Changing Planet

The Science of Hypnosis

By: Chantell Williams HypnosisResizeListen to Youth Radio’s investigation: The Science of Hypnosis

Hypnosis has been around for centuries. It’s been shown to reduce stress, anxiety and pain. Yet the practice is still struggling for mainstream public acceptance. New research from Stanford University is applying the latest medical imaging tools to figure out the science behind hypnosis, and what makes it work. Youth Radio’s Chantell Williams wanted to know what hypnosis can do for stressed out teens.

First, here’s what hypnosis isn’t: it’s not brainwashing or magic like in the cartoons. Hypnosis is a trance-like state of heightened concentration and it’s more common than you might think.  Katie Duchscherer, a psychology major at Stanford University, says, “If you’ve ever really gotten into reading a book or watching a television show and the rest of the world around you has sort-of gone away. Hypnosis is very similar to that.”

Katie uses self hypnosis to control her anxiety in stressful situations. During a test she takes a few deep breaths, goes to a different place mentally and tells herself, “I’m going to use this adrenaline in my system to feel focused for the test.”

Katie learned to hypnotize herself from Dr. David Spiegel, the Associate Chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford. He defines hypnosis as being to consciousness what a telephoto lens is to a camera.

Dr. Spiegel says what Katie’s doing is different from meditation or other self-soothing techniques. She’s easing muscle tension, relaxing non essential parts of her mind, and zooming in on the problem in front of her, leaving only her and the test. Katie has apparently mastered the art hypnosis. But not everyone has the ability to be hypnotized. Dr. Spiegel is using brain scans to research why that is.

A team of researchers, including Dr. Spiegel, used fMRI to show the different "brain signatures" of high and low hypnotizable people. They found a higher connectivity between different brain regions in highly hypnotizable people. (Hoeft et al., Functional Brain Basis of Hypnotizability, 2012)
A team of researchers, including Dr. Spiegel, used fMRI to show the different “brain signatures” of high and low hypnotizable people. They found a higher connectivity between different brain regions in highly hypnotizable people. (Hoeft et al., Functional Brain Basis of Hypnotizability, 2012)

Dr. Spiegel says hypnotizability is partly due to childhood experiences. “Children whose parents are physically abusive tend to be more hypnotizable, and we think that’s because they use their brains in an escape,” Spiegel explains.

Positive childhood experiences also contribute to hypnotizabiltiy. Spiegel says, children who have parents who tell stories and use their imaginations a lot tend to like to keep doing that.

I was a pretty imaginative kid, so I couldn’t help but wonder, could hypnosis work on me?  I found a free video by Googling “self hypnosis.”  It told me to close my eyes and think about being twice as physically and mentally relaxed. But I couldn’t stop thinking, twice as relaxed? What does it mean to be twice as relaxed?

I really thought hypnosis would work for me. Maybe, with a little training from Dr. Spiegel.  He says, “hypnosis is literally the oldest western conception of a psycho-therapy. It’s been around for close to 300 years but we still keep viewing it as weird.”

Weird or not, if I could use hypnosis to help me through my finals, count me in.

For more Youth Radio investigates, check out Trafficked. PTSD, Teens and the Brain,  and How Young People are Really Using Snapchat.

Youth Radio Investigates is an NSF-supported science reporting series in which young journalists collect and analyze original data with professional scientists, and then tell unexpected stories about what they discover. National Geographic News Watch partners with Youth Radio to share the work of the young journalists with the National Geographic audience. Check out more from Youth Radio’s science desk at
  • Deborah A. Edwards

    Hypnosis really has an interesting history. I once saw a marriage counselor, Dr. G. Richard Van Sickle, who used hypnosis without my permission. Dr. Van Sickle was a tenured Professor of Psychiatry at Ohio State University earlier in his life, before moving to Tampa where he directed several mental hospitals as well as seeing people in a private practice. He advertized his hynotic ability, which I knew nothing about at the time we started seeing him for marriage counseling. He saw me 3 times per week and each time I’d arrive, his ugly pockmarked nurse/receptioist would give me a cup of coffee. I’d sit down on a sofa and the next thing I knew, our session was over with my watch showing an hour had passed. I remember one session in particular because the zipper on my blue jeans was down and stuck. I could never figure out how that happened. So, my husband and I ended in divorce, our business disappeared, making it impossible for me to receive alimony or a settlement of any kind. Oddly enough, several years after our divorce, my ex remarried, started a new business with funds that appeared out of nowhere, and lives happily ever after. Just be careful when trusting a professional with the knowledge and skill to use hypnosis. Make sure they are equiped with a high level of integrity or have a friend sit in on your sessions. FYI. . .

