Hypnosis In The New Millennium

Hypnosis is a phenomenon that is a universal human experience; therefore, it is natural. We experience hypnosis on a daily basis. In a twenty-four hour cycle we continually drift in and out of trance. This is called waking trance. While in trance an individual becomes highly receptive to suggestions through the unconscious mind – also known as the emotional, non-critical mind.

The unconscious is similar to the hard drive on a computer. Every event and every corresponding emotion associated with that event is stored in the unconscious mind. The conscious mind, on the other hand, is similar to the ram power on a computer. This is about 5% of the computer's drive. The conscious mind is critical, ethical, judgmental and protective. Jung often referred to the conscious mind as a cork floating in the ocean of the unconscious. Hypnosis is the key to entering the unconscious mind.

All hypnosis is self-hypnosis. It is an altered state of consciousness that allows the by-passing of the critical conscious mind. The conscious mind is still active during hypnosis, insofar as there is no loss of consciousness, but the unconscious mind becomes more active in trance and the conscious mind becomes more passive. Watching TV, listening to music, daydreaming, reading and driving can all be common every day hypnotic experiences. Anytime that an individual experiences time distortion, hypnosis is experienced!

There are several common myths about hypnosis. The first myth is the idea that the subject experiences a loss of control. In fact, the opposite is true; the hypnotic subject has more control in trance than out of trance. Why is this so? In hypnosis the patient is totally focused on what is happening; the level of concentration is extraordinary. So what is the genesis for this misunderstanding? The answer lies in people's experiences with stage hypnosis which is often done in poor taste. The stage hypnotist creates an illusion that he or she has total control over the volunteer subjects. Indeed, this appears to be the case, but is not so. Just like the patient in a hospital experiencing clinical hypnosis, people who participate in stage hypnosis are wide awake and know exactly what is happening. These stage participants are normally extroverts who are having a good time. An old stage trick is the hypnotist creating amnesia by suggestion (often a whisper in the ear) that the participant will have no recollection of what happened on stage. The amnesia wears off in a few minutes or a few hours. This adds a level of humor for the viewers, but also another level of deception about the nature of hypnosis. A second common myth is that a person can get stuck in hypnosis. This is not possible. The person who is resistant to exiting trance will simply fall asleep, then reawaken. The last common myth is that a person will accept an unethical suggestion while in hypnosis. This also can not happen. The conscious mind is still functioning and protective for the hypnotic subject. For the most part, stage hypnosis is counterproductive to therapeutic effects of hypnotherapy. Myths die slowly!

Common Applications for Hypnotherapy

Hypnosis, per se, is not a therapy. Hypnotherapy is the use of the hypnotic state to achieve simple or profound healing. I use a five technique procedure with my clients at Winchester Hospital which is applicable to almost all problems presented and is described below. There are several areas where the use of hypnotherapy would be contraindicated, but as a rule hypnosis and hypnotherapy are very safe, totally natural and non-invasive. There are numerous other applications of hypnotherapy that are not covered here due to space limitations, but hypnosis has been documented for use in well over three hundred areas. Basically, if one can visualize a given situation, hypnosis can be used. Remembering that hypnosis is a universal human experience, there seem to be few limitations to its application.

Smoking Cessation

Under certain circumstances hypnotherapy can be very effective in the termination of this habit that kills over four hundred thousand Americans a year. The critical key for success with this addiction is the desire of the patient to change. On a scale of one to ten, ten being the highest, the smoker must be at a level ten to stop smoking. This high level of motivation is required because, as stated above, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis, so the client must be fully invested in this process. The smoking history of a client does not appear to influence the level of success, i.e., (the number of years smoking, amount smoked, etc.) Normally, one session is sufficient for this treatment which is audio taped. I also teach a one minute self -hypnosis to all patients, so if there is any physical or emotional withdrawal, the patient has the ability via the audio tape or the ability to do self-hypnosis to re-experience trance for support for the cessation process.

I use five basic techniques with hypnosis.

  1. The first is direct suggestion: "You have lost interest in smoking." "Smoking is boring." At an unconscious level, the use of direct suggestion becomes a reality, a given.
  2. The second is the use of indirect suggestions: "I am wondering how you will feel as an ex-smoker?" "I am wondering who the first person will be to see this change in your behavior?" The unconscious mind does not have the same understanding of time that the conscious mind has.
  3. Double and triple binds are used too: "I am wondering if you will stop smoking now or tomorrow? The when does not really matter, since these changes will happen, will they not?"
  4. Fourth, visuals are used. The patient imagines himself as an ex-smoker by seeing himself doing all of the activities that he did as a smoker, but now he sees himself as relaxed and in control.
  5. Finally, the use of metaphor is very powerful. A popular metaphor is about planting seeds in a garden and the seeds taking root. The hypnotherapist is planting seeds in the unconscious mind of the patient.

