Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy for Stress Reduction

By Dr Leon W. Cowen, Executive Director of the Academy of Applied Hypnosis.

Stress A Part of Life

Stress has been acknowledged as part of everyday life, yet clients rarely consult practitioners with ‘Stress’. Hypnosis and hypnotherapy treat the stress which accompanies the ailments with which clients present (Cowen, 2016). Publications have linked prolonged exposure to work, home, family and social stressors to a variety of mental and physical conditions (Kezelman & Stavropoulos, 2012, 2019).

What is Hypnosis?

Currently there is no universally accepted definition of hypnosis and there are many responses to the question ‘What is Hypnosis’ (PoSA, 2009). Possibly the most salient comment in response to ‘What is Hypnosis is ‘misunderstood’ (Sugarman & Linden, 2020). However, there is agreement that the state of hypnosis is not, as its root ‘hypnos’ implies, a state of sleep (Raz, 2011).


One previously accepted definition for hypnosis accepted by the American Psychological Society is 294 words long (Green, Barabasz, Barrett, & Montgomery, 2005, pp. 262-263). However, this was revised in 2014 to accommodate various theoretical orientations about the hypnotic mechanisms.

The result was a brief commentary for each (Elkins, Barabasz, Council, & Spiegel, 2015, pp. 382-383):

1. Hypnosis: “A state of consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness characterized by an enhanced capacity for response to suggestion.”

2. Hypnotic induction: “A procedure designed to induce hypnosis.”

3. Hypnotizability: “An individual’s ability to experience suggested alterations in physiology, sensations, emotions, thoughts, or behaviour during hypnosis.”

4. Hypnotherapy: “The use of hypnosis in the treatment of a medical or psychological disorder or concern.”

Some other definitions are:

1. An altered state of consciousness or trance (Kallio, Hyönä, Revonsuo, Sikka, & Nummenmaa, 2011).

2. [An] “interaction between two people where one attempts to influence the other’s perceptions, emotions, thinking and behaviours”. (Heap, 2005, p. 5).

3. ‘Hypnosis does not exist. What exists is the interaction between a given context and the aptitude of the subject to respond to that context”(Araoz, 2005, p. 4).

Whilst an agreed definition eludes the profession (Brown, 2007), what is agreed is the nature of the client’s experience of hypnosis (Fox, Kang, Lifshitz, & Christoff, 2016; Perfect & Smith, 2016) and the mounting research for the efficacy of clinical hypnotherapy (Curtis, Wingert, & Ali, 2012; Hammond, 2007).

Hypnosis: A natural state

The hypnotic state has been described as a natural state, one that everyone experiences which involves focused attention, increased concentration and heightened senses. Hypnosis is characterized by a slowing of brain waves. It occurs naturally during the course of everyone’s day. Activities such as daydreaming or being absorbed in a book create slower brain waves. Similar brain activity appears when hypnosis is induced (Janke & Hood, 2010, p. 4).

The concept of hypnosis as a natural state is not new (Cowen, 2004). Characteristics of the hypnotic state typically include relaxation within the body and an increased responsiveness to suggestion. These descriptors are supported by the definition presented to the American Psychological Society (SADH, 2008). Green’s descriptors provide more detail as they include the client response to suggestion which can include changes in subjective experience, alterations in perception, sensation, emotion, thought, or behaviour (Green et al., 2005).

Duration of Consultation(s)

Duration of therapy depends on practitioner skills and the responsiveness of the client. A sesssion can range from 45min-90mins, and the first consultation is usually longer. Clients can be taught self-hypnosis techniques to assist in their own treatment, reducing the duration of treatment and as a natural alternative to reinforce treatment strategies when and where they desire (Slomski, 2019).


When referring a client to a hypnotherapist, the same information as any other referral is required but with a couple of additions. Any medications that have dual actions (physical and psychological) need to be noted, as well as ensuring the practitioner is a member of a professional association.


Hypnosis and hypnotherapy have been recognised to assist in a wide range of conditions such as Anxiety, Depression, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Pain, Psychophysiological issues, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Smoking. The addition of hypnosis/hypnotherapy to a treatment regimen has demonstrated efficacy in research and effectiveness for a wide range of clients (Black et al., 2020; Catsaros & Wendland, 2020; Ravishankar, 2020; Shakil, 2020).

In summary

Clients generally consult a clinical hypnotherapist because of a specific issue, not just because of ‘stress’. The literature often refers to the reduction of ‘stress’ as an outcome of the hypnosis/hypnotherapy treatment for the predominant issue (such as IBS or PTSD) or makes note that quality of life or sleeping has improved as a result of a decrease in ‘stress’ levels. The reduction of ‘stress’ is a major factor in treatments and some articles call for hypnosis to be integrated into more treatment regimens (Jiggins, 2017; Makover, 2016)

To learn more about hypnotherapy with Dr Leon W. Cowen check out our new short course Helping Your Patients Reduce Stress. This course explores the impact of stress and the scientific evidence base of some of the therapies that may be able to alleviate stress, including mindfulness, breathwork, CBT, nutrition, yoga and water sound therapy.