may still not be as effective at moving past deeply-held beliefs. Whether you want to break a bad habit, cure a phobia, bust through a particular block, or better understand a troubling behavior, hypnosis can often do so much more quickly than traditional therapy because it allows the therapist to speak directly to the area where the problem is stored. As a side benefit, the subconscious memory can stretch all the way back to early childhood, birth, in-utero, and into past lives.

When you undergo hypnosis, you will work with trained hypnotherapists who guide you into trance using techniques that put you into deep relaxation. Unlike sleep, your conscious mind remains awake and aware -  it’s just no longer in charge.

“In the trance state, you control all of your actions, you can hear everything around you, and you cannot be forced to do something against your will. The only difference between hypnosis and these everyday trance states is that, in hypnosis, someone induces the trance state to achieve something: healing, discovery, or stress relief, for example.   — Diane Zimberoff - The Wellness Institute [3]

Hypnotherapy can also be useful in treating diseases and other medical conditions. The emerging field of mind/body medicine works within the theory that thoughts and beliefs can create changes in the body at the cellular level. Hypnotherapy can help a person illuminate how past events are linked to our current physical state, process and emotionally discharge related emotions, and develop new thought patterns. The result is a deep “letting go” that can lead to wholeness and wellness. It can be particularly potent when treating pain, a condition so common that 20% of U.S. adults suffer from it. [4]  Dr. Morris Netherton in his book “Past Lives Therapy” wrote…

“physical pain can be tied to past experiences and detaching a person from this past trauma can ease that pain or eliminate it altogether. [5]

Many hypnotherapists also believe that past lives can have a significant impact on a person’s current behavior. Because our subconscious acts like a tape recorder that records the stories of every event in every incarnation, the invisible memories of past lives may create visible scars in our current one. Hypnotherapists trained in past life regression can access these memories, replay the stories, and create meaningful healing in the here and now. If you have troubling behaviors or illnesses that don’t seem to make sense given your life experience or that don’t get better with traditional therapies, it may be a clue that a past life issue is at work.

Many people who have heard of hypnotherapy in general came to know of it by reading Dr. Brian Weiss’s famous book “Many Lives, Many Masters” [6].  Dr. Weiss is a Florida psychiatrist with a decidedly scientific bent and his books are so compelling precisely because he was forced to explore the scientific merits of both hypnosis and past lives when one of his patients, out of the blue, provided details to memories that seemed to stem from a long-ago time and place. His many books detail his remarkable successes using past life regression in a way that highlights his scientific training as an M.D.

Today, hypnosis is a legitimate treatment in medicine, psychology and dentistry and many highly acclaimed research and educational institutions offer training, seminars and courses. According to Richard Bandler, a long-time practitioner, “there are very few conditions in which hypnotherapy cannot be beneficial, even if it is only as a complementary approach.” [7] Hypnotherapists aren’t miracle workers, and there are certain disorders that aren’t amenable to hypnosis, but the effects can be astonishing. When a client and hypnotherapist work together to explore, reprocess and reframe while the client is awake, remembering and participating a powerful, personalized healing plan can emerge.

Written by Julie Trager


  1. Mayo Clinic Staff. “Hypnosis Overview” (

  2. What is the history of hypnosis?

  3. Diane Zimberoff. “What is the Difference Between Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy? How Does Hypnotherapy Work?” Wellness Institute Blog. 22 March, 2018,

  4. “Defining the Prevalence of Chronic Pain in the United States.” 13 September, 2018,

  5. Morris Netherton, PhD, Dr. Thomas Paul. Past Lives Therapy. Past Life Therapy Center, 2014.

  6. Brian L. Weiss, M.D. Many Lives Many Masters. Fireside, 1988.

  7. Richard Bandler. Trance-formation: How to Harness the Power of Hypnosis to Ignite Effortless and Lasting Change. Health Communications, Inc., 2008.



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