The incorporation of the last four techniques breaks down resistance to the cessation process. Direct suggestions alone, in trance, as well as out of trance, actually create resistance to change! I use a variation of these five techniques with all of my patients.

Weight Loss

Hypnotherapy can be a very effective modality to use for weight loss. If obesity is present, hypnotherapy can be used in conjunction with psychotherapy for weight control. The reasons why the obese patient is misusing food must be addressed or the patient will eventually regain the weight. The program at the Community Health Institute at Winchester Hospital involves a change in life style, not a diet. The emphasis is on moderate daily aerobic exercise, eating low fat and low sugar foods, healthy drinking of clear, crystal water and visualizations for a healthy body. In two sessions, the five standard techniques used for smoking cessation are used here with the emphasis on weight loss instead. Tapes are made of the two sessions and self-hypnosis is taught. The patient is encouraged to do self-hypnosis with the tapes on a daily basis.

Habit Control and Elimination

The successful use of hypnotherapy in this area is well documented. Life threatening habits such as smoking and excessive eating need to be eliminated, but other habits that are not life threatening also may need attention because they are habits that affect life styles. Good examples of these are hair pulling, nail biting, skin picking and food addictions. Sometimes a habit simply needs modification. I recently had a patient who was addicted to chocolate. She ate about twelve ounces of chocolate a day. She was breast feeding her new infant and her sugar levels in her milk were affecting the child's sleep behavior. The standard techniques were used and the main hypnotic suggestion given was that one ounce of chocolate a day would satisfy her cravings, and that with the passage of time the cravings would diminish, which they did. When a behavior is simply a habit, hypnotherapy is a powerful technique to eliminate or modify it, but if there is a pathology at the root of the behavior, psychotherapy is indicated and the hypnotherapy would be used adjunctively, as it often is.


The majority of phobics are highly suggestible. Since suggestion is at the heart of hypnosis, hypnotherapy is the perfect tool for handling phobias. We are only born with two fears – the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. All other fears are learned, and therefore, can be unlearned at the unconscious level. Many fears come from a fearful experience, or they are learned in families, ie, parents passing their fears on to their children Seemingly the most common fear is the fear of speaking in public. The public speaker is fearful that he will make a fool of himself by saying the wrong thing, or even not being able to speak at all. Fear of flying is also a common phobia. This circumstance actually can include several fears; for example, the patient who is afraid of the enclosed spaces in a plane, or the fear of take offs and landings, or the fear of heights. Fear of needles is also common. This is often related to a negative childhood experience with receiving injections which were painful or which were delivered in a negative manner.

Other common fears are fear of animals, buzzing insects, moths and butterflies. I treated a patient who was afraid of her horse. She was thrown by a horse as a child, but still loved horses. Then she received her own horse as a gift. The childhood fears returned, the horse picked up on her fear and became skittish. A fear reaction cycle was established. I recently treated a woman for a fear of bees. She had been bitten as a child. Another client was fearful of any buzzing insect. All of these patients were treated successfully in one or two sessions. If the patient does not respond to conventional therapy, age regression can be used to identify the cause of the phobia, and it will be removed from the unconscious mind. At times I use age regression as a technique with phobics. The metaphors used with phobic patients includes the clear message that the unconscious mind will assist in the unlearning process.

Children and Hypnotherapy

Children are ideal candidates for hypnotherapy. From the moment of birth until the onset of puberty a child is in hypnosis or "waking trance" 75% of the day. (Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy With Children, Karen Olness, M.D., G. Gail Gardner, Ph.D. Grune & Stratton, 1988, second edition). Common applications with children include, but are not limited to: bed wetting, nail biting, thumb sucking, eating disorders, school phobias, habit modification or elimination, sports performance, etc. I use hypnotherapy with children from about ages 4 through 19. Hypnosis with younger children is different than hypnosis with teenagers. Since a young child would not understand what hypnosis is, we do "let's pretend magic sleep." I have the parents encourage the children to bring in any magic tricks that they may know and I have magic tricks that I use at the hospital. This is the beginning of rapport building with a child patient. After I meet the child I make a list of the best friends, pets, favorite cartoon or movie characters, and characters in favorite books. This material is used in the induction process. The same basic five techniques mentioned earlier are used with children too. When working with small children you use their language. The length of time in trance is shorter as well.

