Does Hypnosis Really Work?

By Oliver M. James

September 1, 2020

What is Hypnosis Used for?

Hypnosis is a powerful tool for many everyday issues, but like all tools it’s how they are used which makes the difference. 

This article covers the basics, its uses, and gives you some real life examples of everyday situations which are hypnotic, even though we may not typically recognise them as being hypnotic. 

Hypnosis alone and sometimes combined with other methods of change can deliver long lasting and life changing results within a short period of time.

It's applications are almost endless but hypnosis can help you make positive changes in your life.

Research shows that hypnosis can help you with many different issues, below I have listed just a selection.

Applications for Clinical Hypnosis

  • Stop Smoking
  • Overcome irrational fears 
  • Manage anxiety
  • Stress reduction
  • Improving your sleep
  • Weight loss
  • Chronic pain relief
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Boost Confidence
  • Stopping procrastination
  • Stop teeth grinding
  • Stop bed wetting
  • Reduce exam stress and anxiety
  • Stop nail biting
  • Improve sports performance 
  • Overcome mental blocks
  • Public speaking
  • Sales
  • Improving concentration and memory
  • and much more
  • How Does Hypnosis Work?

    Hypnosis is essentially a natural ability which uses our focus imagination, guided imagery and sometimes relaxation to rewire the brain and change behavioural patterns which are often difficult to do under normal circumstances

    Can Everybody Be Hypnotized?

    Yes, everyone has experienced hypnosis to some degree, without even realising it, and multiple times a day. Although, not everyone is a good candidate to be hypnotized in an entertainment context, the majority people can benefit from hypnosis in a therapeutic context. 

    Everyday Hypnosis vs Formal Hypnosis

    Everyday Situations

    Here are some examples of everyday hypnosis, see if you can recognise the pattern within each example. These examples are very normal and are not typically identified as being hypnotic but they are.
    • Films and Television
      You're watching a really good film, you might laugh, cry,  feel your heart rate increase, become scared or even scream in reaction to everything that is happening in the film.
      Yet the critical and logical part of your mind knows that it is just a film, with a director, a script, actors, lighting, sound and special effects. If you kept reminding yourself of this, it would be impossible to enjoy the film.

      What's Happening:
      The critical and logical part of your mind is simply taking a back seat.  Whilst the emotional part of your brain allows you to become completely wrapped up in the story.

    • Play
      When you were a child, you probably played pretend many pretend games either on your own, parents or friends. Maybe you thought you were a cowboy or a princes.

      When you began the game,  you just knew you were pretending, but remember how very quickly, you were able to drop right into that fantasy world, and suddenly you believed you really were a cowboy or princess. 

      What's Happening:
      Once again, that critical mind steps aside and the emotional part of the mind kicks allowing you to become fully absorbed in the experience. 

    • Habits/Autopilot
      Imagine you love eating chocolate, you're at home looking in the cupboard and you see a wrapped chocolate bar. It's like it was placed there just for you.

      All of a sudden you think to yourself: "I need chocolate" and then a split second later another thought pops in and tells you: "I really shouldn't eat that chocolate bar, or I'll put on weight"

      Too late. You've already opened it and you've already taken the first bite. Before long, its gone.  

      What's Happening:
      What we see here is the typical conflict between the rational and logical part of our minds and the emotion part.  Which one wins?

      it's always the emotional part, otherwise known as the unconscious or subconscious mind, or simply our right brain.

      Now replace the chocolate with the thing you want to resolve, perhaps it's cigarettes, drinking too much, nail biting or anxiety.  Notice the same conflict exists.  Your mind becomes wrapped around an idea which can become a belief and a habit.  

      Our brain learns quickly and through repetition, so you can begin to realise that any belief you hold can generate a behaviour which becomes an automatic habit. 

      Often when we try to change using our pure logical willpower this same kind of conflict occurs. Using hypnosis we can change that inner voice and beliefs that have been driving the behaviour you want to change.  

    • Teachers, Charismatic Public Speakers and Politicians 
      Words can inspire and move people. If you've ever had an incredible teacher or listened to an amazing speech, you'll have noticed their ability to capture the audience's attention. They will use powerful language designed to bring out our emotions, thereby wrapping us up in the story or lesson they want to us to take action on. 

      What's Happening:
      By engaging that emotion and drawing our attention, these speakers effectively are using hypnosis without even realising it. Once again, when you are in that state of focus, you are open, receptive and you'll react to what is being said, because the critical part of the mind once again will take a back seat. 

