What is the difference between hypnosis and hypnotherapy?

All hypnotherapy employs hypnosis; but not all hypnosis is hypnotherapy. Additionally, mastering the art of hypnosis does not necessarily qualify someone as a hypnotherapist.

For years I thought that hypnotherapy was the application of suggestions for self-improvement and/or therapeutic purposes. Contrary to what many might believe, more than simple hypnotic suggestions are required to help someone overcome undesired habits. My current opinion is that hypnotherapy constitutes the application of techniques to help the subconscious discover and release causes of problems. This change of opinion is explained below:

The over abundance of graduates of 3-day and 5-day crash courses has produced many "certified hypnotherapists" who know how to hypnotize many people and use scripts and/or a particular modality, which may work for many of the people much of the time. The drawback is that subconscious resistance to positive suggestion often requires more than hypnotic suggestions and/or guided imagery to overcome. I believe that someone who simply employs hypnosis and hypnotic suggestions might more accurately be called a "Certified Hypnotist" rather than a "Certified Hypnotherapist." In my own professional opinion, it is more accurate to require that a "Certified Hypnotherapist" be able to demonstrate the ability to go beyond knowing a few inductions and the exclusive use of scripts and imagery. I believe that a competent hypnotherapist should be trained to discover the subconscious cause(s) of subconscious resistance when working with a willing client...and to enable the client to release those causes so that he/she may be free to respond to positive suggestions.

If a person's subconscious resists positive suggestions for goal achievement, the competently trained hypnotherapist may far more likely provide service than he/she with minimal training in hypnosis, or who are simply self-taught. In short, the person who simply uses a methodology and/or a set of scripts while a client is hypnotized is in fact really practicing hypnosis rather than hypnotherapy.

What makes hypnotherapy different than traditional therapy?

Cognitive counseling (or traditional therapy) deals with issues at a cognitive level; and many of life's problems require just that. When someone has to make difficult cognitive decisions, competent professional help is absolutely essential! For example, hypnotherapy is not a substitute for marriage counseling. When it comes to changing habits or behaviors regulated by the subconscious, hypnotherapy shines. Hypnosis is NOT A PANACEA for all life's problems, however, and should not be advertised as such.

If you have tough decisions to make, you need a skilled professional to help you understand your options (such as a marriage counselor for marriage problems). If your problem is due to the subconscious refusing to allow you to accomplish what you consciously wish, you may wish to consider hypnotherapy.

It's also important to realize that a competent hypnotherapist recognizes that he or she is NOT licensed to diagnose (unless trained and licensed to do so). If your prospective hypnotherapist tries to tell you the cause of your problem, ask him/her whether he/she is qualified to diagnose. While a physician, psychologist, or licensed mental health practitioner may be qualified to diagnose or "label" the cause of someone's problem, the hypnotherapist should avoid doing so.

Also, in my opinion, even when a licensed mental health practitioner uses hypnosis, it's VITALLY important to avoid projecting a preconceived opinion into the hypnotherapy session. An incorrect opinion may taint the trance, making it difficult to differentiate between repressed memories and false memories. This is one of numerous reasons why even a mental health practitioner needs specialized training in hypnotherapy before employing hypnosis.

A diagnostician formulates a professional opinion describing the problem and/or its cause. A competent hypnotherapist asks the client's subconscious mind to disclose the cause, and then either proceeds or refers accordingly, based on the information disclosed as well as his/her qualifications to work with the issue(s).

Here's a good analogy: psychologists and mental health counselors could be compared to the "hardware" experts, whereas hypnotherapists are only trained to improve the software. Or you could say that a left brain problem requires a left brain solution, while a right brain problem requires a right brain solution!

Marilyn Olsen, CCHT, MSc., DCH
Clinical Hypnotherapist


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Clinical Hypnotherapist

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