I recently treated a young man who only ate certain foods. He had read all four of the Harry Potter novels. I did a TV induction and had him visit Harry's home for a cookout. His favorite characters from the novels were at the cookout too. Naturally Harry and the other fictional kids ate the foods that this young patient wanted to learn to enjoy (visuals). Harry gives some advice to the patient on how the patient could overcome his eating problems. The patient saw himself eating and enjoying the new foods!

Hypnotherapy with teenagers is more like therapy with adults than with young children. I have worked with many teens for sports hypnosis, self-confidence, testing anxiety, social skill development, improving memory, academic organization, etc As with adults I make an audio tape for all children, regardless of age. No one is sure as to exactly how long post-hypnotic suggestions last, so the tape is used until the new behavior replaces the old routine. When working with children it is critical to have the parents totally involved and supportive. Parents are strong authority figures to their children, and will adopt the parents' attitude about hypnosis.

Medical and Dental Applications for Hypnotherapy

Pain Management

There is a substantial body of clinical literature that demonstrates the effectiveness of hypnotherapy with pain management. The main effect of hypnotherapy is the creation of the relaxation response. It is impossible to be deeply relaxed and in chronic pain at the same time. As a rule, most levels of pain cam become more manageable with the application of hypnosis. The one classic exception is when the patient is experiencing what is called "secondary gain" their pain. The patient is resistant to let the pain go because of what he gains by keeping it – for example, the sympathy of others. The standard five hypnosis techniques are used with patients who have chronic pain placing a heavy emphasis on visualizations for relaxing. Audio tapes are made and self-hypnosis is taught as well. It is suggested that the unconscious mind can control the flow of pain by interrupting the pathways which travel from the site of the injury to the spinal cord, up the back of the spinal cord through the brain stem, and into the pain reception area. The unconscious mind can close the gates through which pain must travel.


This hypnotherapy method is becoming very popular as it receives more and more attention in the media. I use this therapy here at the hospital almost weekly. The main suggestion given is that birthing is a natural process to remove any fear or anxiety about the birthing process. Visuals of a natural birthing are developed. Analgesia is suggested as well as the long abdominal muscles are contracting while the cervix opens and the vaginal walls stretch. Each contraction will carry the woman closer and closer to the delivery of the baby as the unconscious mind helps her to respond to the contractions. The stronger the contraction, the deeper the relaxation will be.


Hypnotherapeutic applications for the treatment of cancer are numerous. Hypnotic suggestions focus on the many emotional reactions that the cancer patient experiences. Suggestions are used to control the side effects of chemotherapy. Time distortion is used to quicken the passage of time with the anticipated side effects of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and the loss of appetite which may even be successfully eliminated or reduced through hypnotic suggestions. Many health professionals believe that hypnotic imagery may enhance the functioning of the immune system as well, helping the body to improve its natural ability to fight and prevent cancer. There is a strong emphasis on visualizations to heal cancer patients. Dr Carl Simonton and his wife Stephanie-Matthews Simonton, a psychotherapist, have developed the most well know imagery program for treating cancer. I give suggestions that the unconscious mind can and will control the flow of blood away from the tumors, and thus starve them. It is clinically established that the unconscious mind can control the flow of blood toward or away from a given part of the body, i.e., warts and wounds.

Auto Immune Disorders

Hypnotherapy is effective in treating rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, myasthenia gravis and Crohn's disease. Suggestions are given that the unconscious mind will continue assisting the body to regain a stronger immune system, one that is balanced. I recently had a patient with multiple sclerosis who was able to reduce his down time by fifty percent following four therapy sessions. Down time was the time he needed to build strength and energy reserves to accomplish a particular task.


I worked with a young graduate student whose face was covered with cluster pinpoint warts, very tiny but visible. The main hypnotic suggestion was that there would be a decrease in the flow of blood to the infected area. Between the third and fifth week all of the warts dried up. I had her do visualizations for clear facial skin. A follow up phone conversation after three years found her to be totally free of the wart infection. There is abundant clinical evidence for this treatment modality in Kenneth S. Bowers' Hypnotherapy For the Seriously Curious (Norton,1976.) This books covers a case history of a young man whose body was covered with hundreds of warts. The hypnotic suggestion was given that the warts on the left side of his body would leave, and they did! Then the right side was treated. Visuals were helpful in this process too.


People who suffer from this disorder grind their teeth at night and often do the same during the day. It is a dental behavioral problem that has high stress or anger as a trigger; they are "eating themselves up" at an unconscious level. Hypnotherapy treatment involves suggestions to terminate the behavior and therapy for stress management. A basic direct suggestion given is that when the teeth touch abnormally while sleeping, the unconscious mind will immediately awaken the person, then they go back into a restful sleep. For the day grinders the suggestion is formulated that when the teeth clench they will express a powerful desire to open the teeth and place their tongue between the back teeth until the face is relaxed. Indirect suggestion for behavior changes are helpful as well.

