Dear Therapist:

What is the panel’s opinion and experience with hypnotherapy? Does hypnotherapy work? How about when regular therapy fails? I have heard that hypnosis works because it reaches your unconscious self vs traditional therapy which only works on a conscious level.



Although I have had some training and experience with hypnotherapy, I’m certainly not an expert. I can speak generally, but I defer to those panelists who have more experience in the area.

Firstly, it’s important to define hypnotherapy and to distinguish between “stage hypnosis” and hypnotherapy. People tend to use the terms hypnosis and hypnotherapy interchangeably. The former is often associated with the process that stage hypnotists use to ostensibly tap into the subject’s unconscious mind without their conscious mind’s knowledge. I say “ostensibly” because this is not really how it works. In both stage hypnosis and hypnotherapy, the hypnotist brings the subject to a relaxed state of mind in which they become less inhibited and more capable of accessing unconscious feelings.

The goal of stage hypnosis is entertainment. The hypnotist therefore uses the subject’s less inhibited state of mind to encourage them to do things that they might not do when they are in their normal, conscious state of mind. Although they might do similar things after a few drinks, they are typically less likely to violate social norms when in their normal state of mind.

The goal of hypnotherapy, however, is to help the subject to identify and experience feelings and experiences that are typically within the realm of the unconscious mind. In other words, they allow people to recognize some of their underlying issues, insecurities, and fears. This enhanced introspection can aid the therapist and the client in resolving these feelings.

Although there are unlicensed people who advertise themselves as hypnotists—and they may be very good at inducing a hypnotic state—they are not often trained to use their skills to help their clients to resolve their true issues. They might not properly identify the underlying problems, instead focusing on the obvious stated issue. For example, someone who complains of trouble sleeping might see a hypnotist who helps them to fall asleep faster and to sleep throughout the night. If, however, insomnia is only a symptom of a larger problem like general anxiety, this only kicks the can down the road. Worse, removing a relatively minor reaction to anxiety without resolving the underlying causes could lead to more severe reactions. Even if these hypnotists do identify the underlying issues, they are not trained to properly help the client to deal with them.

Hypnotherapy is only one tool in the repertoire of a skilled therapist. If you think that hypnotherapy is something that you would like to try, choosing a properly trained hypnotherapist is important. However, it’s also necessary to choose a therapist who is trained and experienced in the area in which you are having trouble. A good therapist will first help to identify the various areas that should be focused on. They will then help you to determine which techniques are best suited to help you resolve them.  

Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

 psychotherapist in private practice

 Brooklyn, NY   |   Far Rockaway, NY

 author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 718-258-5317