How Hypnosis Works

Artwork By Sofía Cabral

In the movie Now You See Me, magician Merritt McKinney can hypnotize people with a snap of his fingers. He can control their actions and make them do whatever he desires. Who wouldn’t love to have such power? Unfortunately, it sounds more like fiction than reality. It is a movie, after all. If hypnosis exists, then why not prove it by doing it live? There are some stage performances where hypnotists hypnotize volunteers from the audience, but this can easily be faked. Thus, many do not believe hypnosis is real, and they would be correct if we were to define hypnosis as movies define them. However, hypnosis is not what the media makes you believe it is.

Hypnosis is a true phenomenon used in clinical practices to induce relaxation and open clients to new suggestions while they are awake and in total control of their actions (Lazarus, 2013). A patient has to be willing to get hypnotized or it will not work. This practice is used on clients who wish to reduce pain, quit a habit, defeat phobias, and more; Hypnotherapy is administered several times, since a mere single session does not have a lasting effect (Lazarus, 2013).

So how do specialists hypnotize a person? 

The procedure has four steps. It starts with the hypnotherapist explaining why a patient behaves a certain way. Let’s take procrastination, for example. Procrastination is the avoidance of something that creates unpleasant feelings. Its basis is the Pain/Pleasure Principle, which means that people want to avoid pain and instead look for enjoyable things (Gravelle, 2007). If a person has a paper to write, he may associate it with fear or stress and thus avoid it.

After discussing the meaning and reason behind the client’s behaviour, the hypnotherapist begins devising a solution. The goal here is to change the perception of pain (Gravelle, 2007). Continuing with the example of paperwork, instead of forcing oneself to write the whole paper in one go, a patient can plan to take breaks every 20 minutes. Now instead of the paperwork being 1 hour, it becomes 3×20 minutes long, which appears less overwhelming despite no actual change in the workload.

The next step is the most important one. The specialist helps the client to relax their muscles and control breathing. While the client is still in a state of awareness, his body is completely relaxed. Now, the therapist repeats the goal and convinces the patient to follow their new strategy. Sometimes the patient is even encouraged to visualize themselves following the plan (Gravelle, 2007).

In the end, they evaluate progress and decide if they want to continue with the strategy or alter it (Gravelle, 2007).

Although a therapist performing the hypnosis treatment is helpful, one does not necessarily need a specialist to get the same result. Self-hypnosis is a practice used by many. It is similar to meditation but during hypnosis, one has a specific goal in mind, whereas meditation focuses more on relaxation. It is more onerous than a session with a therapist because you have no one to guide you, but it is cheaper.

All you need to do is find a comfortable position in which to relax and make sure nobody will bother you for at least 20 minutes. Relax all the muscles slowly from your neck down to your feet. Try to evaporate tension. Once you are completely relaxed, it is time to start the process of self-hypnosis (Harley, 2020).

Begin evaluating your problem and start thinking about solutions. There is no need to rush, take as much time as you need. Think about what you want to achieve and how to do that. You can make a strategy or even sometimes use affirmations. Make your suggestions positive and realistic (Harley, 2020).

Preferably, this needs to be practiced daily and can help with different struggles such as anxiety, pain, and tension (Harley, 2020)

Although achieving a state of hypnosis is possible, some people are not able to experience it. According to a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, Dr. David Spiegel, the percentage of people immune to hypnosis is about 25%. Spiegel was curious about the reason behind this, so he and his colleagues used magnetic resonance imaging  (MRI) scans on the brains of different patients. They discovered that those who experienced hypnosis displayed higher activity in brain areas connected to attention and executive control. Even though some people cannot get hypnotized, the vast majority of the population is still susceptible (Hypnosis Training Academy, 2021).

Hypnosis is not meant to hurt or control anyone. It is a clinical practice used for helping people to overcome struggles and find peace. Since almost everybody undergoes stress and struggles, why not try self-hypnosis at least once?


Gravelle, M. (2007, August 3). How Hypnotherapy Works. HMI Nationally Accredited College of Hypnotherapy. Retrieved October 22, 2021, from

Harley, J. (2020, June 30). Self Hypnosis: What It Is & How to Do It. Matter. Retrieved October 22, 2021, from

Hypnosis Training Academy. (2021, August 9). Hypnosis: Who Is Susceptible? Retrieved October 22, 2021, from,be%20known%2C%20various%20percentages%20are%20frequently%20bandied%20about

Lazarus, C. N. (2013, January 29). The Truth About Hypnosis. Psychology Today. Retrieved October 22, 2021, from

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