Hypnosis has been attributed to some unbelievable things, and everyone has the same question: Is hypnosis real?
Can a powerful hypnotist really create a trance that makes people cluck like chickens during stage hypnosis shows? Or how about the stories of the medical hypnotist who completely numbs a patient undergoing a root canal with no anesthetic. The patient, being numbed by hypnosis, is then able to go through the entire procedure without any pain and in a state of comfort.
Is this possible?
There have been rumors of secret government programs to create assassins out of regular people using hypnosis. There are advertisements on TV saying that hypnosis can help with weight loss, smoking, or insomnia.
You are about to find out what is truth and what is a fairy tale when it comes to hypnosis. This article contains my conclusions after of thousands of hours of research, learning, and training. In here you will find the TRUTH about hypnosis.
This is a truly massive article, so here are some quick links to get you to the section you want to read about:
Quick links in this article:
- What Does Hypnosis Claim to Help People With?
- Origins of Hypnosis – How it Was Discovered
- Where Does the Term Hypnosis Come From?
- Does Hypnosis Work?
- What is the Success Rate of Hypnosis?
- Is Hypnosis Real? The Best Scientific Evidence for Hypnosis
- How Does Hypnosis Work?
- Is Hypnosis Sleep?
- Hypnosis in Person and Hypnosis on Youtube
- Do Hypnosis Audio MP3’s Work?
- The Difference Between Hypnosis and Guided Meditation
- Is Hypnosis Mind Control
- How to Protect Your Mind From Hypnosis
- How You Can Experience Hypnosis
What Does Hypnosis Claim to Help People With?
If you look up hypnosis online you might come across some wikipedia articles or some websites of local hypnotherapists in your city. If you go to the latter, you will find claims of hypnosis helping with all of these things:
- Quitting smoking
- Losing weight
- Changing habits
- Pain control
- Increasing self esteem
- Improving memory
- Removing fears or phobias
- Increasing sports performance
- Eliminating allergies
- Helping people sleep
As well as a few dozen more things hypnosis can do.
So how can the same process that helps a person quit smoking also help a completely different person with a chronic illness control their pain? One is a habit, the other is a physical signal the nerves are sending in the body.
Before we dive into that, let’s take a look at the origins of hypnosis which should clear somethings up.
Origins of Hypnosis – How it Was Discovered
Hypnosis first entered the scene under a different name: Animal magnetism, or Mesmerism. This was developed by Franze Anton Mesmer, from whom we get the name mesmerism, back in the 1700’s (links are to Wikipedia).
Mesmer was a German physician who theorized that there was a magnetic force between all things in the universe. Therefore a person or object with strong magnetism could influence something else utilizing this unseen force.
Franz Anton Mesmer held demonstrations of animal magnetism which had people falling into trance, being spontaneously cured of diseases, going into convulsions, and even bringing women to orgasm. All of this happened through little to no touch, just people succumbing to his mesmerismic stare and the power of his animal magnetism.
To people who heard about Mesmer, it truly seemed like magic.
However, this was also the time when science was being taken more seriously and there were many people to didn’t believe Mesmer’s claims of supernatural powers. A group of the brightest minds available were commissioned to find out if there was any truth to what Mesmer claimed. One of the people in that group was Benjamin Franklin.
They discovered what he now know: That there is no such thing as animal magnetism. What people were being influenced by was the power of suggestion.
Where Does the Term Hypnosis Come From?
James Braid was a physician who heard about Mesmer and thought critically about what he saw during one of his demonstrations. He had a theory that it wasn’t an outside force that made a person behave in those strange ways, instead that the power was in the mind of the person being hypnotized.
This was a powerful shift because it meant that the hypnotist wasn’t special, that everyone had the ability to become hypnotized.
Braid began experimenting on himself, trying to create the same state using his mind that he saw Mesmer create in other people. Braid didn’t know it at the time, but he was the first person to experiment with Self Hypnosis.
He is actually the one that coined the term “Hypnosis,” which comes from the root of the Greek work ‘Hypno’, which means sleep. This is because people in trance seemed to enter a state similar to sleep in many ways.