    Formal Hypnosis

    Hypnosis on TV and on Stage
    You might have seen people be hypnotised on stage or on tv shows, and seemingly made to do things they would not normally do.  This can cause many to believe that it must be staged or fake in some way. In the majority of these situations, the volunteers are actually hypnotised - which can begin to allow you to imagine the possibility of hypnosis in creating new realities and beliefs. 

    But context is key. They are volunteers which know they are part of a production, they are expecting have weird stuff happen, and they allow it to happen for the experience.  I can tell you it's a very strange experience, not being able to lift your own hand off your face.

    Hypnosis in Movies and Popular Culture

    Movies such as Get Out or even the Jungle Book are portray hypnosis as a loss of control, and can seem rightfully scary. Particularly at the current time of writing where formal hypnosis is not common place, it can be easy to take these representations as reality.  What is shown in movies, like all movies, they are not accurate representations of what really happens.

    Hypnotherapy Sessions - What Happens?
    During a hypnotherapy session you are guided to use that same natural ability you have to go into hypnosis and make changes, allowing access to your own deep unconscious resources and shift your thinking.

    Sessions typically begin with just a short discussion to establish your goals before any hypnosis begins. You can expect to remember as much as you would from a regular conversation, with the added advantage of feeling empowered to realise it's easier than you imagined to create the change you want when you have the right guidance. 

    Our brain is made up around 100 billion neurons all interconnected by trillions of synapses and our thoughts are the result of electrochemical reactions. You can already begin to imagine the complexity and how much is going on under the hood right as you read this.

    We are unconsciously and automatically processing millions of bits of information at any one time much like a computer.  If you took a baseball bat to the brain, you would affect its electro-chemistry and interrupt and change habitual patterns, as well as our thoughts, emotions and perceptions. 

    Thankfully, hypnosis is much much gentler and using hypnosis you will essentially retrain your mind for the change you're looking to achieve in usually just a couple of hypnosis sessions. 

    Evidence for Hypnosis

    There’s a whole body of evidence based research out there showing just how effective hypnosis can be. Typing the word hypnosis into Google Scholar will bring up more than 300,000 different studies on the use of hypnosis in a clinical setting

    Below you’ll find some examples of interesting studies into the efficacy of hypnosis.  It's a fascinating and increasingly popular area of research due to the simplicity and speed that hypnosis can help you get results.

    Hypnosis for Anxiety

    "Self-hypnosis training represents a rapid, cost-effective, non addictive and safe alternative to medication for the treatment of anxiety-related conditions.
    The tremendous volume of research provides compelling evidence that hypnosis is an efficacious treatment for state anxiety (e.g., prior to tests, surgery and medical procedures) and anxiety-related disorders, such as headaches and irritable bowel syndrome."

    Hammond, D. C. (2010). Hypnosis in the treatment of anxiety- and stress-related disorders. Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, 10(2), 263-273. doi:10.1586/ern.09.140

    "Results showed an increased sense of control, improved self-concept, elimination of pathological symptoms, and cessation of panic attacks."

    Du-Fay Der & Philippa Lewington (1990) Rational Self-Directed Hypnotherapy: A Treatment for Panic Attacks, American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 32:3, 160-167, DOI: 10.1080/00029157.1990.10402820

    Test Anxiety
    "10 of the 11 practitioners recorded passes, whereas on the second, 9 indicated an attitude change toward lower levels of test anxiety. Attention is drawn to the minimal expenditure of time involved in the treatment and the generalizability of the hypnotherapeutic technique to other areas of the practitioners' lives."

    Dr. Harry E. Stanton (1993) Using Hypnotherapy to Overcome Examination Anxiety, American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 35:3, 198-204, DOI: 10.1080/00029157.1993.10403004

    Fear of Flying:
    "The patient’s self-assessed readiness to fly increased significantly over the course of treatment, and she successfully engaged in a “practice flight” toward the end of her treatment."

    Volpe, E. G., & Nash, M. R. (2012). The Use of Hypnosis for Airplane Phobia With an Obsessive Character: A Case Study. Clinical Case Studies, 11(2), 89-103. doi:10.1177/1534650112440167

    Hypnosis for Anxiety

    Learn more about 1-1 help to manage anxiety using hypnosis

    Hypnosis for Quitting Smoking

    Hypnosis vs Nicotine Replacement Therapy
     "Results of a randomized controlled trial. Hypnosis and HNRT were over three times more likely than NRT only participants to abstain at 26-weeks.""

