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A Modern Perspective of Hypnotherapy


Hypnosis has traditionally been defined as an altered state of consciousness, a trance like state, where responsiveness to suggestions is heightened and the recall of hidden memories is facilitated (Hilgard, 1986).

  • The rationale for its use is that in the hypnotised state the conscious mind presents fewer barriers to effective psycho-therapeutic exploration, leading to an increased likelihood of psychological insight (Heap, 1988).

  • Other opinions have considered the so-called “hypnotic trance” to be a very relaxed mental state attained via guided imagery and meditation (McMaster, 1992, 1996).

  • Discrepancies in the defining points of hypnosis have arisen due to the large individual differences in “hypnotisability” (Crawford, Brown, & Moon, 1993) and the vast number of competing theoretical models (Kirsch & Lynn,1998; Kihlstrom, 1998).

  • Further, theoretical explanations for hypnotic phenomenon have been found to be derived from dissociation theories (Hilgard & Hilgard, 1994).


Traditional definitions, though containing an element of truth, are very limited in their usefulness. Most tend to describe hypnosis from the client's position in the trance state without accounting for the role of the hypnotherapist. All imply a passive response to suggestions due to the state termed 'trance' (Yapko, 1989).

  • Commonly people consider hypnotherapy to only rely on the use of suggestions and suggestibility to induce change in people’s lives. This is one of the many theoretical perspectives that attempt to explain hypnosis and its therapeutic use i.e. hypnotherapy.

  • Many clinicians conceptualise hypnotherapy as persons wanting to be hypnotised, visiting a hypnotherapist and undergoing the process of hypnotic induction, in which typically they fixate on a target object (e.g., metronome, whirling disk, pendulum).

  • Specific induction wording directs client's’ attention inward to reduce vigilance of the external world. The induction’s wording is usually associated with passive mental states (e.g., relaxation, meditation, and sleep), and focuses subject’s awareness on concrete images, sensations, and behaviour, while also diminishing logical, critical, and abstract cognitive processes (Barnett, 1992; Lynn, Rhue, & Weekes, 1990).


In contrast, hypnosis has also been described as a state of increased awareness (Kroger, 1977; Yapko, 1989).

  • So if a person becomes more aware, their awareness of the message increases and as their awareness increases so will their appropriate response. The implication being the message communicated is transmitted and received more clearly.

  • Yapko (1989), defines hypnosis as a 'process of influential communication', where the hypnotherapist uses vivid and emotive words and gestures in a skilful manner to increase the potential for influencing healthy psychological change.

Hypnosis is therefore seen as a persuasive communication tool. Less emphasis is placed on ritualistic methods or on the attainment of different depths of trance.


There are numerous theoretical perspectives about the hypnotic phenomena and hypnotherapy (Kroger, 1977; Barber, 1996; Yapko, 1989). Hypnosis and hypnotherapy will be used according to how they are conceptualised. These different theoretical perspectives have both helped and hindered the application of hypnosis.

  • Theories are useful for a number of reasons but most importantly because they guide therapists in their work and in their choice of procedures (Dryden, 1991).

  • However, this is also a limitation when applied to hypnotherapy because some of the theoretical perspectives of hypnosis are more limited than others and currently no one single theory adequately explains its complexity.

Skilled hypnotherapists generally work in an integrative and sometimes eclectic way drawing upon the broad spectrum of psycho-therapeutic philosophies and treatments.

  • Hypnotherapy is therefore a form of psychotherapy where counselling skills are used, a full case history is taken, rapport or therapeutic alliance established, problems and goals defined, misconceptions dealt with and therapeutic strategies, for both the hypnosis and non hypnosis part of the session, discussed and agreed.

  • Hammond (1990), points out that therapists who rely on a limited range of methods and one approach only often tend to be inexperienced. He cites Lieberman, Talom, & Miles (1973) who suggest that problems are more likely to occur when the same approach is used with all clients.


Therefore how hypnosis, the mind and hypnotherapy are conceptualised determines the limits placed on their use and on clients (Yapko, 1989).


The American Psychological Association (APA), Society of Psychological Hypnosis, Division 30 in 2014 developed a new definition of hypnosis, hypnotherapy, hypnotic induction and hypnotizability. It can be read here:

https://icchphypnotherapycourses.com/pluginfile.php/30519/mod_page/content/14/IJCEH-63-1-01.pdf .

On this course and through its subsequent modules you will learn the theoretical basis for all of the approaches currently being used in the practice of clinical hypnosis and hypnotherapy.

The ICCHP feels that the practice of hypnotherapy needs to be updated, modernised and presented in a more therapeutically respected fashion. The terms hypnosis and therapy conjure up many different concepts, misconceptions and perceptions, which may, or may not be of benefit to the clients, nor the profession. Poor quality hypnotherapy training and belittling and devaluing of the profession is an issue for the modern hypnotherapy practitioner. Therefore, the ICCHP has differentiated its training and professional standing, so that our graduate practitioners are perceived as highly respected healthcare professionals, who stand out from the rest of the hypnotherapy crowd.

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