James Braid also pioneered the use of hypnosis in a medical setting. He would put people in a trance to help aid with surgeries, including things such as amputations. Because he used hypnosis on his clients to relieve pain and slow bleeding,his patients had a much higher survival rate.
Dr. Braid was one of the founding fathers of modern hypnosis, even though later in life he disagreed with the term Hypnosis all together. He realized that hypnosis is not actually a state of sleep, but actually a heightened state of learning.
Does Hypnosis Work?
Anyone who has seen a hypnosis stage show wonders if the people undergoing stage hypnosis are really in a trance or if they are just faking it. Does the person seeking hypnosis for weight loss lose the weight because of hypnosis, or because of their own willpower?
Does hypnosis REALLY work? The short answer is a resounding yes.
Let me tell you what I’ve experienced.
I am a medical hypnotist who has seen countless clients in my private practice. I’ve seen people who come to me with a problem they’ve been struggling with for years and they’ve made no progress despite their best efforts.
It might be sugar cravings, or addictions, fears, or even something physical such as teeth grinding or migraines.
Those same clients tried so many things before. They tried counseling, or prescription medication,and self help books, all with little to no progress. It wasn’t until they experienced hypnosis that they were able to win that battle they had been fighting.
After a few sessions of hypnosis they were finally able to lose weight they struggled to let go of for years.
After experiencing hypnosis they were finally able to conquer their social anxiety.
Once they unlocked the power of their mind using hypnosis, the problem they had just seemed to go away. Could all this be coincidence? It could be, but that is unlikely. Something is going on in the brain during hypnosis. Something that triggers people to take massive action and to change habits that were previously set in stone.
What is the Success Rate of Hypnosis?
Hypnosis has many magical claims associate with it. Maybe you’ve heard of a friend who stopped a bad habit with hypnosis when you never thought they would. Maybe you’ve seen a TV advertisement of someone who lost hundreds of pounds with hypnosis.
What I’ve experienced in my private medical hypnosis practice is that roughly 75-90% of the people who come to see me reach their goals or at least make significant progress towards them.
What that means is if 10 people come to me with a problem, let’s say to sleep better or help their insomnia, about eight of them will fall asleep faster, sleep deeper, and wake up feeling more refreshed after just a few sessions. About two people won’t reach that goal for a variety of reasons.
Sometimes I don’t see the results immediately. If a person sees me for weight loss, we work on instilling positive habits that might take months to see the results (especially if you lose significant weight in a healthy way).
The change in the brain occurs during hypnosis, it just takes the body a little while to catch up.
If hypnosis isn’t 100% effective for 100% of the people, is it worth doing? Yes,hypnosis is worth trying. Even surgery doesn’t have 100% success rate, I know because I’ve seen many people who come to me because of chronic pain from a surgery that didn’t cure their ailment.
I’ve also noticed anecdotally and by talking to other hypnotists that pain control is one area of hypnotism that has less of a success rate (maybe 10-20% less than the average). There is a talent to going into hypnosis, just like there is a talent to playing the piano.
Those clients of mine that are very talented at going into trance can easily make a part of their body completely numb. So numb that you could pinch it, cut it, even amputate it with no discomfort.
Here is a video of someone talented at hypnosis undergoing a dental procedure with no pain killers.
Is Hypnosis Real? The Best Scientific Evidence for Hypnosis
There is tons of evidence for the efficacy and effectiveness of hypnosis. To be blunt, hypnosis works. Is hypnosis real? This article lays out the best evidence for hypnosis and hypnotherapy.
Here are a few excerpts from the article:
Hypnosis and Healing Bones:
“The first study showed that six weeks after an ankle fracture, those in the hypnosis group showed the equivalent of eight and a half weeks of healing. That effectively demonstrates that using hypnosis helped that group heal bone fractures 41% faster.
Hypnosis and Weight Loss:
“Those who received the hypnosis lost more weight than 90 percent of those not receiving hypnosis and maintained the weight loss two years after treatment ended.” 
