How Does Hypnosis Actually Work?

In the autumn I re-started my hypnotherapy and psychotherapy training! For those of you who know me you’ll know that I love anything to do with the subconscious mind and dreams. I’ve been interested in both since I was a kid.

Though my interest in hypnotherapy really began when I became pregnant. It’s true that for some, hypnosis feels shrouded in mystery. So I thought, I need to blog about this to show just how helpful it can be.

What is hypnosis?

My favourite explanation of hypnosis so far is that it’s simply a guided meditation, it’s completely natural. We’ve all been in a hypnotic state thousands of times, though the majority of us haven’t had the tools to tap into its full potential. I practise meditation, yoga, lucid dreaming, mindfulness and reiki but have only just realised that these are all obvious ways of evoking the state of hypnosis.

Hypnosis isn’t when we are asleep; it’s an altered state of consciousness. It’s when the conscious mind is so relaxed, the subconscious mind becomes accessible. Everything we’ve learnt is stored in our subconscious and when in a state of hypnosis, it’s possible to tap into the goldmine of your subconscious to change patterns. The hypnotherapist is simply the guide. It’s the individual receiving hypnosis, who has the biggest impact on the degree of change they experience. Largely through the strength of their motivation and intent.

It’s then about using a series of techniques to tap into the individual’s highest potential. For hypnotherapy to work, it’s crucial that you’re relaxed. Hypnotherapy is about focusing your attention, to maximise your responsiveness to suggestion in order to manifest positive change, to help change patterns, behaviours and your psychological state.

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Pic: Taken in Autumn 2018 by Alex Cameron

How does it work?

Daydreaming is the first of the levels in a trance state. Beta is the waking state, where we are fully conscious, logical and make decisions whereas alpha is known as a creative state – full of imagination. Theta is a dream state and delta is where deep sleep occurs. Alpha and Theta are the states when we are the most susceptible to hypnosis, where behaviour modification will occur.

It seems Hypnosis is simply about being in a deep-enough state of relaxation to access the subconscious and affect positive change. In fact, most recently (just one week after our first hypnotherapy class back in October) I was asked to read my poetry to a room of famous poets. I’m petrified of public speaking by the way. More about this shortly!

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Pic: Taken by Alex Cameron

What do you experience?

When in the hypnosis state, both your conscious and subconscious mind usually enter into the alpha state, a relaxed dream-like state which allows these two parts to communicate. We don’t want one or both states to fall into an unconscious sleep but for the two to communicate.

It seems everyone is different in terms of what they experience during hypnosis. In terms of the psychological and physical aspects, sensations and overall experience. Some people are fully aware of everything going on, others feel sleepy yet still aware and others will do into a deep trance-like state, where they wake from the hypnosis with no recollection.

What about self-hypnosis?

More about my recent experiment before the poetry recital.

It was by chance that the following happened. As I drifted off asleep the afternoon before the recital, giving myself some reiki, I felt myself drift towards sleep but before I did, I inhabited a very relaxed space that was empty of thought, I’d almost go as far as to say I was in a deep trance. The reiki and my breathing brought me to this space. When there, I seized the opportunity and repeated: I am confident reading my poetry, I am comfortable in large groups. The following evening I was still anxious about it but when I came to read my poetry it was as though I was having an out of body experience. There was two of me – the anxious me stayed seated and a new me stood up and read aloud three poems steadily. I paused, added intonation and was animated. Everyone said how calm I seemed! Call it placebo, coincidence, beginners luck or effective self-hypnosis, but it worked.

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Pic: Artist – Dariah Lazatova


 When I became pregnant I was petrified about the prospect of childbirth and hospitals. I took part in a hypnobirthing course and as a result, had the most incredible birth. I was able to ‘control’ my breathing, tap into helpful visualisations, switch off and fully relax into alpha mode for pretty much all of my labour.

The birth wasn’t painful, and incredibly, I actually look back on the birth as very happy and enjoyable. I had a sense of euphoria afterwards and my eyes were wide and bright as buttons in all the pictures! I’ve never been in such a relaxed state for such a long period of time – probably around 7 hours in total. I was totally focused and tuned into myself. It was one of my proudest moments. Since I’ve been reading the theory and explanations thus far. I’ve been thinking ‘yes, yes, yes’! That’s exactly what it is.

When I practised hypnobirthing, during the birth of my little girl, I felt very detached and removed from the situation, as though I was there but I’d left behind the worried me, and then there was the relaxed me, over in the birthing pool, just focused on my inner world, a soundless and calm place only filled with my visualisations and occasionally I’d dip into the ‘real world’ to request a sip of drink or a flannel. There was a sense of strangeness about it for sure.

Similarly, during the brief spell of self-hypnosis I did before my poetry recital, I would say I was withdrawn into self, had slowed breathing, loss of awareness of my surroundings, my eyes closed, felt a narrowing of attention. Unlike a ‘moderate trance’ I didn’t feel as though I had intensified imagery. I knew I was in the room but couldn’t hear, see or think anything, just felt deeply relaxed, warm and peaceful, there was a void for a few moments. It was very womb-like.

What happens if you stay in hypnosis?

Afterwards I was slightly curious about the hypnotic state and what would happen if you stayed there. Coincidentally I encountered information in one of the books I’m reading at the moment and that said if you entered hypnosis and were to remain in a trance – with no hypnotic suggestions or further guidance – you would either simply fall asleep then wake from a pleasant nap or return to full consciousness on your own.

How can hypnosis help?

Hypnosis can be used to produce anaesthesia in the body, which can help with dentist appointments for example. It’s great for anxiety, phobias, helping you to stop smoking, drinking, over-eating. It can improve sleep, reduce stress and control pain. It can even help control bleeding and the heart rate! So it seems that the hypnosis state, which seems very focused, can enable you to powerfully remove your attention (and your mind) from psychical pain, taking you to a calm, peaceful, pain-free space instead.


Have you had any experiences of hypnotherapy? What did you have it for? How did you feel during the session and has it helped you to change any unhelpful patterns?


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