'Hypnosis' and 'hypnotherapy'; it's all the same isn't it?

The terms hypnosis and hypnotherapy have been used interchangeably for decades, and to many an untrained ear, they seem to equate to the same thing.  Yet hypnosis can mean stage hypnosis which uses the trance state for entertainment and with no therapeutic process involved.

Hypnosis is therefore a term probably best thought of as the process which induces a trance, which can then be used for a variety of purposes, including entertainment, relaxation and ‘hypnotherapy’.

Hypnotherapy is the use of a hypnotic trance for therapeutic purposes. It is the key that unlocks the door to the un/subconscious mind, allowing therapy at a deep and lasting level. The term hypnosis is sometimes used in place of ‘hypnotherapy’. This is not strictly correct as hypnosis itself does not involve therapy (therapy is what the therapist does while the client is in a hypnotic trance state).  

With regards to the definitions of hypnosis – these have changed and fluctuated over the years, with increasing evidence and theoretical persuasion, so here are a few examples

‘Hypnosis is a procedure during which a health professional or researcher suggests that a client, patient, or subject experience changes in sensations, perceptions, thoughts, or behavior.’

Society of Psychological Hypnosis, a division of

the American Psychological Association, 1993


‘ ....the powers of the mind are so much engrossed with a single idea or train of thought, as, for the nonce, to render the individual unconscious of, or indifferently conscious to, all other ideas, impressions, or trains of thought.’

James Braid, 1852


“Hypnotism” includes hypnotism, mesmerism and any similar act or process which produces or is intended to produce in any person any form of induced sleep or trance in which the susceptibility of the mind of that person to suggestion or direction is increased or intended to be increased but does not include hypnotism, mesmerism or any similar act or process which is self-induced.’

The legal definition in the UK Book of Statutes which forms part of

The Hypnotism Act 1952

This definition is unsatisfactory because it mentions sleep – something which Freud and other medical practitioners discounted many years before. Yet it remains the legal definition.


‘A temporary condition of altered attention in the subject which may be induced by another person and in which a variety of phenomena may appear spontaneously or in response to verbal or other stimuli. These phenomena include alterations in consciousness and memory, increased susceptibility to suggestion, and the production in the subject of responses and ideas unfamiliar to him in his usual state of mind. Further, phenomena such as anaesthesia, paralysis and rigidity of muscles, and vasomotor changes can be produced and removed in the hypnotic state.’

The British Medical Association on the

‘Medical use of Hypnotism’, 1955

The BMA definition addressed the weakness in the legal definition.


‘Hypnosis is a state of mind in which the critical faculty of the human is bypassed, and selective thinking established.’

Dave Elman, 1964, summed it up more succinctly

and without the medical jargon


‘Hypnosis is a natural state of mind with special identifying characteristics:
An extraordinary quality of relaxation. 
An emotionalized desire to satisfy the suggested behaviour. 
The organism becomes self-regulating and produces normalization of the central nervous system.
Heightened and selective sensitivity to stimuli perceived by the senses, and immediate softening of psychic defences.’

 Gil Boyne, 1985


Hypnotherapy is a combination of hypnosis and therapy. Therapy deals with the mind and this has two parts – the conscious mind and the unconscious mind. We use our conscious mind when we think. It is rational and we are aware of ourselves and our thoughts. The unconscious mind is hidden beyond our awareness. In addition to its more positive aspects, it is the seat of our habits, impulses, irrational thoughts and some illnesses.

In most forms of therapy, the therapist makes suggestions at a conscious level. The problem with this is that the conscious mind, whilst rational, is often defensive, challenging, inhibited, overly critical, flooded by negative thinking, cynical or disbelieving of new ideas. Hypnotherapy is special. When in a trance, the clients’ busy conscious mind relaxes allowing their unconscious mind to come to the fore. Now the therapist can speak to a more receptive and focused unconscious mind to create a deep-rooted and lasting change of old habits, thoughts, pains, memories, emotions, etc.

Hypnotherapy isn’t something that is done to a client by a therapist. There is no magic or trickery involved. Although there are often magical moments when unexpected changes occur, for the most part, hypnotherapy is a straightforward partnership between a client who is motivated to change and a therapist who uses their skills to help the process along and the changes to happen.

Hypnotherapy & NLP are fascinating areas of study and practice. Whether you're looking for hypnotherapy for your own issues or interested in training to become a hypnotherapist/NLP practitioner to help others, we have a one-stop shop for all your hypnotherapy/NLP needs.
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