Hypnosis and Insomnia:
“Significantly more patients had a normal night’s sleep when on autohypnosis alone than when they received placebo or Mogadon (a sleep medication).” 
As you can see, hypnosis is real has been shown to help people heal faster, get healthier, and relax deeper. This is because you are using the power of your mind to effect your body.
The article I linked to about hypnosis and scientific evidence has nearly 20 scholarly studies cited at the bottom. I highly encourage you to research them yourself. Or if you are especially interested in the research out there, you can go to pubmed and search for new studies that are being released about hypnosis or hypnotherapy.
The short story is that hypnosis works, but HOW does it work?
How Does Hypnosis Work?
If science says hypnosis works, how does it work? The short answer is that we just don’t know. However there are some medical establishments that are discovering what is triggered in the brain when you are in a state of hypnotic trance.
Stanford Medical recently released a study where they scanned the brain of people who were highly talented at going into hypnosis as well as those that had a lot of difficultly being hypnotized. They attempted to hypnotize both groups of individuals while their brains were being scanned. The scientists discovered that there were at least three parts of the brains effected by hypnosis:
Three Parts of the Brain Affected by Hypnosis
- Decrease in activity in an area called the dorsal anterior cingulate. This is the part of the brain that takes the information from our senses and decides which is the most important. By decreasing activity in this area, you are less concerned about the outside world and more focused on your internal world.
- Increase in connections between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the insula. This is the part of the brain that helps process and control what is going on with the body.
- Decreased connections between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the medial prefrontal and the posterior cingulate cortex. This creates a disconnect between a persons actions and the awareness of their actions. This is why during a hypnosis show a person can be doing some pretty silly and not be embarrassed. It’s because their brain’s awareness is disconnected from what they are actually doing.
While all that information can be interesting to the nerds among us (myself included!), allow me to explain hypnosis in a different way.
There are two parts of the mind, the conscious mind and the unconscious mind. The conscious mind is where you make active decisions using logic and reason. The conscious mind is between 1% – 12% of all your brain activity.
The unconscious (or subconscious) takes up the other 90-99% of the mind. It is the part that controls the automatic functions of the body (heart rate, breathing), as well as your belief systems. How you think about yourself, how you think about love, how you think about money, all of these things are controlled by your unconscious mind.
In fact, most of the decisions we make throughout the day might actually be made by the unconscious mind, but your conscious mind is just taking credit for it. There is an interesting study published in the Journal of Behavioral and Brain Sciences by associate professor of psychology at San Francisco State University Ezequiel Morsella.
Morsella theorizes that all of the information from our five senses (as well as our thoughts and memories) are all processed in the unconscious mind. When you need to make a decision about something the unconscious analyzes all that data and comes up with a solution. It gives that solution to the conscious mind, who thinks that it came up with that solution all on it’s own.
The conscious mind takes credit for all the work of the unconscious mind.
Fair? Maybe not, but this is actually a good thing.
The brain processes about 400 Billion bits of information per second. We are probably only conscious aware of about 2,000 bits per second. If we had to be consciously aware of all that other data we would become overwhelmed and cease to function.
The unconscious mind is really the part that comes up with most (if not all) of the creative solutions to problems in our lives. That is what makes it so powerful and why it can be used to help a person sleep, conquer anxiety, or even control pain in the body.
Is Hypnosis Sleep?
The root of the word hypnosis is ‘hypno’, from the Greek word that means ‘sleep’. If you are to look at someone in a hypnotic trance then by all appearances they may look asleep. Their breath rate slows down, their muscles become limp, and when they speak it’s almost as if it’s in a drowsy half-awake state.
Typically it’s been said by hypnotists (myself included) that hypnosis is not a state of sleep. You are still awake and aware of what is going on around you. However, most people don’t realize that sleep itself is not as black and white as they think.
There are three stages of sleep.
- N1 – This is the transition phase between waking and sleeping. It’s where you move into theta brain waves (a frequency of 4-7 Hz). This is accompanied by full body relaxation. You can experience interesting phenomenon such as a sense of falling, a sudden twitch in your body known as a Hypnic Jerk, or even Hypnagogic hallucinations known as hypnagogia; these are short auditory and visual hallucinations.
