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Hypnotherapy is a therapeutic tool, and the hypnotherapist is a facilitator of behavior change. For many of the desired goals, such as self-confidence and curbing unwanted habits, hypnotherapists work with clients to provide a means of behavioral change. When necessary, hypnotherapists work with primary care physicians (e.g., in medical conditions such as cancer).

Hypnotherapists help clients select relevant goals, commit to the achievement of the goals, and carry out posthypnotic suggestions. A posthypnotic suggestion is made while the client is hypnotized. After hypnosis, the client consciously incorporates the suggestion into everyday life to achieve a specific goal, such as stopping cigarette smoking or overcoming the fear of speaking in front of an audience.

Hypnosis is combined with relaxation techniques, affirmations, guided imagery, reframing, and goal-setting techniques. For example, a hypnotherapist may help a patient who is preparing to undergo a surgical procedure by teaching the client to mentally rehearse the procedure, thereby reframing a feared event into a relaxed and healing event.

Hypnotherapy is based on the theory of the mind-body connection, which means that accessing the subconscious can effect change in the body. When used in hypnotherapy, hypnosis can enhance one’s own healing potential.

Screening for Hypnotherapy Eligibility

Although experts estimate that at least 80 percent of the population can be hypnotized, hypnotherapy is not recommended for everyone. Hypnotherapists assess clients’ receptivity and suggestibility by asking questions about the clients’ personalities, and they screen out those who are likely to have negative reactions to hypnosis.

Receptivity is the most important element in hypnosis; the person being hypnotized must voluntarily choose hypnotism, must agreeably participate in hypnosis, and must believe that hypnosis can help in achieving the specified goal. Suggestibility is the capacity the client has for engendering the state of hypnosis and for facilitating the effects of post-hypnotic suggestions.

People who actively abuse drugs or alcohol are not good candidates for hypnotism. Similarly, people experiencing delusional or hallucinatory states should not be hypnotized. Rarely is hypnotherapy used to treat clients who have psychosis or borderline psychosis. Only well-trained, very experienced hypnotherapists treat these clients, and then only in collaboration with the client’s psychiatrist.

Although some very young children can be hypnotized, they lack the attention span necessary for hypnosis. Older children, however, can undergo hypnosis to help treat nailbiting, bedwetting, and childhood fears.

If the client is seeking treatment for a medical or psychiatric condition and has not consulted a physician or psychiatrist, the hypnotherapist postpones the session until the client consults a physician or psychiatrist.