What is hypnosis?

What is Hypnosis?

Hypnosis is rapidly becoming known as one of the most beneficial, cost-effective methods for successfully addressing a large number and variety of personal challenges that include everything from weight management to smoking cessation, relationship issues, financial challenges, fitness and sports improvement, life and time management, past life issues, trauma recovery, pain management and childbirth.

Carol Adler
Hypnosis is a highly effective method for “going inside” or accessing one’s higher self for the purpose of improving one or more aspects of one’s life. Areas of desired improvement may address health, relationships, career, lifestyle, finances and other issues. Often a trained therapist assists that person by means of guided meditation, scripted affirmations and other proven techniques. Today both self-hypnosis and hypnotherapy are at the forefront of all transformative mind-body therapies.
Lindsay Brady
I define hypnosis as being a conscious state of sleep. A state of consciousness in which the human brain is open and receptive to suggestions. The word hypnosis is a Greek term meaning sleep. The hypnotic state ranges from a person being intensely focused on a task or a thought, to being in a state of meditation or in a trans-like sleep.

However, being in a conscious state of sleep is not the process that causes a subject to follow and carryout suggestions. I prefer to call the process Suggestionism or Perceptionism.

The process that causes a person to change a behavior they don’t want to one that they prefer, begins with a suggestion (whether given by another person or to oneself). If the suggestion creates a mental perception that the desired behavior is true now, the person’s brain automatically produces the behavior that causes the person to behave, feel and act consistent with the perception. A person does not need to be in a hypnotic state for the process to work, it is just that the process works best when in a state of hypnosis… a conscious state of sleep.

The process of Suggestionism/Perceptionism is easily demonstrated to a hypnotherapy client who chooses to change their behavior.

This concept of hypnosis is the outcome of 50 years of being in the practice of hypnotherapy, having had sessions with tens of thousands of clients and having had many very spirited debates with my hypnotherapy colleagues.

Kate Ellis

There is nothing mysterious about hypnosis, it is essentially the shifting of attention or perception. You do this many times throughout your day. Such as when you sit down to write a list of things to do or a grocery list, you are shifting your ego (outward oriented) attention to an inner attention. Such as remembering and thinking about what you are writing.

The ego is a level of mind activity geared toward reacting/responding to the outside world.

The subconscious is a level of mind activity that allows you to smoothly operate in the world. What do I mean by that… Your subconscious mind is your success mechanism, anytime you want to drive your car, each time you enter the vehicle you do not need to remember how to drive the car, you simply stick the key in the ignition and go. Or brushing your teeth, you do not need to remember which hand grabs the toothpaste and which hand scrubs the teeth. It is an automatic response, or a habituation, conditioning… Something you have done many times before. These patterns or habits are stored in your subconscious mind so you do not need to think or remember how to conduct your everyday life.

When you shift your attention from dealing with your environment to watching TV or writing a letter or fooling around on Facebook, you have now shifted your brain activity from a beta or alert level of brain activity to an alpha level, which is a light state of relaxation. You are not concerned with what is going on around you, unless someone calls your name or the phone rings. You are now focused upon the story on TV, or how you want to say something in a letter or scrolling through Facebook keeping up with friends and acquaintances.

You are also not fully aware of your body, it is in a comfortable position at the moment, it is still, so is your breathing, it is probably slow and paced, however you are unaware of this.

The alpha state or light state of relaxation is one of the levels you experience in hypnosis.

There are three basic levels of hypnosis:

  • Light/alpha
  • Medium > alpha/delta
  • Deep/somnambulistic > delta/theta

You will experience what is called the hypnotic rhythm, in which you will travel through these states of relaxation, and attention. No one state is better than the other. You do not need to be at the deep state in order to benefit. Additionally, each time you enter hypnosis, it will be different every time.

A medium state of hypnosis is similar to waking up in the morning with no obligations to tend to, so you can just lay there, maybe still dreaming a little, aware of the sounds in your environment like birds chirping outside, or the sounds of people in the house, and you are so relaxed you don’t know where the bed ends and you begin.

The deep or somnambulistic state of hypnosis is what everybody thinks what hypnosis is, it is like you fell asleep and just becoming aware of where you are or somebody is speaking.

Hypnosis is not something done to you, it is something in which you allow and engage in.

When you are relaxed, your mind communicates differently. When hypnosis is applied it can change a habit into a choice. Hypnosis works in direct proportion to your level of motivation. You cannot be hypnotized to do something you don’t want to do! It must be a personal choice and personally desired. Hypnosis works with your level of motivation, no one else’s.

If you compare hypnosis to a computer, you can see that both are capable of processing billions of bits of information. Hypnosis can help you rewrite these undesired habits into new programs that you can use in any way you choose. It can help you achieve whatever you want to consciously accomplish.

Your subconscious mind is an amazing tool, again, it is where your programming or conditioning automatically allows you to effortlessly do what you need to do, such as driving. Each time you get behind the wheel you do not need to relearn how to operate the vehicle, it’s a conditioned behavior and without thinking, easily go about your business.

Alan Handelman
One of the things that most of the thousands of books and articles about hypnosis have in common is that they disagree on what hypnosis really is. There is no consensus on this matter.

Each hypnotist is trained, reads, thinks, experiences, practices, and then decides on the definition that works best for him or her. Mine is a definition of hypnosis that has worked for me in the 25 years I’ve been working with clients.

I believe that hypnosis is a natural state of consciousness that we all go into and out of dozens if not hundreds of times every day. You may not believe that, but that is okay. Hypnotherapy is about changing the limiting beliefs that no longer work so well.

Simply put, my definition of hypnosis contains three elements:

1. Inner Focus
2. Altered Perception
3. (Sometimes) Relaxation

The clearest way to explain how these things work together is though an example.

Have you ever driven on the freeway and missed your exit? If you are like most people, it is a not a rare experience. Probability, as you were driving you started daydreaming, solving problems, or thinking great philosophical thoughts. Inner focus can also start with narrowed focus, like when you are just listening to music in the car. This will also lead to inner focus. In any of these ways, your focus is turned inward from the road ahead to your inner thoughts and experience.

The second aspect of hypnosis occurs a bit before you miss your exit. When you notice that you missed your exit, your first thought might be, “I didn’t even see the exit sign!” That is altered perception. Seeing, hearing, or feeling things that aren’t there, or not seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are there. Or simply seeing, hearing, thinking, or feeling things in a new or different way.

What about aspect number three? While relaxation is not necessary to enter into hypnosis, in this particular case, it is there. Because I am sure you were much more relaxed at the moment you missed your exit than you were at the moment you discovered you missed your exit. All of a sudden, what was a very pleasant, relaxing drive is now filled with frustration, stress, etc. Even when relaxation isn’t there at the beginning of hypnosis, it is almost always present by the end of the time.

And just like the ride before missing your exit, hypnosis as used therapeutically is most often a very pleasant, relaxing experience. In fact, most people achieve a level of relaxation far deeper than they ever thought they could achieve. Just knowing that it is possible to achieve a deeper level of relaxation and – even more important – to change the way we experience our world, is a very powerful experience.

Below are two excellent links to websites that provide information about hypnosis and hypnotherapy:

For comprehensive updates on hypnosis and hypnotherapy, we recommend the following website:

Many ASPH members belong to the National Guild of Hypnotists (NGH). ASPH maintains a close relationship with the National Guild. Click link below for more information about NGH.


Alan Handelsman


Odette Fay


Lindsay Brady


Debbi Combs


Thomas Wheeler

Emeritus Members

Carol Adler
Kate Ellis