  • Graeme

    Often you hear people, especially hypnotists, say that under hypnosis you cannot be made to do something against your will or that you don’t know about, that hypnotism is simply a state of enhanced suggestibility. This is not true.

    Anyone who has been to an evening of hypnotism will have witnessed people performing acts they would never normally perform in private, let alone in front of an audience. You have only to google the topic to find numerous videos of such events.

    A deep hypnotic trance is far closer to a dream state or hallucinatory state than simply enhanced imagination, and a subject in such a state can be easily instructed to have no memory whatsoever of the experiences he has under trance, and it will be so. Alternatively he can be told to have full recollection as if the events had actually taken place and the subject will, on waking, believe it to be so.

    One difference between a dream state and a deep hypnotic trance is that the hypnotist creates a “doorway” into the subjects mind that allows him to guide the hypnotised brain in the formation of the scenarios that make up the subject’s experiences, as well as to influence the emotional states the subject has with regard to them.

    Any reasonable hypnotist, provided he is able to place his subject into sufficiently deep trance, will be able to place instructions into the subject’s subconscious mind that will persist as changes to the subjects psyche, sometimes for the rest of the subject’s life. Beliefs, memories, feelings and ideas can be changed forever. Even the way the brain appears to work can be altered in profound ways.

    Hypnotism can cure a migraine headache, period pains or a stubbed toe in seconds. It can stop someone smoking in a matter of minutes. It can induce full lucid dreams in a subject including the most awesome and realistic experiences. It can create powerful urges or compulsions that the subject cannot resist, even after the trance. It can be used as a powerful anaesthetic under which women can give birth or operations can be carried out.

    Hypnotism is immensely powerful, should never be treated as trivial and we should be under no illusions of what it can do.

    Chantell, it can indeed be used to boost your exam results in ways you will not believe possible. But as Deborah says, unless you can totally trust the situation while you are under trance, you place yourself at serious risk.

    All this is only possible, of course, if the hypnotist can put you into deep trance. And beware of believing that you cannot be put into trance. Many who believe this are shocked when they are shown on video what they have done under hypnosis.

  • HypnoticHealth Seth-Deborah Roth CRNA,RN,CHt

    I am a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist as well as a Nurse Anesthetist. I specialize in using hypnosis for Medical Issues. of course there is stopping smoking and losing weight but also insomnia, IBS, pain, motivation for life style change, phobias, fears, pre-surgery intra-op relaxation & post op healing, morning sickness, childbirth and anything the mind is involved with which is EVERYTHING

  • Wendy Packer R.N.

    Hypnosis is safe, natural and effective…weird and kooky no longer. Why Kate Middleton the Duchess of Cambridge used this wonderful modality for her morning sickness and is considering HypnoBirthing for the labor and delivery of her unborn child.

    When an individual truly wants to eliminate something from their life they no longer want of need…or to create and/or enhance their life with a behavior which will beneficial to them…hypnosis is the answer.

    I became a Certified Consulting Hypnotist through the National Guild of Hypnotists to help my mother…who suffered for 20 years from a painful super sensitivity in her chest area. When I witnessed what she achieved, since all hypnosis is self-hypnosis, I decided that my nursing career was going to take a different path. For the last 10 1/2 yrs. I’ve assisted and guided countless adults and children to improve upon their lives using hypnosis.

    The mind body connection is truly amazing and I use self hypnosis everyday to remain younger looking and feeling.

    Experience hypnosis and you too will be witness to your own personal transformation…that’s right.

