What to know about self-hypnosis
Self-hypnosis is a process that involves using certain techniques to enter a hypnotic state. While in a state of intense relaxation, a person tries to visualize certain goals. There is some evidence to support the use of self-hypnosis in improving sleep and reducing pain, but more research is necessary to confirm its benefits.
Self-hypnosis has its origins in the practice of hypnosis. People typically use it to help with stress and insomnia, as well as to try breaking habits such as smoking and drinking alcohol. Similar to meditation, it is a skill that requires practice to reap the benefits.
This article explores self-hypnosis in a medical context, explaining what it is, how it differentiates from meditation, its benefits, and what to expect. It also provides tips on how to practice self-hypnosis.
ScientistsTrusted Source define a hypnotic state as one in which an individual, though awake, has more awareness of their inner experiences than their immediate environment.
These inner experiences may include sensations, feelings, thoughts, and mental imagery. When people are in a hypnotic state, they may believe that some of their mental imagery is real.
Hypnosis is the process of initiating and maintaining this mental imagery. It also involves altering this mental imagery, often using suggestions that prompt the hypnotized individual to imagine specific things.
Professional hypnotherapists have special training in how to hypnotize people. However, it might also be possible for some people to hypnotize themselves, which is self-hypnosis.
There is some scientific evidence that self-hypnosis can play a therapeutic role.
For example, a 2018 studyTrusted Source investigated the use of self-hypnosis within palliative care. The study authors report that people who received hypnotic treatments experienced less pain and anxiety than those who did not. Likewise, a 2021 studyTrusted Source found similar pain-relieving effects from self-hypnosis among people with sickle cell disease.
This same group of people also benefited from improved sleep due to self-hypnosis. A 2020 studyTrusted Source also looked at the effectiveness of self-hypnosis for sleep in people going through menopause. It found that those who used self-hypnosis enjoyed a better quality of sleep than those who did not.
Alongside these individual studies, a few meta-analyses have concluded that hypnotic practices have some medical benefits. For instance, the authors of a 2018 reviewTrusted Source note a positive effect of hypnosis on sleep, although they also call for more research on this topic.
A 2016 reviewTrusted Source suggests that hypnosis may also be useful for the emotional stress that people can experience during medical interventions.
Self-hypnosis bears some similarities to meditation. Both activities involve turning the attention inward and strongly focusing on relaxation.
Some researchersTrusted Source consider the hypnotic state a kind of meditative state. However, hypnosis is more focused than standard meditative practice on imagining scenes.
There is no universally accepted and medically approved procedure for self-hypnosis. However, it is possible to find some information about self-hypnosis online. In general, the process involves the following steps:
1. Setting and comfort
The first step is to create the right environment for self-hypnosis, which typically means finding a quiet, secluded spot and removing technological distractions, such as mobile phones. A person may also wish to wear comfortable clothing.
2. Setting a goal
It is important to approach a therapeutic hypnosis session with a specific goal. The goal could be to reduce stress, achieve a better sleep quality, or break a habit. By having this goal in mind, an individual can get the most out of hypnosis.
3. Focus and relaxation
Next, a person must find a state that involves focus and relaxation.
They can softly but consistently focus on a single point, which will ideally be at eye level. They can then try to relax by breathing slowly and deeply, concentrating on inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
The individual can then slowly close their eyes, feeling them get heavier and heavier until it becomes almost impossible to keep them open.
The next step is to visualize a happy, peaceful scene. It is important to remain in this scene for some time, attending to its different aspects.
As this goes on, the person should begin to imagine a sensation of heaviness spreading over their entire body.
5. Revisiting the goal
After this point, the individual will recall their goal and begin to visualize a scene that exemplifies it.
For instance, if the goal is to achieve good sleep, they could imagine themselves peacefully getting to sleep.
Alternatively, if the goal is to reduce stress, they could imagine themselves calmly dealing with the situation that triggers their stress. It may also be helpful to affirm their goal while attending to these images.
6. Ending the hypnotic state
After about 5 minutes of imagining the goal-directed imagery, it is time to exit the hypnotic state. A hypnotized individual will do this by breathing deeply while imagining more energy entering the body with each breath.
They may also use a countdown from 5 or 10 to help them exit the hypnotic state. When they feel ready, they can slowly open their eyes.
There are several things that a person might experience during self-hypnosis. Firstly, it is possible to become distracted from the relaxing or goal-directed mental imagery, which can lead to feelings of frustration.
Secondly, some people may become bored, while others may feel sleepy. It is possible to fall asleep during self-hypnosis.
It is important to remember that self-hypnosis is a skill. With practice, people can become better at self-hypnosis.
It is important to try to get into the habit of practicing self-hypnosis regularly, as a person is unlikely to see results immediately. As the practice only requires a few spare minutes, it can form part of a daily or weekly routine.
People may also wish to try different relaxation techniques, such as meditation or yoga. These techniques may complement a person’s self-hypnosis practice because they also focus on breathing work, relaxation, and working toward personal goals.
Some people may prefer to seek out guided self-hypnosis, which can teach or prompt them to apply self-hypnosis techniques. Plenty of guided sessions exist on YouTube, and numerous audiobooks are available.
If a person finds it difficult to learn self-hypnosis, they may wish to consider seeking professional help from trained hypnotherapists instead.
The American Psychological Association has a helpful directory of reputable hypnotherapists.
Self-hypnosis involves a person using relaxation methods and visualization to enter a hypnotic state.
There is some evidence that hypnosis and self-hypnosis can effectively treat certain conditions and symptoms, such as stress and insomnia. However, more research is necessary to assess its effectiveness.
People wishing to try self-hypnosis can try the practice at home or seek help from a professional hypnotherapist.
Last medically reviewed on May 29, 2022
- Brugnoli, M. P., et al. (2018). The role of clinical hypnosis and self-hypnosis to relief pain and anxiety in severe chronic diseases in palliative care: A 2-year long-term follow-up of treatment in a nonrandomized clinical trial.
- Chamine, I., et al. (2018). Hypnosis intervention effects on sleep outcomes: A systematic review.
- Häuser, W., et al. (2016). The efficacy, safety and applications of medical hypnosis.
- Otte, J. L., et al. (2020). Self-hypnosis for sleep disturbances in menopausal women.
- Wallen, G. R., et al. (2021). A randomized clinical hypnosis pilot study: Improvements in self-reported pain impact in adults with sickle cell disease.
- Williamson, A. (2019). What is hypnosis and how might it work?