Educational Applications for Hypnotherapy

Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

The clinical work that demonstrates the effectiveness of hypnotherapy with these two learning disorders was published several years ago and the results have been reported to the National Institute of Health. The work in this area deals with many direct and indirect suggestions for focusing and relaxation. Each patient is taught several methods to induce immediate self-hypnosis when he or she is beginning to respond to ADD/ADHD behavior. They can use self-hypnosis to relax and to become reorganized.

Test Anxiety

This a fairly common student problem. The therapy principles that are used to reduce common anxiety are applicable here. The suggestion that any time an anxiety-producing thought enters the conscious mind the patient will immediately erect a mental stop sign that says, "Sorry, you are no longer welcome here!" When you control the thinking processes, you control the body's reactions. A common belief in the field of hypnotherapy is that "your body believes every word you tell it."

I had three adult law students come to me for the reduction of test anxiety. They had not passed the bar. We did one session with suggestions to let the anxiety go, coupled with suggestions for memory improvement. All three passed the bar on their next try. Whenever I am working in this area, I teach patients how to actually study in hypnosis by using open-eyed self-hypnosis.


This is a condition in which a reader has difficulty recognizing words and numbers in their proper positioning. Suggestions are given that their vision will improve and that once they have learned a word, it will make a lasting impression on them and that the future recall of the word will become much easier as time passes. Further suggestions are given that the unconscious mind will assist him or her to develop coordination between eyes, brain and memory, and that there will be a reduction in anxiety about reading and writing processes.

Hypnotic Discovery Techniques

Age Regression

Age regression is the use of hypnotic suggestions to regress a patient back in time – often childhood – to uncover the causes for a present day behavior. The person is taken back in time and space to identify the initial sensitizing event, the core of the problem. Note that this technique is used only with proper discretion. It would not be used, for example, on a patient whose mental health is fragile. I often use it with phobic patients who do not respond to the conventional five step techniques. I had a female patient who was a life long "white knuckled" driver. I used ideomotor (unconsciously directed through prior suggestion) finger signals to find out if the unconscious mind knew the reason for her fear, if there was only one reason, and then asked and received permission from the unconscious mind to do the actual regression work. The woman was regressed back to the age of two. The first emotion encountered was a feeling of being abandoned. The event was linked to her seeing her mom and dad getting into a car to drive to Kentucky to go on a vacation without her. We removed the associated emotions and she is driving without any fear. Please note that not all people can be regressed.

The Pendulum

The pendulum response is also an ideomotor response. The pendulum is held over a circular chart divided by arrows: Yes and No/ Maybe and Does Not Apply/Don't Want to Answer/Reword the Question. Open-eyed hypnosis is used as questions are asked and answers recorded, later to be discussed. It is a very powerful discovery tool that can be used with resistant patients. It is also handy to use with skeptical patients who come to see that they can use their unconscious mind to make physical change.

Finding the Right Hypnotherapist

Hypnotherapy as a treatment modality has been recognized by the AMA since 1958, but how does one find a good hypnotherapist? Begin by asking your doctor or another health provider. Ask friends if they know of a trained practitioner who does qualified hypnotherapy. Make some phone calls and ask for a free consultation. This will give you a good opportunity to get a sense of what the therapist is like. Discuss the educational and therapeutic training of the hypnotherapist. How involved was the training, who was the training with, how much experience does the therapist have, etc. When I receive regional calls I recommend the American Board of Hypnotherapy at 1-800-872-9996. They have an excellent training program and a listing of therapists that is national.

Winchester Hospital in Winchester, MA and the Community Health Institute offer a certification program for professional hypnotherapists, the only hospital in the nation offering such a program. The Community Health Institute is committed to the mission of supporting communities and their residents in taking responsibility to improve and preserve their health. Winchester Hospital was recognized in 1997 as one of the top one hundred hospitals in the country.

Ted Benton, M,Ed., C.I. has been practicing hypnotherapy since 1993 and has been the staff hypnotherapist at the Community Health Institute for three years. He is also the instructor for Community Health Institute at Winchester Hospital's hypnotherapy certification program. Ted has published nationally in four professional journals and will be presenting a seminar on hypnosis and children at the National Convention of the American Board of Hypnotherapy in February, 2002. Ted can be reached via email at tbenton@winhos.org or his voice mail at 781-756-4707. For more information on Winchester Hospital's hypnotherapy training program go tohttp://www.netlegion.com/hypnosis or call the Community Health Institute at Winchester Hospital at 781-756-4700.