    Hasan, F. M., Zagarins, S. E., Pischke, K. M., Saiyed, S., Bettencourt, A. M., Beal, L., . . . Mccleary, N. (2014). Hypnotherapy is more effective than nicotine replacement therapy for smoking cessation: Results of a randomized controlled trial. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 22(1), 1-8. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2013.12.012

    Tobacco dependency:

    "Of 43 consecutive patients undergoing this treatment protocol, 39 reported remaining abstinent at follow-up (6 months to 3 years posttreatment). Barber, J. (2001). Freedom from smoking: Integrating hypnotic methods and rapid smoking to facilitate smoking cessation."

    International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 49(3), 257-266. doi:10.1080/00207140108410075 

    "Hypnosis is the most effective way of giving up smoking, according to the largest ever scientific comparison of ways of breaking the habit. A meta-analysis, statistically combining results of more than 600 studies of 72,000 people from America and Europe to compare various methods of quitting. On average, hypnosis was over three times as effective as nicotine replacement methods and 15 times as effective as trying to quit alone."

    University of Iowa, Journal of Applied Psychology, How One in Five Give Up Smoking. October 1992. (Also New Scientist, October 10, 1992.) Studies on the Effectiveness of Hypnosis for Smoking Cessation. (2009, April 8).

    Hypnosis to Quit Smoking

    Learn more about 1-1 help and group sessions to help you become a non-smoker. 

    Sports Hypnosis

    Golf performance:
    "These results support the hypothesis that an hypnotic intervention can improve golf-chipping performance and increase feelings and cognitions associated with flow."

    Pates, J. (2000). Effects Of Hypnosis On Flow States And Golf Performance. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 91(7), 1057. doi:10.2466/pms.91.7.1057-1075

    Athletic Performance

    "The 14 athletes participating imaged each situation in and out of hypnosis— half of the time the imagery in hypnosis came first and half after. The participants reported that the imagery under hypnosis was more intense for each dimension and more intense for each situation. Whether the imagery was done under hypnosis first or after was not significant. The findings suggest that hypnosis substantially enhances imagery intensity and effectiveness. "

    Liggett, D. R. (2000). Enhancing Imagery through Hypnosis: A Performance Aid for Athletes. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 43(2), 149-157. doi:10.1080/00029157.2000.1040426

    Ways to Experience Hypnosis

    1-1 Help

    If you’re curious to see how hypnosis can help you, you may decide to find a professional hypnotist to work with online or in person. This is my recommended option because your session will be personalised to your exact situation and you will be guided throughout.

    It's useful to meet and speak to the person you will be working with before beginning any change work, it's important that you can connect with them and feel at ease, before investing any money. 

    That's why I offer all potential clients a free consultation (strategy call) before beginning any work, so that you can be sure that it's right for you. 

    Hypnosis Audio Downloads

    Another option is to use professionally made hypnosis audio files, with time and practice you can achieve amazing results. Explore the download store and find a range of free and paid downloads.

    My personal tip would be avoid searching such content on YouTube, as many are excessively lengthy and questionable in content, and to find a reputable clinical hypnotist or hypnotherapist who offers audio files. 


    You can learn to bring yourself into hypnosis with dedicated practice, it is a good way to focus your mind on your desired outcome, to relax and let go.

    If you already practice mindfulness or meditation, you will find this an easy skill to learn, and can help you reach a profoundly relaxed and focused state very quickly.

    If you are interested in learning self-hypnosis, please contact me

    What happens during a session?

    I can only speak for how I operate, and not for how other practitioners operate.

    Typically hypnosis sessions do not involve lengthy discussion about the past. They contain a mix of discussion, mind-body techniques, deep relaxing hypnosis, and lots of testing. 

    The process is highly personalised to your specific issue and circumstances.  I will guide you through the process and coach you on how to get the most out of it. 

    I'm proud to have been trained by the very best, and to equip you with the stuff that works, which you will be testing out directly in the session.

    Between sessions there can be sometimes tasks to do to further reinforce the work. 

    To get started, book a free consultation online. 

    How Many Hypnosis Sessions Are Needed?

    My goal for you is to be fully independent and not reliant on weekly or monthly sessions, so the time we spend together with be relatively brief. On average, we will work together for around 3 sessions.

    To get started, book a free consultation online.