Hypnosis may not come easily to everyone. But understanding the qualities of a qualified hypnotherapist and alternative options available to you can provide the support you need.

Contrary to some depictions in the media, hypnosis is not a state of amnesia induced by a string of stage tricks. It doesn’t make you unconscious, and it won’t make you lose control over your behavior.

In fact, hypnosis helps you achieve a heightened state of awareness and focus. It’s a form of psychotherapy that helps you reach a deep state of relaxation, making it easier for you to experience suggestions and make changes in your patterns or behaviors.

Some achieve this state more easily than others. A variety of factors, from misconceptions to working with an unskilled therapist, can affect how you respond to hypnosis. But there are things you can do to set yourself up for success, as well as alternative therapies that may help.

People differ in the degree to which they can be hypnotized. For some, misconceptions about hypnosis can play a role, creating fears or concerns that get in the way of their ability to experience hypnosis.

2017 research suggests changes in brain activity may affect someone’s capacity to be hypnotized. Highly hypnotizable brains have altered activity and connectivity that trigger characteristics of hypnosis, such as:

  • focused attention
  • enhanced somatic and emotional control
  • lack of self-consciousness

Lisa Larsen, PsyD, a licensed psychologist from Los Angeles, California, who frequently uses hypnosis in her practice, explains there’s a range of hypnotizability. Some people do it with ease, while others have a harder time focusing or tuning out extraneous stimuli.

“Nonetheless, I think humans experience hypnotic states naturally in day-to-day life,” she says. “A skilled hypnotherapist can utilize that ability to focus inward to help even “resistant” people enter a hypnotic state.”

Todd Goodwin, a board certified hypnotist in Cary, North Carolina, agrees. He says nearly everyone can be hypnotized, barring profound cognitive problems, which can be related to intelligence, pharmaceuticals, or severe traumatic brain injury (TBI).

“The real question is not about being hypnotized naturally and automatically, but being hypnotized by a professional for intentional purposes,” he notes. “The second situation involves more potential obstacles.”

The purpose of hypnosis

In a clinical setting, the purpose of hypnosis is to make it easier to change your beliefs, patterns, or behaviors.

The general idea, explains Larsen, is to speak to a deeper, more intuitive, and creative part of the mind (sometimes referred to as the subconscious or unconscious mind) and bypass the limiting beliefs and rigidity of the conscious mind.

“When you’re in a hypnotic state, you’re freer to imagine and experience different states emotionally and physically,” she says. “This can help interrupt maladaptive patterns that have been going on for months or years.”

Hypnosis may be used to:

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A number of factors can make it hard for some people to reach a hypnotic state.

Potential obstacles include:

  • misconceptions or preconceived notions about what hypnosis is, such as unconsciousness, amnesia, or sleep
  • lack of rapport with your therapist
  • fear of losing control or being “programmed”
  • intentional resistance
  • skill level and experience of the hypnotist

If you’re interested in hypnotherapy, a good start is finding out the truth about hypnosis and asking questions of the hypnotist, says Larsen. Having accurate information dispels myths and allows you to discard unfounded fears.

Developing a good working relationship with the hypnotist, in a relaxing and private environment, also helps.

“If you don’t trust the hypnotist or the process, you’re likely to be too vigilant and uncomfortable to focus within as you need to,” Larsen says. “It’s also important to work with a professional trained in handling traumatic memories and other mental phenomena that can arise in a session.”

Goodwin says an experienced and effective hypnotist:

  • educates and sets proper expectations
  • is flexible with various methods for very analytical or creative clients
  • tailors treatment to the individual
  • does a good job screening for those they should refer out

For example, clients may be referred out if they’re clearly disagreeable or appear to have schizophrenia.

“If a client is open-minded, agreeable, and willing to be led by a competent hypnotist whom they trust and feel comfortable with, they should experience hypnosis just fine,” he says. “How effective the hypnotic experience will be at creating personal change is a completely separate issue than merely inducing the hypnotic state (which, honestly, is the easy part).”

If you find hypnosis difficult, there are alternative therapies that may help, depending on what you’re trying to achieve.

In psychotherapy, the following use some hypnotic principles but don’t necessarily produce full hypnosis:

Guided imagery or meditations can also be helpful for people who want to relax and learn new skills, but don’t like the feeling or association with hypnosis.

Goodwin uses a combination of neurolinguistic programming (NLP) and hypnosis with his clients. NLP is an alternative therapy that helps teach self-awareness and effective communication to help change patterns and behavior.

“NLP is somewhat related to hypnosis but very different,” he notes. “There may be some situations when certain NLP techniques work for someone who seems to be not hypnotizable.”

If you find it hard to be hypnotized, consider talking with your therapist about your challenges, including any fear or resistance you may feel.

They may recommend alternative treatments that use some hypnotic principles. It may take some trial and error, but finding a competent hypnotherapist you trust, and who makes you feel comfortable, is crucial to the process.