- N2 – This is a deep stage of sleep that accounts for about 50% of your sleep cycle. During this stage you experience sleep spindles and K-complexes. These are bursts of brain activity that immediately follows muscle twitching. Sleep spindles are associated with the process of remember, forgetting, learning, and integrating knowledge. This stage of sleep you are completely unaware of your environment.
- N3 – This is the deepest level of sleep where you produce delta waves in the brain (frequency of 0.5 – 2 Hz). This is the stage where many parasomnias can occur. Things such as sleepwalking or sleep talking, night terrors, or even bed wetting. It’s very hard to wake someone from this deep level of sleep.
- REM (Rapid Eye Movement) – About 20% of your total sleep, and the stage which dreams occur. You dream for between 90-120 minutes each night. It’s named REM because during this stage you can see the eyes moving around underneath your eyelids. During this stage you will experience a nearly full body paralysis, this is to prevent your body from acting out your dreams in real life.
A person in a hypnotic trance exhibits some of the characteristics of a person in some of these stages of sleep. For example, it’s not uncommon for a person with closed eyes and in hypnosis to have their eyelids flutter and their eyes to move around. This is incredibly similar to the REM sleep cycle when we dream.
When a person enters into the N1 stage of sleep, they will sometimes experience visual colors, hallucinations (visual images, different sounds, or even the feeling of falling). It’s also not uncommon for a person in the N1 stage to undergo a ‘hypnic jerk’, which is a twitch or involuntary jerk that the body makes. A person in hypnosis might also have all of these different things happen.
In fact, when a person is starting to fall asleep they reach a ‘hypnagogic’ state. During this state part of you might be awake, but parts of you might also be asleep.
It is not clear at this time whether or not a person is in a stage of sleep or not when they are in hypnosis. It’s my personal opinion that some people move into the N1 stage of sleep during hypnosis, but that entering that stage is not required for hypnosis to occur. Therefore you don’t need to be in N1 stage sleep to change habits using hypnosis.
It’s the same way how you don’t need to enter a ‘flow state‘ in order to play a sport, but if you are in that flow state you might be playing much better than usual.
Hypnosis in Person and Hypnosis on Youtube
When we think of clinical hypnosis to help someone, this is typically done in person at the medical hypnotists office. This is how I work.
If a person is curious about hypnosis then they might explore youtube and find that there are dozens of free hypnosis videos you can view. Anything from hypnosis to stop smoking, to rapid hypnotic inductions, or even hour long hypnosis sessions to help you sleep.
Can these hypnosis sessions on youtube be effective at helping you in some way? Let’s go to some the comments of this youtube video by Richard Nongard to find the answer (note: I spliced a few similar comments together in this next image)
Do Hypnosis Audio MP3’s Work?
You’ve learned the answer to is hypnosis real, but do the mp3’s you find online actually work?
Hypnosis mp3’s are basically youtube hypnosis videos without the visuals. You will find that in many hypnosis sessions the visuals are not even required, especially since you often close your eyes to go into hypnosis.
Hypnosis mp3’s have some advantages
- They can be carried with you on your phone, ipod,or mp3 player
- You can listen to the multiple times (repetition helps with learning)
- They are less expensive than a one-on-one clinical hypnosis session
- You have access to some of the best hypnotherapists in the world if they sell mp3’s
The disadvantages of hynosis mp3’s is it can be difficult to customize suggestions to the person receiving the hypnosis. Some hypnotists such as myself have found a way around this by offering a test before you buy some mp3’s which will help determine which mp3’s would work best for you. I do this with my sleep hypnosis program called Deep Sleep.
Here a testimonial from someone who went through the Deep Sleep program. I did not see them in person at all, they got all the results simply from the mp3’s and resources that are in the program.
The Difference Between Hypnosis and Guided Meditation
When exploring the personal development space you may notice that guided meditation sounds very similar to hypnosis sessions. This isn’t an accident, hypnosis is very similar to meditation in a variety of ways.
