Hypnosis – uses and abuses

Under hypnosis, we become suggestible and give up control to external guidance. Photo by MK Hamilton on Unsplash


The word hypnosis comes from roots linked to sleep, although hypnosis is not like night-time sleep.

The usual components are relaxed posture, control of the gaze, and closing the eyes, all part of induction into a trance, an altered state of consciousness in which we become suggestible and give up conscious control to external guidance.

It is a focused state in which our attention and sensory perception become manipulable.  We can be induced into hallucinations, anaesthesia, and regression to past experiences.  Changes can last beyond the hypnosis session itself.


It’s not entirely clear how hypnosis works, but it seems to influence the brain and nervous system in three ways:

  1. It calms autonomic functions such as lung and heart activity.
  2. It stops us flipping between tasks.
  3. It stops us self-checking.  We don’t mentally leave what we’re doing to question it; instead, we just rest content.
  4. It stops us truth-checking.  We don’t reflect on the truth of what we are being told – we just accept it, and align ourselves with that conveyed truth.

In short, hypnosis works by putting to sleep the mind’s critical faculties, enabling it to focus and follow suggestions more readily.


Because hypnosis enables suggestibility, it can help the human mind to access a different perception.

  1. PAIN – By changing pain perception, pain can be reduced or eliminated.
  2. FEAR – By changing fear perception, phobias can be reduced.
  3. HABITS – By changing perceptions surrounding a bad habit (e.g. over-eating or smoking), that habit may be more easily broken.
  4. CONFIDENCE – By changing self-perception, confidence can be increased.
  5. PERFORMANCE – By changing all of the above, performance in onerous tasks (e.g. sport) can be enhanced.
  6. BEHAVIOUR – By encouraging acceptance of a new, more helpful identity or narrative, new patterns of behaviour can be encouraged.


Hypnosis reduces the ability of a person to challenge what is happening during and after hypnosis.  Abuses would thus include:

  1. Use of suggestions which the client has not consented to
  2. Failing to inform the client fully about the process
  3. Use of the client’s vulnerable state to exercise power over them
  4. Lack of overall care and follow-up
  5. Encouraging changes in perception which put the client in danger

Finally, there is still a lot scientists don’t know about hypnosis and how it works. This means that it carries unknown risks.