What is clinical hypnosis?

Written by: Dr Sue Peacock
Edited by: Bronwen Griffiths

I am asked this question a lot and I always start my response by saying that clinical hypnosos is a therapeutic tool, rather than a therapy on its own. In my practice, the most important thing is finding what works best for the client, and I often find hypnosis very helpful.

Clinical hypnosis can bring the client’s beliefs, emotions and ways of seeing the world into the long process of therapy. However, convincing people that hypnosis can be included in serious therapy can be challenging, but mainly because of the misconceptions held about this tool. The first is that people assume it to be ineffective, strange and unscientific – new-age nonsense. The second misconception is that hypnosis is about making people do things they don’t want to do. Neither of these hold any truth and there is scientific evidence that shows clinical hypnosis to be effective in treating numerous conditions, such as depression and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

How does clinical hypnosis work?

To put it simply, clinical hypnosis cannot work in a vacuum and has to work alongside other therapeutic techniques. For example, if a patient has previously had a poor experience with pain management, and they are unable to control their pain, hypnosis could help the patient and me to explore and perhaps change old beliefs, making a successful outcome more likely.

Before I start, I need to have answers to the following questions:

  • What does the client want?
  • What do they feel is stopping them from getting what they want?
  • How would their lives differ if their problem was solved?

Once I have an idea of this, I can start to think about the therapeutic techniques that could help them, which are chosen based on the client’s needs, expectations and preferences. These could include:

  • Guided visualisation
  • Habit-breaking
  • Cognitive behavioural regime
  • A goal-setting plan based on the principles of Neuro Linguistic Programming

Next, the hypnotic procedure can begin. The client must first be relaxed to ensure they can focus, and then I tell them to listen intently and to aim to try and be open to finding a solution. This usually involves helping them to see their unhelpful beliefs and imagining how life would be if those beliefs were changed.

By helping a client to focus deeply we can forget the mental chatter going on in their thought processes, and focus on the issues that need to be addressed and the relevant beliefs, memories and emotions relating to these issues. When working through these, I interject with suggestions that from experience can be very helpful for overcoming negative thoughts and beliefs. Together, I and the client explore these, working towards healthier behaviour.

In reality, when I am using hypnosis, I am actually doing very little different from therapists who do not use hypnosis, but the difference lies in the fast-acting process and how quickly progress can be made.

What is clinical hypnosis used for?

Clinical hypnosis is more effective for certain areas than others. Put simply, any condition where the thought process can affect behaviour, habits and well-being, is, in my opinion, a good candidate for clinical hypnosis.

Does clinical hypnosis work for everyone?

In a sense, yes it does. Everyone is capable of being in hypnosis, we slip in and out of hypnotic states regularly – they are much like states of deep concentration, such as being completely absorbed by a book. However, this does not necessarily mean that clinical hypnosis will guarantee success. This depends on the therapist, the client’s willingness and they can rapport they build together.

In general though, in my experience it does often work and shows my clients their ability to make a difference for themselves.

How effective is clinical hypnosis?

Most mental processes take place on an unconscious level because it would be impossible to function if we were aware of everything reaching our senses every second of the day. As a result, what we do evaluate is often in line with our deeply-held beliefs, formed in early childhood.

During hypnosis, pre-conceptions of someone go out the window – the shyest, introverted individual can become superhuman. This is because the unconscious mind knows no bounds. First hand, I can say to someone in pain ‘imagine the pain detaches and floats away’, which they’re able to do during hypnosis. Afterwards, we discuss how the same change in thought processes can be applied to everyday life.

We do not fully understand how these changes take place, but advances in brain scanning are adding to our knowledge of this. We are able to see that both imagining an experience and actually having that experience appear to have very similar levels of brain activities. Hence, by getting someone to believe that they can lessen their pain, they could actualise a measurable reduction in their pain.

I hope this gives you an idea of how clinical hypnosis works and why it can be useful. If you would like to know more then get in touch.


Dr Sue Peacock is a leading health psychologist and is an expert in helping patients manage their chronic pain. If you would like to find out more, make an appointment with an expert.

By Dr Sue Peacock

Dr Sue Peacock is a consultant health psychologist based in Bedford and Milton Keynes, who focuses on improving people’s ability to manage their chronic pain and adjust to the different circumstances and challenges faced every day. Dr Peacock’s ultimate aim is that her patients lead fulfilling lives despite having health conditions.

Dr Peacock has a PhD in psychology, is registered as an advanced hypnotherapy practitioner, an Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) practitioner and has diplomas in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and life coaching.

She uses a variety of psychological principles and theories in her clinical practice, drawn from her broad knowledge base of various different therapeutic techniques and approaches. Dr Peacock tailors an approach to each individual patient and considers how life experiences affect each person, taking into consideration how a person views themselves, how they think, feel, behave towards others and live within their relationships and everyday life.

She uses this to highlight the best way forward for that person and breaks the cycles of unhappiness or distress that a patient feels trapped in.

HCPC: Ps/L 18083

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