What is hypnotherapy?


Unlike most comparable therapies, hypnotherapy measures its history not in years or decades but in centuries. The usually acknowledged forerunner of modern hypnotherapy was Franz Mesmer (1734-1815). During the 19th century several doctors used hypnosis successfully, not only to treat psychological illness but also as an anaesthetic for surgical operations.


Although the development of chemical anaesthetics displaced the use of hypnosis in surgery, and Freud’s use of psycho-analysis began to displace it in psychotherapy, the benefits and uses of hypnotherapy are such that it remains a popular and adaptive form of therapy. Hypnotherapy may be used on its own, as simple relaxation therapy, or it may be integrated with any of the great schools of psychological thought. This integrative approach, termed hypno-psychotherapy, has very wide therapeutic applications.

If only simple relaxation therapy is required, then someone with a basic hypnotherapy training should be able to help. However, more complex emotional, psychological or physical problems require the help of a fully qualified hypno-psychotherapist who will have the skills to recognise and treat a wide range of disorders and conditions.

The Uses of Hypno-Psychotherapy

In addition to treating disorders of mood, thought or feeling, hypno-psychotherapy can help with a wide range of psychological problems from habit disorders such as smoking, over-eating and insomnia, to social difficulties such as lack of confidence, exam/driving test nerves, phobias, panic attacks and depression. It is also widely used for enhancing sporting performance, creativity, memory and concentration.

Hypno-psychotherapy also has other clinical and medical applications including pre/post-operative treatments, anaesthesia and pain relief strategies. Many stress-related physical problems such as skin disorders, migraine and irritable bowel syndrome, also respond well to hypno-psychotherapy. Only a small selection of the many problems posed by our society and the way we live are mentioned here. There are many others which may be alleviated by hypnotherapy and they can be discussed with a qualified practitioner.

A safe form of therapy

For over two hundred years the technique of hypnosis has been used in medicine to treat a wide range of physical, psychological and emotional disorders. It has long been recognised that hypnosis may successfully be combined with other approaches and techniques in counselling and psychotherapy. In 1997, the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) formally endorsed the new term, hypno-psychotherapy, as ‘the branch of psychotherapy which uses hypnosis’.

In the right hands, hypnotherapy is a safe and beneficial therapy. The therapist will take a full medical, emotional and social history before deciding on a treatment strategy. There are some instances where the use of hypnosis is not recommended, or where it should only be used with care. A competent hypno-psychotherapist will be aware of such contra-indications and may recommend an alternative form of psychotherapy or modify their technique.

What Should The Public Look For?

These days, we are better informed about what should be expected from a complementary medicine or psychotherapy practitioner. When we are looking for a reputable hypno-psychotherapist we will, increasingly, need to be assured that the practitioner is fully trained and belongs to a recognised professional association which requires members to adhere to a Code of Ethics and carry appropriate insurance. The informed potential client will know that a well regulated professional body should have a complaints procedure and will require members to be in ongoing supervision/peer supervision.

Hypnosis and the mind

Hypno-psychotherapy recognises that there are many ways of looking at how the mind works. Some people, for instance, take the view that our thoughts and actions are mainly affected by the way we look at the world and how it treats us. Others believe that we are mostly driven by our ‘subconscious’ mind, which is taken to be the store of all our past experiences and emotions. Whatever theory of the mind is applied, hypnosis can be integrated with appropriate psychotherapeutic approaches to help bring about positive changes.