Is Hypnosis Real? Psychology Research + Evidence

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When was the last time you saw someone get hypnotized?

Maybe it was at the Renaissance Faire, or at a school assembly. Or you watched someone get hypnotized in a movie. The hypnosis scene in “Get Out” is particularly scary - but is it possible? If you really get up on stage, will you end up in “The Sunken Place?”

Let's find out!

Is Hypnosis Real?

The answer to the question “Is hypnosis real?” is more complicated than you might think. And while you can go to a hypnotist today, you might not get the experience that you’re expecting. Hypnosis is most likely to be “legitimate” when it’s practiced by a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist.

Since hypnosis and psychology are closely linked, let’s talk about the history of hypnosis as it’s been used in modern psychology.

History of Hypnosis in Psychology

Sigmund Freud is a big name in psychology for many reasons. He is known as the father of psychoanalysis, he helped to develop today’s talk therapy, and he is wildly controversial. Early in his work, he also used hypnosis on his patients.

Freud learned about hypnosis while observing Josef Breuer. Breur used hypnosis to encourage patients to “open up” and talk freely about trauma and memories that may have impacted their current mental illnesses. Freud saw it as a potential way to unlock the unconscious and see what was really troubling a patient. Quickly, Freud adjusted his preferences and began using free association and dream interpretation instead of hypnosis. He felt that he couldn’t get enough out of hypnosis and that he didn’t get as much “access” to the unconscious as he originally thought.

Freud’s tie to hypnosis is just one of the reasons that the practice is not so popular nowadays. But as Freud shifted gears and other forms of talk therapy succeeded him, some psychologists still quietly developed hypnotherapy as a way to address a patient’s pain, anxiety, and other conditions.

What Is Hypnosis?

If you were to set up an appointment with a therapist who is trained in hypnotherapy, here’s how it would go down. You wouldn’t be asked to sit on a stage and cluck like a chicken in front of an audience. The therapist would not wave a pocket watch in front of you until you got “very sleepy.” You wouldn’t “wake up” and forget everything that happened. In fact, hypnotherapy works a lot like a guided meditation or mindfulness practice. Here’s what happens.

Examples of Hypnosis in Psychology and Movies

The therapist will first lead you into a trance-like state through a series of verbal cues. This cues may include visualization practices or instructions intended to help you relax. If you have ever practiced yoga nidra, you might find this first stage of hypnotherapy to be familiar. It’s also known as the “induction” stage.

Once you have reached this state of relaxation, the therapist will move into the “suggestion” stage. Again, visualization and guided imagery is often used during this phase. Like in Get Out, you may be asked to put yourself in a memory as if it were currently happening. What occurs during the “suggestion” stage will vary based on your situation and goals for the practice. Due to your heightened state of awareness or focus, any suggestions that are made are more likely to “stick.”

How Does Real Hypnosis Work?

On the TooAfraidtoAsk subreddit, a user asked the question that we are hoping to answer in this article: is hypnosis real? Various users shared their experiences:

  • "My therapist recommended a couple of hypnosis sessions, and I went, although I was a bit sceptic. At first, I thought hypnosis is putting someone under and asking them questions or making them do stuff. Actually, the session is a hour long shavasana (end of yoga relaxation pose), where you lay down, eyes closed, body relaxed, and listen to the hypnotist’s script. The scripts vary from trauma release and reaching the inner child to one’s relationships with their parents or food, and more specific things, like confidence and purpose and the inner critic. Depending on the person and their susceptibility level, the relaxation can become so profound that you stop actively listening to the text and just drift away. The idea is that the subconscious can still hear those scripts and work with them to solve issues we don’t necessarily know we have in an awaken state. My experience is that it was helpful." 
  • "Hypnotists don’t use the word, they describe what they’re doing as suggestion. Essentially the hypnotist (“operator” is the technical title) uses a range of techniques to identify the problem, determine the desired or required outcome, put the subject in a relaxed and receptive state and then provide the suggestions. The subject internalizes and accepts the suggestions in a much more profound way than if they were to have received the same suggestions conversationally."
  • "The stuff you see in media or stage shows is not real.There are various ways to enter different mental states through meditation and focus, some of those can be accessed through something like hypnosis, this can feel cool if you do it with a friend and have marginal benefits in some types of therapy. But it's really not much different from just guided meditation."

Benefits of Hypnosis in Psychology

Not everyone gets hypnotherapy for the same reason. And studies show that hypnotherapy can have a long list of benefits. Hypnotherapy may benefit you if you:

People use hypnotherapy for a longer list of conditions and symptoms. These are just a handful of the most-studied conditions linked to hypnotherapy. If you have chronic pain, for example, you may want to try hypnosis and see how it affects your symptoms.

So you could easily say that hypnosis does “work.” But that doesn’t mean that you can hop on stage at the Renaissance Faire and expect the hypnotist to cure your depression.

In most studies, the results suggest that hypnosis could help to treat symptoms in addition to other methods. Calling in a hypnotist to help you deliver your baby instead of going to a hospital is not going to guarantee that you’ll give birth pain-free. Hypnotherapy can help - but you’ll still want to consider getting an epidural or use other types of standard pain medication.

How to Find a Hypnosis

If you’re looking for someone to guide you through hypnotherapy, look for a therapist first. It’s not always easy to find a therapist who is also trained in hypnosis. But this approach is much more likely to help you than to reach out to someone who is only trained in hypnosis. Hypnotherapy is not likely to be the only solution to your concerns. A licensed psychiatrist or therapist can help you integrate hypnotherapy into a longer treatment plan that addresses your concerns with a more holistic approach.

Another approach is to seek out a therapist or healthcare professional first (if you’re looking to reduce delivery pain, for example, you should reach out to an OBGYN) and get their recommendations on hypnotherapy and a professional who can help you out.

What About Self-Hypnosis?

We started this video talking about Freud, but I want to mention one more name in the world of hypnosis. His name was Emile Coué, and his focus was on self-hypnosis, or “conscious autosuggestion.” Coué observed that his patients were more likely to heal or manage their symptoms if they repeated suggestions or affirmations to themselves while undergoing treatment. This practice is still in use today. You can reach out to a professional to walk you through self-hypnosis. But it’s really quite simple. By combining focus, heightened awareness, and affirmations that lead you to where you want to go, you can manage symptoms or even reduce pain.

Again, this is best done with the help of a licensed professional who is trained in both hypnosis and psychology or more traditional forms of therapy. But don’t shy away from the idea of using hypnosis to heal, just because the term is also used to put on fancy shows onstage.

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2020, May). Is Hypnosis Real? Psychology Research + Evidence. Retrieved from

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