How Does Hypnosis Work: Is It Real or Fake?

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Certainly, you watched a hypnotist on stage, the internet or even live on the street while he was hypnotizing someone. Yet, how does hypnosis work? Is it staged or is it actually possible for a hypnotist to consciously control someone with nothing but his own hands and voice?

Hypnosis is real, and it’s proven by science.

In this article, we will explain to you what hypnosis is, how it works, and answer why it’s real. Afterward, we will give you some ideas that will definitely change your perception of this subject. 

In this article, we used the masculine form of “hypnotherapist”, but we are referring to all forms of this profession. We did this only to make the article more consistent.

Jump ahead to any of the sections below:

What Is Hypnosis?

Pullover-wearing woman

In fact, hypnosis got its name in ancient Greece. Hypnos is the god of sleep in Greek mythology.

In order to understand how hypnosis works, you must first understand the way brain waves function. Your mind operates in one of the following frequencies, depending on your state of mind:

Brain WaveFrequencyMeaning
Gamma40 Hertz and abovePeak concentration
Beta14 – 40 HertzActive and alert
Alpha7.5 – 14 HertzCalm and serenity
Theta4 – 7.5 HertzLight sleep or meditation
Delta 0.5 – 4 HertzDeep sleep

The higher the frequency, the more active and “awake” you are. Depending on whether you want to address your conscious or subconscious mind, you have to actively change your brain waves. For example, when you are sleeping or having lucid dreams, your brain is in the delta range.

If you want to know more about brain waves, have a look at this article.

During hypnosis, your brain waves get consciously navigated between the alpha and theta frequency – that is, between your conscious and subconscious mind. In this frequency range, your subconscious expresses itself through emotions and a vivid imagination.

If you are hypnotized then you are practically on the threshold between light sleep and being awake. This state is often described as trance which allows you, or the hypnotist, to address your subconscious and your brain activity changes accordingly. 

Therefore, you can define hypnosis as:

Hypnosis is the conscious inducing of a trance-like state in which you find yourself between light sleep and being awake. Thereby your brain waves are slowed down on purpose to reach this state. 

Is Hypnosis Real?

Eye with eyelashes

Yes, hypnosis is real. You actually can be hypnotized. In fact, each of us is in a state of hypnosis at least twice a day. Those who meditate daily, even more than that. Here is an article on how to develop a successful daily meditation routine.

Every time, just before you wake up or fall asleep, you are in the same state as during hypnosis. If you daydream or slip into tunnel vision on the highway, you are also hypnotized for a short time.

Surely you know the feeling of being so engrossed in a book or a film that you forget everything around you and lose track of time. This is also a state of hypnosis. 

Similar to ASMR, it varies from person to person how hypnosis is received and experienced. For some, hypnosis performed by a hypnotist works, for some it doesn’t. The difference between ASMR and hypnosis, however, is the fact that you can actively work on your ability to be hypnotized. 

If and how you can be hypnotized mostly depends on one thing: the fact if you believe that hypnosis is real. Given the fact that hypnosis addresses the subconscious, your personal beliefs play a big role. If you have a negative attitude towards the whole thing, it’s very unlikely that you can get hypnotized because you build up mental barriers to your subconscious.

That’s why hypnotists on stage ask a lot of questions to the audience before they start the actual act of hypnosis. They deliberately filter out which candidate most likely can be hypnotized.

Hypnotherapy as Medical Treatment

Hypnosis is not only good for entertainment on stage, but also for medical therapy. Hypnotherapists can treat their patients against a great variety of mental and physical diseases. 

What’s interesting to mention is the fact that science, so far, has more evidence for the healing effect of hypnosis on physical diseases than on the mental ones. 

According to science hypnosis may help with the following diseases (source):

  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Physical pain
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Insomnia (a sleep disorder)

For the following diseases there is only a little evidence of the therapeutic effects of hypnotherapy:

  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Weight loss
  • Stop smoking

Further research in this area is needed to confirm the effects of hypnosis on treating these and other diseases.

How Does Hypnosis Work?

Lemons lie on white background

Your body and your mind work closely together. 

Your mind reacts to the things you visualize – so-called mental images. Your brain or subconscious, to be more precise, forms the appropriate reaction to these mental images.

A hypnotherapist utilizes this kind of communication to consciously evoke the desired reaction of your body.

