Frequently Asked Questions About
Clinical Hypnosis

by Barry Erdman, LCSW

Click on the topics below to read my comments concerning these frequently asked questions:

What is Hypnosis?
I like to think of hypnosis as an "alternative" (rather than "altered") state of mind. We naturally go in and out of "hypnotic" states throughout everyday. Have you ever found yourself driving on a highway thinking about someone or something, hardly paying attention while you weave in and out of lanes,until you somehow find yourself at the exit ready to get off wondering how you got there without getting into an accident? We can say that only a part of you was driving the car, while another part of you was unaware and busy focused on something else. Similarly, hypnosis refers to a variety of techniques that works with influencing the connections between your conscious and unconscious mind. The hypnotic techniques of induction, deepening, suggestions, etc. in and of themselves are relatively simple to learn and use. Most anyone who can learn to relax can also enter into an alternate state of mind, where your conscious mind can take a break while your unconscious mind continues to pay attention and look out for your best interests.
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How Successful is Hypnosis?
The success from using hypnosis depends on "how" the techniques are utilized. Simply buying a hammer in a hardware store doesn't necessary guarantee you will have a cabinet when you use it at home. It's how one employs the tools that brings the outcome. In this way, working with a skilled and experienced practitioner of hypnosis will better ensure your success. Important also is how comfortable and trusting you are in the office with the practitioner you are working with. Feeling confident that the practitioner listens and understands your concerns will also help you feel at ease and will consequently effect the success of your treatment.
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What's the Difference Between "Clinical" vs. "Stage" Hypnosis?
Hypnosis performed in a clinical setting is quite different from that of the stage hypnosis shows you may have seen on tv, in the movies, nightclubs, cruises, etc. In a nutshell, stage hypnosis is typically performed for entertainment purposes to make others laugh. Hypnosis in a clinical setting is practiced solely for the purpose of helping you with your goals. It is not necessary to create the dramatic effects of a stage hypnotist tin order to help you get positive results. A stage hypnotist is skilled at running volunteers through a series of tests to weed out poor responders on stage. The result: the remaining participants he selects are the best responders of an audience of perhaps a hundred or more. In a clinical setting, hypnosis is practiced to meet the goals of each individual, solely with their best interests in mind.
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Can Anyone Be Hypnotized?
Yes. It is not necessary to be a deep trance subject in order to benefit from the results of clinical hypnosis. Most people are in the middle of the Bell Curve, and are average responders to hypnotic induction. Only a few subjects remain on the "tails" of the curve, namely those that do not respond and those that are natural deep trance subjects. Some research shows that you can benefit equally well as a light trance subject as compared with a deep trance subject.
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What Can I Expect When I'm Hypnotized?
There are no pendulums or swinging watches! The process involves induction techniques which typically includes some form of a guided physical relaxation exercise, combined with a focused deepening technique which might incorporate suggestion and visual imagery. You will most likely be able to hear everything that goes on and can interrupt the process at anytime should you feel uncomfortable. Depending on what you are working on, we might then incorporate direct, indirect suggestion, metaphor, etc. to address the specific problem areas you may wish to change. Other techniques include using posthypnotic suggestions, to affect your experience afterwards. I also teach "self" hypnotic techniques that you can use on your own. Other times, we might tape a session, so that you can listen to the tape at home for additional reinforcement. In short, I like to vary my approach with each person based on their particular motivations and needs. What works for one person may not work for another.
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What Does It Feel Like?
Some people say that being hypnotized was a profoundly interesting and effective experience, yet hard to describe. Others may may report feeling different, very unusual, unlike anything they've ever experienced before. Others still may say that it was a familiar experience like meditation or deep relaxation. It is common to sometimes feel a variety of different interesting and pleasant sensations during hypnosis. Like lying in bed somewhere between being awake and falling asleep, you may also find yourself being able to hear what is being said to you, but remaining in the background, as if listening in on a party line or extension phone.
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Is It Dangerous?
No. No one has ever died as a result of being hypnotized. You may feel a bit disoriented immediately after the session and may want t to allow a little extra transition time before going back to work, driving, etc. This may only last a few minutes. You may also feel a bit more tired that usual on the eve after the session and may feel like turning in for bed a little earlier. I like to think that this is for the benefit of your unconscious mind needing some additional down time to integrate the suggests that were made. In spite of what you might think, your unconscious mind serves as a protective function and will only allow you to be influenced by suggestions that are in your best interests.
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Is Individual Hypnosis Different From Group Hypnosis?
In a group hypnosis setting, the practitioner needs to generalize hypnotic suggestions to ensure that a participant will not be mislead or be given a suggestion meant for someone else. Hypnosis performed one on one, allows the practitioner to personalize specific suggestions according to your particular motivations and preferences. For example, one person might prefer to relax as if lying on a sunny beach, recalling the good times from their early childhood, while another person with traumatic childhood memories of getting severely sunburned on a beach, might prefer to relax as if walking in the shaded woods being inspired by the beauty of nature that surrounds them.
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How Many Sessions Does it Take? How Often?
