What is Hypnotherapy? How does it work? Might it have health benefits? How can I find a hypnotherapist?

So what is hypnotherapy and how does it work? The University of Maryland Medical Center explains, ‘Hypnotherapists use exercises that bring about deep relaxation and an altered state of consciousness, also known as a trance. During hypnosis, your body relaxes and your thoughts become more focused. Like other relaxation techniques, hypnosis lowers blood pressure and heart rate, and changes certain types of brain wave activity. In this relaxed state, you will feel at ease physically yet fully awake mentally and may be highly responsive to suggestion. Some people respond better to hypnotic suggestion than others.’ Essentially hypnotherapy uses hypnosis to seek to improve health, rather than for entertainment. 

You can also be trained to undertake self hypnosis.

Might it have health benefits?

Research suggests hypnotherapy may help relieve pain and reduce anxiety for a number of medical conditions, including a number of types of cancer, as well as helping treat the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

However it may not be effective for treating smoking or alcohol dependence. And the position is still unclear when it comes to treating a number of other conditions - including depression, hypertension, obesity and rheumatic arthritis. That’s the verdict of the evidence based Oxford Handbook of Complementary Medicine (OHCM), based on a review of research findings up to 2006.

In a separate follow up article we explore research findings since this earlier review. We also explain some of the limitations of research into hypnotherapy so far, such as small sample sizes and the different ways hypnotherapy is sometimes conducted, making it difficult to compare like with like. At the same time research is continuing. For example, at the time of writing, Cancer Research UK are researching if hypnotherapy can help with taste changes after treatment for neck and head cancer.

When isn’t hypnotherapy appropriate? - Cancer Research UK  notes there is evidence that hypnotherapy can help with sickness, pain, depression, anxiety and stress in cancer patients. However, it advises we shouldn’t use hypnotherapy with some medical conditions, as it could make them worse. These are psychosis (a mental illness which may include seeing and hearing things that aren't real), a personality disorder, and epilepsy. Hypnotherapy is also not recommended for young children.

How do I find a Hypnotherapist? Check if your GP considers hypnotherapy a suitable option in your case and, if so, if hypnotherapy is available within the NHS in your area. If not, the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council maintains a register of hypnotherapists. As a minimum it is advisable to ensure that the hypnotherapist has a CNHC quality mark. Some commentators advise choosing a hypnotherapist who is qualified in medicine or psychology. For the US, the Mayo Clinic provides advice to help you select a hypnotherapist


  • Hypnotherapists use exercises that bring about deep relaxation and an altered state of consciousness, during which you feel at ease physically yet fully awake mentally and may be highly responsive to suggestion.
  • Hypnotherapy is likely to be helpful for relieving pain and anxiety for some conditions and for relieving the symptoms of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).
  • It may help with other conditions but more well designed trials are needed to confirm this.
  • Hypnotherapy isn’t appropriate for people with psychosis, a personality disorder or epilepsy – or for young children.
  • Hypnotherapy is sometimes available through the NHS. Otherwise check the CNHC’s register and look for the CNHC quality mark. 

Reviewed and updated by Charlotte Christopherson, March 2017. Next Review date February 2021