  • Troy Robins

    Graeme, stage hypnotists use volunteers. You can’t get people to anything they don’t consider reasonable AND pleasing while in hypnosis. The people on stage are quite happy to be making others laugh. If you don’t want to be on stage, a stage hypnotist doesn’t want you anywhere near the stage or his show could bomb and his reputation with it. This is obvious when you think about it. If hypnotists could get people to things they don’t want to, the police would just use hypnotists to get confessions from suspected criminals. But it doesn’t work that way. People lie better in hypnosis and they remember their lies.

  • Wendi Friesen CHT

    The comment about who is hypnotizable is just an opinion. As a professional hypnotherapist for 19 years I know there is not a criteria that makes someone hypnotizable or not based on childhood abuse or imagination. We all have imaginations and we can teach our brain/mind/body to experience many levels of trance. Yes, you can be hypnotized, and learn to get better and better at it!

    Wendi Friesen

  • Kathy Wetler – MH Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist

    For 30 years I’ve been practicing Hypnosis with clients experiencing pain that even morphine would not help and watching clients get 6 hours of rest after hypnosis when 20 minutes was all the relief when using drugs.

    Hypnosis is about self-suggestibility. And as Dr. Speigle points out, whether your childhood is good or bad, we are all subject to suggestion. It’s how the planet operates. If you are not part of the collective consciousness, everyone is endeavoring to get you into it. If you endeavor to remain out of it, its really challenging because essentially we’re all humans and we all have a brain and it works with similar data collection on a daily basis.

    Key here is the connectivity of Mirror Neurons a recently studied area of the brain, they recognize as pre-language development and often attributing the learning phases of the infant to the mothers intentions non-verbally.

    If we are all entrained in this fashion,by some prime care giver, then it’s reinforced, all for basic survival of course, but we are being entrained continually. Once in the world, where we are subjected to the entrainment of the society itself, media, marketing, social media…it’s all an entrainment.

    Suggestibility in Hypnosis has everything to do with language patterns. Polarity responding…the internal narrator questioning, or pondering what something means or does not mean is a suggestion in itself. It’s language,
    either inside or outside we are constantly being given suggestion.

    One of the best things I’ve heard if from NLP Master Trainer, Harry Nichols. He offer that the internal narrator is there inside all of us, and as the narrator translates what is being said on the outside if it fits into the inner narrator, then it opens the inner gateways, like a key access. If the inner narrator moves into polarity motivated by uncertainty, fear, anxiety, stress, feeling prevailed upon, then the inner narrator will make those decisions for you. Comfort you in essence. In addition, he “suggested” that the inner voice is perhaps the only real voice any of us is ever listening to.

    That brings a lot of conscious awareness to someone endeavoring to raise a three year old. They have language, what and whom are they really listening to?

    Compliance is required when the psyche knows its totally dependent on survive with the parent, or surviving the parents, so what happens when the psyche is split in this way? Dependent on suffering, pain, sadness, depression, fear… but they have no way out of it.

    The entrainment of the mind at this level is securing life long challenges in belief, however the inner narrator is the Key Code… as to whether it gets in, or stays out.

  • Ingrid Zirnis Johnson

    Building rapport with clients is part of my work, and my clients end up with powerful shifts, changes, and breakthroughs. The more skilled a hypnotherapist is at accessing the underlying patterns and beliefs, the better results can be expected.
    In my practice which now includes well over 300 sessions, I find that most people do not know what hypnosis is or how it works. Client education is ongoing.

  • Kelley T. Woods

    I’ve been in private practice for over a decade and have helped many people release chronic pain, anxiety and other unwanted negatives from their lives. Many of our clients arrive in desperation, after they have tried nearly everything else. We are guides, we are instructors…ethical practitioners do not “take control”, but we do empower our clients how to gain control over their thoughts, emotions and reactions, along with their physiological responses. It’s not magic but sometimes it feel like it.

  • Roger Moore

    With more than 40 years experience as a therapist and the last 17 years specializing in medical hypnosis I have yet to meet anyone who cannot be hypnotized. I have met a few who choose not to be. Hypnosis does not require relaxation.