You are in a trance-like state during a hypnosis session and your mind oscillates on a frequency between two types of brain waves. That’s why hypnotherapists have access to your subconscious. This gives them the possibility to consciously create mental images in your head. They do so mainly through words. 

When being hypnotized, you usually go through the following stages of hypnosis:

  • Preparation for hypnosis
  • Transition to the trance state
  • Access to the subconscious
  • Awakening from hypnosis 

Phase 1: Preparation for Hypnosis

In the first step, you will be put in a comfortable position. In most hypnosis sessions you will have to lie down. You will be asked to close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing. 

In this phase, the hypnotherapist will consciously make you slow down your breathing in order to create the desired brain wave activity.

Phase 2: Transition to the Trance State

After you made yourself comfortable, closed your eyes and focused on your breathing, the hypnotherapist will start to bring your brain waves to the edge between the conscious and subconscious mind. He does so by repeating his sentences over and over again. 

Repetitions are effective insofar as the consciousness transfers recurring and simple activities to the subconscious. This enables the hypnotherapist to gain access to the subconscious.

Phase 3: Access to the Subconscious

In a trance-like state, your mind absorbs everything the hypnotherapist says to you and forms the respective mental images. As a result, your body begins to activate biological processes that are associated with the mental image.

That’s why it’s so important that the hypnotherapist first brings you into a trance-like state in order to gain access to your subconscious. 

For example, there is a hypnotherapist who hypnotizes his patients and tells them that they bite into a lemon (even though they actually don’t). The patients then taste the lemon and what is even more interesting is that the mouth increases saliva production as a biological reaction to this mental image.

A hypnotherapist is able to relieve pain just by using his voice and repeating his sentences. He can put the right mental images in your head and your mind will trigger the corresponding reaction in your body. 

This type of therapy can, under certain circumstances, help with bad habits if it’s practiced regularly. In this case, however, the scientific evidence is still not sufficient. 

If you are in a hypnotic state, your creative and imaginative reserves of the brain are stimulated. As this happens, the electrical activity in your left hemisphere, the logic and reasoning center, decreases. 

Therefore, it’s not possible for you to distinguish between reality and imagination when being hypnotized. Your subconscious mind generally doesn’t have this ability. That’s, by the way, one of the reasons why nightmares feel so real.

Phase 4: Awakening From Hypnosis

In the fourth and last step, you wake up from the hypnosis. During the session, the hypnotherapist has consciously established the desired habits and automatisms in your subconscious. This leads to the fact that even after the hypnosis you can still benefit from the advantages (such as pain relief). 

What’s definitely interesting to mention is the effects of hypnosis on undesirable behavior or annoying habits. In fact, if practiced often enough, hypnosis helps to get rid of that.

Important: While you are hypnotized you have complete control over your body. The rumor that a hypnotherapist can make you cackle like a chicken is nothing more than that, a rumor.

Theoretically, you could hypnotize yourself if you have the necessary skills. Even hypnotizing your friends and relatives shouldn’t be a problem with the right skills. Nevertheless, it’s important that the person you want to hypnotize is hypnotizable.

Hypnotizable in this context means: the person you want to hypnotize must be convinced that hypnosis works and will have a positive effect on his or her body. 

Although hypnosis is not dangerous at all, you should go to a certified hypnotherapist, especially at the beginning. By doing so, you will make sure that you benefit fully from the many advantages of hypnosis.

Conclusion

Hypnosis is a mental state in which your brain is brought to a threshold frequency between alpha (relaxation) and theta (light sleep) to induce a state of trance. 

In this state, the gateway to your subconscious opens.

In fact, you are in this state at least twice a day: before you fall asleep and before you wake up. 

Hypnosis has nothing to do with magic, religion or spirituality and is confirmed by science. It becomes especially interesting when it’s used not only for the pure amusement of the masses but to cure people with serious diseases and physical ailments. 

While you may struggle to believe in other spiritual topics, like the 7 Chakras, hypnosis is due to its scientifically proven results, definitely something you should take seriously.

The success of hypnotherapy depends on your attitude towards it. If you go to a hypnotherapist full of skepticism, he may have difficulties putting you into a trance-like state. The main reason for this is that a negative attitude towards it will block access to the subconscious. 

Evaluate this topic for yourself and approach it with mindfulness to get the best results.

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