The Definition of Hypnosis

Some think  that hypnosis means the loss of control or a loss of awareness. This is completely incorrect,  hypnosis is the opposite of that, hypnosis is a heightened state of awareness and concentration and mindfulness.

Here are some definitions, some old, some new.  Hypnosis is defined as a state of mind, measured now by brainwaves, it also can be defined as a process of interaction between client and therapist in a specific manner.


This definition and description of hypnosis was prepared by the Executive Committee of the American Psychological Association. Division of Psychological Hypnosis:

Hypnosis is a procedure during which a health professional suggests changes in sensations, perceptions, thoughts, or behavior. The hypnotic context is generally established by an induction procedure. Although there are many different hypnotic inductions, most include suggestions for relaxation, calmness, and well-being. Instructions to imagine or think about pleasant experiences are also commonly included in hypnotic inductions. People respond to hypnosis in different ways. Some describe their experience as an altered state of consciousness. Others describe hypnosis as a normal state of focused attention in which they feel very calm and relaxed. Regardless of how and to what degree they respond, most people describe the experience as very pleasant.

Some people are very responsive to hypnotic suggestions and others are less responsive. A person’s ability to experience hypnotic suggestions can be inhibited by fears and concerns arising from some common misconceptions. Contrary to some depictions of hypnosis in books, movies, or on television, people who have been hypnotized do not lose control over their behavior. They typically remain aware of who they are and where they are, and unless amnesia has been specifically suggested, they usually remember what transpired during hypnosis.

Hypnosis makes it easier for people to experience suggestions, but it does not force them to have these experiences. Hypnosis is not a type of therapy, like psychoanalysis or behavior therapy. Instead, it is a procedure that can be used to facilitate therapy. Because it is not a treatment in and of itself, training in hypnosis is not sufficient for the conduct of therapy. Only properly trained and credentialed health care professionals who have also been trained in the clinical use of hypnosis and are working within the areas of their professional expertise should use clinical hypnosis.

Hypnosis has been used in the treatment of pain depression, anxiety, stress, habit disorders, and many other psychological and medical problems. However, it may not be useful for all psychological problems or for all patients or clients. The decision to use hypnosis as an adjunct to treatment can only be made in consultation with a qualified health care provider who has been trained in the use and limitations of clinical hypnosis. In addition to its use in clinical settings, hypnosis is used in research with the goal of learning more about the nature of hypnosis itself, as well as its impact on sensation, perception, learning, memory, and physiology. Researchers also study the value of hypnosis in the treatment of physical and psychological problems.

Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition:

hypnosis [hip-no´sis]

1. a state of altered consciousness, usually artificially induced, in which there is a focusing of attention and heightened responsiveness to suggestions and commands. Contrary to popular belief, hypnosis is not sleep but rather intense concentration, something like the familiar experience of being engrossed in a book to the extent of shutting out the outside world.
State of Hypnosis. The nature of hypnosis and the way it works are still largely unknown. One widely accepted theory is that the person’s ego—that is, the part of the mind that consciously restrains instincts—is temporarily weakened under hypnosis at the person’s own wish. How deeply one responds depends on many psychologic and biologic factors. The ability to respond to hypnosis varies from person to person; it tends to increase after successive experiences.
Use of Hypnosis. A common medical use of hypnosis is in treating mental illness. Historically, Sigmund Freud developed his theory of the unconscious as a result of his experiments with a hypnotized patient. Out of this theory came some of the techniques of psychoanalysis. By lessening the mind’s unconscious defenses, hypnosis can make some patients able to recall and even reexperience important childhood events that have long been forgotten or repressed by the conscious mind.

In certain cases when the use of anesthetics is not advisable, hypnosis has been used successfully during dental treatment, setting of fractures, and childbirth, usually in addition to pain-killing medicines.

2. in the nursing interventions classification, a nursing intervention defined as assisting a patient to induce an altered state of consciousness to create an accurate awareness and a directed focus experience.

Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.

Additional definitions:

Citation Definition
Kihlstrom 19851 A situation or set of procedures in which a person designated as the hypnotist suggests that another person designated as the patient experience various changes in sensation, perception, cognition, or control over motor behavior.
Killeen & Nash 20032 A hypnotic procedure is a protocol used to establish a hypnotic situation and evaluate responses to it. In such situations, one person (the subject) is guided by another (the hypnotist) to respond to suggestions for alterations in perception, thought, and action. If the constellation of responses to standardized suggestions satisfies a criterion, we infer that the procedure induced a hypnotic state. Hypnotic responses are those responses and experiences characteristic of the hypnotic state.
Spiegel & Greenleaf 20053 Hypnosis (or trance) is an animated, altered, integrated state of focused consciousness (ie, controlled imagination). It is an attentive, receptive state of concentration that can be activated readily and measured. It requires some degree of dissociation to enter and become involved in imagined activity, enough concentration for an individual to maintain a certain level of absorption, and some degree of suggestibility to take in new premises.
American Society of Clinical Hypnosis Hypnosis is a state of inner absorption, concentration, and focused attention. It is like using a magnifying glass to focus the rays of the sun and make them more powerful. Similarly, when our minds are concentrated and focused, we are able to use them more powerfully. Because hypnosis allows people to use more of their potential, learning self-hypnosis is the ultimate act of self-control.
American Psychological Association, Division 304 Hypnosis is a procedure during which a health professional or researcher suggests while treating someone, that he or she experience changes in sensations, perceptions, thoughts or behavior. Although some hypnosis is used to make people more alert, most hypnosis includes suggestions for relaxation, calmness and well-being. Instructions to imagine or think about pleasant experiences are also commonly included during hypnosis. People respond to hypnosis in different ways. Some describe hypnosis as a state of focused attention, in which they feel very calm and relaxed. Most people describe the experience as pleasant.
Montgomery 20105 Hypnosis is an agreement between a person designated as the hypnotist and a person designated as the client or patient to participate in a psychotherapeutic technique based on the hypnotist providing suggestions for changes in sensation, perception, cognition, affect, mood, or behavior.

Table References:

1 Kihlstrom JF. Hypnosis. Annu Rev Psychol. 1985; 36: 385-41
2 Killeen PR, Nash MR. The four causes of hypnosis. Int J Clin Exp Hypn. 2003; 51: 195-231.
3 Spiegel H, Greenleaf M. Commentary: defining hypnosis. Am J Clin Hypn. 2005; 48: 111-116.
5 Montgomery GH, Hallquist MN, Schnur JB, David D, Silverstein JH, Bovbjerg DH. Mediators of a brief hypnosis intervention to control side effects in breast surgery patients: response expectancies and emotional distress. J Consult Clin Psychol 2010; 78: 80-88.