The facts

Hypnotherapy, also called hypnosis, is an alternative therapy technique in which a therapist guides a person into a state of relaxation and intense focus.

Hypnos comes from the Greek word for "sleep." And yet a person under therapeutic hypnosis is not asleep or out of control of their surroundings, as it is often depicted in movies. Rather, a hypnotized person concentrates intently on a particular image, emotion, sensation, intention, or a desired goal.

A typical hypnotherapy session lasts 30 to 60 minutes. One would be reclined or sitting comfortably during this time, listening to the hypnotherapist speak in even tones. In the first phase, called presuggestion, one is guided to a relaxed, suggestible state of mind by way of imagery, relaxation, or distraction. In the suggestion phase, a hypnotherapist introduces and discusses the goal or intention, while in the postsuggestion phase the new, desired behaviour may be practiced after returning to the normal state of mind. After that, the hypnotherapist ends the trance-like state.

Because they are in a state of intense focus, a person can be more open to suggestion, so hypnotherapy is often used to help a person overcome a phobia, an unhealthy habit, or anxiety. Hypnotherapy may also be helpful in dealing with the psychological and emotional symptoms of a disease or condition.

A word of caution

Be aware that not everyone can be hypnotized. One hallmark of a good candidate for hypnosis is the ability to become engrossed in activities like listening to music, watching films, or reading books. If scent easily triggers clear memories, and if memory elicits physical sensations, you may be more likely to be guided into a hypnotic state.

Entrust your hypnotherapy to someone familiar to you, someone who has been recommended by a trusted friend or who has positive references from past clients.

Possible side effects of hypnotherapy include headaches, nausea, and dizziness. Some feel anxious or panicky, while others may confuse true memories with false ones that may be created while under hypnosis.