    My role is as a guide and instructor empowering you to achieve health and wellness.

  • Shannon Tobin

    Hypnosis is an extraordinary tool to help individuals achieve their goals and I am glad to see it gaining mainstream acceptance!

    Shannon Tobin
    Director, Merrimack Valley Hypnosis Center

  • Rtn. Dr. Sunil Prakash

    Yes hypnotherapy is a very powerful tool and has permanent and even long lasting effects. I know of it out of my experience of Teaching and Healing people with it. i have handled cases of physical and mental problems who have excelled in their life after the treatment. in future it is going to take over the allopathic. allopathic medicine will be applicable only where urgent or immediate temporary relief is required. May be where surgery is the immediate relief also. humanity has understood the cause of its problems and they know that it emanates from his or her thought process. Once that is harnessed, things change and relief comes fast. hypnotherapy works on the thought process. i feel lucky to learn this therapy and heal the humanity. i think I am made for this.

  • Ivan Lentijo

    I really believe that anyone who knows how hypnosis works and practising it, has an advantage to have a more positive, optimistic, healthier and happier life.

    Ivan Lentijo

  • Gary Anderson

    It is evidently clear that certain forms of hypnosis can be very powerful in helping one lead a very fulfilled life. Whether it be used to help an individual become more positive or to help overcome a condition.

  • Mark Powlett

    Lots of great comments from therapists here ! I love that we all want to shout about how well hypnotherapy works. Great to see people from all over the world too !

    Mark Powlett Hypnotherapy in Redditch


    As a cetified hypnotherapist of 33 years and having taught many classes, the only thing I have ever seen when someone was given a suggestion that was negative to them is 1. not respond and 2. come directly out of hypnosis. I have seen some of the obnoxious stage shows with clothed sexual activity and you can’t make me believe they didn’t know what they were doing when they accepted the suggestion and during the activity. With Deborah E., I wonder what was in the coffee. On one other point. the lay hypnotist today is often required to have over 200 hours of training to get his/her certification. We are certified and not licensed as “There has never been a documented case of harm with hypnosis” If one could be made to do something against their will,…this would, I think , constitute a documented case of harm… ergo we need to be licensed. so there is something wrong with Graeme’s statement. Also, Only twice in 33 years have I had any difficulty in bringing anyone to very relaxed state of hypnosis. they simply would not follow instrutions. Good teaching about the process takes care of fears and misunderstandings of the subject. So I am always teacher and therapist. For what it’s worth, by 1980 I had 300 hours of training, under Gil Boyne.

  • Aisha Kessler, CHT

    I have been a clinical hypnotherapist for 12 years and I can testify that most people can be hypnotized. Hypnosis is an art form as well as a science. The therapist must find the correct pathway to trance for each individual. Some people are visual, others are auditory, and yet others respond to kinaesthetic cues. This spontaneous, artistic methodology of adapting the hypnotic induction to the individual cannot be measured by scientific studies because these studies require control and consistency for the data to be accurate.
    -Aisha Kessler, CHT

  • Rik

    It’s my experience that almost anybody can go into the trance state of heightened awareness (hypnosis), but you need to be willing.

    In all the trainings I attended, everybody was willing, and everybody was able to access this state, and enjoy it :)!.

    I think the skepticism around the topic comes from bad experiences and / or stage hypnosis where the impression is raised that someone is controlling someone else against their will.

    Which is completely opposite from what is actually happening. You can simply try this by asking someone to guide you into trance and then come out of it at any time you want.

    To me, hypnosis is one of the most lovable and gentle ways to facilitate yourself or others to make changes in our behavior and / or lives for the better. My suggestion would be to really explore this yourself if you are interested in this topic.

    Best wishes,


  • Bryan Westra

    You can learn a lot about hypnosis at:

    It is interesting to note that hypnosis can help people with such a range of problems or simply to self-improve. I’ve used it my whole life.

  • jukerd

    i want 2 become a hypnotist. what do i have to do?

  • Michael


  • YoungsterAv


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