Differences between guided meditation and hypnosis:
- Hypnosis uses a hypnotic induction to get you into a state of trance. Most guided meditations do not.
- A hypnosis mp3 might come with binaural beats or music designed to enhance trance. A guided meditation may do this, or it may just have peaceful music in the background not designed to influence your brainwaves.
- A hypnosis session will use language patterns designed specifically to create change. Often times a guided meditation uses normal language and the person creating it may or may not be trained in the use of hypnotic language.
Typically hypnosis sessions are also designed to be used much more infrequently. Anywhere from being listened to only once, to maybe two or three times a week. A guided meditation are usually designed to be listened to on a daily basis and can be shorter than your usual hypnosis session.
Which is better for you if you have to choose between listening to a guided meditation and a hypnosis session? That is a bit like asking which is better for you to get healthy: diet or exercise. They do different things but help the same problem.
I find the opposite to be true as well: someone just looking to learn meditation will benefit greatly from a hypnosis session designed to enhance their meditation practice.
Is Hypnosis Mind Control?
If you research hypnosis you might come across claims of hypnosis being mind control. If you are from Europe you might have even seen some specials by Derren Brown which indicates that people’s mind’s can be controlled using hypnosis.
There are reports of government programs such as MK Ultra that claim to use brainwashing techniques like hypnosis to make people do things against their will. So is hypnosis real and is it mind control?
The answer is a mixed bag. Generally speaking, no, hypnosis is not some magical brain washing mind control technique. However, hypnosis does put you into a heightened state of learning where you are more open to suggestion.
To answer this question for yourself, ask yourself this: Is a really good car salesman using mind control?
You could argue that not everyone he convinced to buy a car actually want that new car if they thought about it logically. But the salesman uses a variety of psychological techniques in order to convince the buyer that they really do want that new car, even if it would be tight on their pocket book.
So is the salesman using mind control?
Don’t worry, there are safeguard present in your brain that protect you from being influenced to do something immoral. I talk about that next
How to Protect Your Mind From Hypnosis
There is a part of your mind that actually protects you even when you are in a state of hypnotic trance. This part is called the ‘hidden observer’. It was discovered by a Stanford researcher named Dr. Ernest Hilgard during some of his experiments with hypnosis.
He found that even when you are in a state of deep trance, there is a part of you called the ‘hidden observer’ that is always aware of what is going on and protecting you. Even if the hypnotist is to suggest amnesia and for you to forget something consciously, your hidden observer will not forget.
This hidden observer will protect you and prevent you from doing anything that you would be against morally. For example, if a person in hypnosis was asked to take off all their clothes, take some drugs, or to shoot a person in the head, their hidden observer would prevent them from carrying out those commands (assuming they would not normally do these things).
How You Can Experience Hypnosis
The mystery around hypnosis tends to breed curiosity. Some people just want to experience what its like. You don’t see that withmany other procedures. People don’t go to counseling jsut to ‘see what its like’. People don’t undergo sugery just to ‘see what its like’.
In a way that curiosity can be a good thing if you go into hypnosis with a certain attitude. Rarely does a client in my office experience hypnosis for the frist time and say, “Wow, that’s exactly how I thought it would be.”
Almost always they say, “That’s not what I expected, but it was a great! experience!”
Go into hypnosis with an open mind. The BEST ways to experience hypnosis is with a certified medical hypnotist or hypnotherapist. You can do this in person, in a youtube video, or an mp3.
Hypnosis works best if there is a probelm you have that you want to solve. That way you can see the results as the problem slowly starts to desolve after a few sessions.
If you are curious I also recommend participating in any stage hypnosis shows that might be in your area. They are a lot of fun to watch or to be on stage. You will love it.
If you have certain problems, I’ve developed course for them that include hypnosis. They are courses of hypnosis for anxiety, hypnosis for sleep and insomnia, and a course on meditation for beginners. All of them take you from square one and teach you how to do hypnosis and what you should expect during the process.