Of course, the number of sessions varies from person to person. Generally speaking, during the first session, time is spent collecting information about what you may want to work on, answering questions, and determining whether or not you have a good match for working together. By the end of the first session or during session two, you might then have had an experience of entering into a hypnotic trance and getting comfortable with the procedure. By session three you might begin to observe how the effects of suggestions begins to modify your particular experience. Additional sessions may include reinforcement of procedures, working on other unanticipated issues that emerge, changing to a more effect methodology, etc. At first, I generally recommend that people come in weekly for sessions. We might then increase or decrease the frequency of meeting depending on the individual's needs or desires. Some clients may elect to focus only on short term goals, others may expand into a psychotherapeutic relationship to continue to address other concerns as indicated.
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How Is Hypnosis Different from Meditation?
Hypnosis and meditation are similar in that they both require a focused concentration in order to go more deeply. The objective of meditation regardless of the varying styles, usually points towards a kind of awareness or mindfulness with no preconceived goal to achieve. You may train yourself to focus on a meditative object, like your breath for example, to develop a passive attentiveness, becoming aware of thoughts, feelings, distractions, etc. as they arise in order to dismiss them and let them go. Hypnosis on the other hand, intentionally focuses on specific outcomes or goals to reach. Specific changes in feelings or behaviors are pursued actively in hopes of making improved cognitive or behavioral changes. While you may be attempting to clear your mind during meditation, while under hypnosis we purposely use mental and affective suggestions to redirect your attention towards predetermined preferred outcomes.
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What is Clinical Hypnosis Used For?
Categories (examples)
  • Anxiety (taking exams, public speaking, presentations)
  • Chronic Pain (back, accident, phantom limb)
  • Competitive Sports (skiing, bike racing, football)
  • Confidence (dating, asking for a raise, standing up for one self)
  • Creativity (writing block, inspiration)
  • Dental (grinding, extraction, drilling)
  • Depression (loss, grief, anger)
  • Fears (insecurities, self doubt)
  • Habit Control (nail biting, hair pulling, thumb sucking)
  • Healing Imagery (cancer, high blood pressure, terminal illness)
  • Insomnia
  • Job Performance (confrontation, management, satisfaction, productivity)
  • Medical Recovery (surgery, overall health, workers comp)
  • Memory (childhood, lost objects)
  • Motivation (procrastination, facing fears)
  • Music Performance (auditions, skill improvement, rehearsal)
  • Personal Growth (spiritual attunement, personality enhancement)
  • Phobias (heights, crowds, dating)
  • Self-Worth/self-esteem (recovery from divorce, bankruptcy, jail)
  • Sexual Dysfunction (premature ejaculation, erectile disorder)
  • Smoking Cessation (chew)
  • Stress (family, job, relationships)
  • Surgical Preparation (labor, c-section, elective surgery)
  • Weight loss (overeating, diet change, exercise motivation)
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Is Hypnosis Effective with Smokers? What's the Success Rate? How Many Sessions?
Most all smokers want to believe that "getting hypnotized" will somehow guarantee that they can avoid the agony of withdrawal from cigarettes. Smoking cessation is perhaps the number one requested reason for getting hypnotized. For the record, hypnosis CAN help a smoker to give up the habit. The real question is, "but for how long"? Most smokers I've seen in my practice quit after coming to see me. I guestimate that 25% make it through the first year. The remaining 75% may go back to smoking at any point in-between. Consequently I recommend that a smoker consider a course of hypnosis treatment in two stages. Firstly to reach the point where you can kick the habit as soon as possible. Up the road, consider returning for an "oil change" or "50,000 mile tune up" reinforcement session should the urge to smoke return. Hypnosis may not work with everyone who smokes. There's really no way to predict who will do well and who may not. Over the past 20 years, I've gotten the most success recommending an initial one and a half hour session, followed within the first 72 hours with a follow up session and then again in a week later or as needed. A combination of using hypnosis along with counseling sometimes proves to be most effective for some.
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What is Hypnosis Not Good For?
Many people think hypnosis can be used like a lie detector or truth serum. In fact, while hypnosis can at times be effective at retrieving forgotten memories from the past or identifying evidence just out of the reach of one's conscious mind, there is no certainty to it's accuracy. A hypnotized subject and their unbiased observers may all believe that a detail or event remembered during hypnosis was real. There is however enough evidence to conclude that accounts can be misleading when hypnosis was used as a retrieval method. Therefore, hypnosis is counter indicated in situations where one may need to testify as a witness in court, wants to find out if abuse occurred in their childhood, wants to know if someone was unfaithful, etc. Hypnosis is also not recommended as a primary treatment for alcohol or drug addiction. It however can be useful as an adjunct to other primary substance abuse counseling treatment. Hypnosis may also be inappropriate with persons having some variety of major mental illness or may otherwise be extremely emotionally unstable.
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Can I Use My Health Insurance for Hypnosis Sessions?
Upon request, I would be happy to give you a billing statement to submit to your insurance carrier for reimbursement. Whether or not your insurance carrier will consider the charges depends on several factors including the limits of your coverage, and your given diagnosis. It would be helpful to call the telephone number on the back of your insurance card to verify your outpatient mental health (mental/nervous disorders) coverage. As you may know, some managed care and HMO plans limit your care to only certain contracted providers. I may or may not be one of them. My bill will list the hypnosis session as an outpatient psychotherapy session along with a diagnostic code in accordance to what you may be treated for. It is usually irrelevant to mention whether hypnosis was used as part of your treatment.
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Where Can I Get More Information?
To find out more about clinical hypnosis, [CLICK HERE] to see my list of resources, including articles, a video clip of someone being hypnotized, and professional organizations to contact.
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©2001 Barry Erdman & Associates, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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