APS College of Clinical Psychologists

The state of hypnosis

Hypnosis has a complicated past, but emerging research is showing it to be a valuable treatment option for many psychological disorders, writes Associate Professor Stephen Theiler and Dr Barry Evans.

Whenever hypnotism is mentioned it elicits many different reactions. Some stem from a conception of hypnosis as being either a mysterious state or an altered state (Raz & Shapiro, 2002). If we disregard the connotations associated with the word hypnosis and focus on the science and applications, there are some interesting parallels with other psychological modalities. For instance, Yapko (2011) argues convincingly in his book, Mindfulness and Hypnosis, that there are such strong similarities between the two that they can be indistinguishable. Both have similar inductions and suggestions, and participants have similar sensory experiences and brain patterns.

There are fascinating papers appearing in line with advances in technology, such as using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to help us understand the different parts of the brain that are activated when a person is under hypnosis (Del Casale et al., 2012; Oakley & Halligan, 2009). Research in cognitive neuroscience now looks at the brain at baseline before a task and again once hypnosis is induced. Findings indicate that hypnosis changes the brain’s state by allowing external input (suggestions during hypnosis) to overrule internal goals (Posner & Rothbart, 2011). This type of research has opened up endless avenues for investigation in clinical psychology.

Hypnosis is used in clinical settings as an adjunct to a range of psychological and psychotherapeutic approaches to psychological disorders, such as a synergistic support to CBT-based interventions (Yapko, 2015). Hypnosis is effectively used with anxiety disorders (Evans & Coman, 1998), PTSD and sub-clinical PTSD (Barnard, 2002), pain management (Large, Price & Hawkins, 2003) and sleep disorders (Morin & Espie, 2003). Hypnosis works particularly well with children (Gardner & Olness, 1981) and is an ideal technique for developing self-esteem and ego-strength (Stafrace, Evans & Burrows, 1998).

Research studies and clinical work in psychoneuroimmunology also show the efficacy of hypnotic interventions (Spiegel, Kraemer, Bloom & Gottheil, 1989). It is also a powerful method to enhance mental and physical relaxation (Theiler, 2015). Hypnosis can be beneficial in dealing with attentional deficits (MacLeod, 2011), motivation, assertiveness and confidence-building, and enhancing psychotherapy and counselling (Yapko, 2011). It can help people modify behaviour, reduce symptoms and change dysfunctional attitudes (Gruzelier, Levy, Williams & Henderson, 2001).

Advances in technology and empirical evidence have reduced ignorance and brought hypnosis into the 21st century. It is undoubtedly a preferred adjunct to many psychologists’ existing clinical practice with many presenting issues. We are getting closer to discovering the mechanisms used in the brain during hypnosis, but there are still unchartered waters and exciting discoveries ahead.


  • Barnard, S. (2002). Hypnosis, trauma and anxiety. Australian Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 30(1), 78-91.
  • Del Casale, A., Ferracuti, S., Rapinesi, C., Serata, D., Sani, G., Savoja, V., Kotzalidis, G., Tatarelli, R., & Girardi, P. (2012). Neurocognition under hypnosis: Findings From Recent Functional Neuroimaging Studies. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 60(3), 286-315. doi: 10.1080/00207144.2012.67529
  • Evans, B.J., & Coman, G.J. (1998). Anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders and hypnosis. In Hypnosis in Australia, (pp. 55-104). B.J. Evans & G.D. Burrows (Eds). Australian Society of Hypnosis, Melbourne.
  • Gardner, G.G., & Olness, K. (1981). Hypnosis and hypnotherapy with children. New York: Routledge.
  • Gruzelier, J., Levy, J., Williams, J., & Henderson, D. (2001). Self-hypnosis and exam stress: Comparing immune and relaxation-related imagery for influences on immunity, health and mood. Contemporary Hypnosis, 18(2), 73-86.
  • Large, R.G., Price, D.D., & Hawkins, R (2003). Hypnotic analgesia and its applications in pain management. In: Proceedings of the 10th World Congress on Pain, Progress in Pain Research and Management, Vol 24, J.O. Dostrovsky, D.B. Carr, & M. Koltzenberg (Eds) IASP Press, Seattle.
  • McLeod, C.M. (2011). Hypnosis and the control of attention: Where to from here?  Consciousness and Cognition, 20, 321-324
  • Morin, C.M., & Espie, C.A. (2003). Insomnia: A clinical guide to assessment and treatment. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum.
  • Oakley, D.A., & Halligan, P.W. (2009). Hypnotic suggestion and cognitive neuroscience. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(6), 264-270. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2009.03.004
  • Posner, M.I., & Rothbart, M.K. (2011). Brain states and hypnosis research. Consciousness and Cognition, 20(2), 325-327.
  • Raz, A., & Shapiro, T. (2002). Hypnosis and neuroscience. Archives of General Psychiatry, 59, 85-90.
  • Stafrace, S.P., Evans, B.J., & Burrows, G.D. (1998). Self-esteem, hypnosis and ego-enhancement. In: Hypnosis in Australia, (pp. 218-246). B.J. Evans & G.D. Burrows (Eds). Australian Society of Hypnosis, Melbourne.
  • Spiegel, D., Kraemer, H.C., Bloom, J.R., & Gottheil, E. (1998). Effect of psychological treatment on survival of patients with metastatic breast cancer. Lancet, 2, 288-291.
  • Theiler, S. (2015). Using hypnosis as a vehicle to deepen emotion focused relaxation and enhance the healing experienced in the treatment of anxiety in a client diagnosed with Immune Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP). Australian Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 41, 73-83.
  • Yapko, M.D. (2011). Mindfulness and hypnosis: The power of suggestion to transform experience. New York: W.W.Norton & Co.
  • Yapko, M.D. (2015) Essentials of hypnosis. (2nd Ed.). New York: Routledge.

Associate Professor Stephen Theiler teaches the postgraduate clinical and counselling programs at Swinburne University of Technology and is the deputy director of the Swinburne Psychology Clinic.

Dr Barry Evans is a former lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Melbourne and the School of Psychological Sciences at Monash University.


Hypnosis Training Australia one-day seminar

The wonder and efficacy of clinical hypnosis: Understanding and utilising hypnosis in your clinical practice

Date: Saturday 23 July 2016

Venue: Lecture Theatre, Training Centre, Level 4, Austin Hospital, Studley Road, Heidelberg (opposite Heidelberg railway station; free parking in station carpark). Enter hospital main entrance. Take lift directly inside to level four. For more information and a map, go to www.austin.org.

Registration: No cost. Places are limited, so book early to reserve your seat and receive certification on the day.

To register: You MUST register in advance via [email protected]


  • Dr Barry Evans, former lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Melbourne and the School of Psychological Sciences at Monash University
  • Dr Andrew Fiedler, general practitioner in private practice
  • Dr Doris Brett, clinical psychologist in private practice
  • Dr Di McGreal, psychologist in private practice

The APS College of Clinical Psychologists (Victorian section) is also delighted to announce this upcoming PD seminar.  This evening PD session is designed to introduce the application of clinical hypnosis as a potentially powerful adjunct to therapy. It is intended to briefly address our contemporary understanding of clinical hypnosis and the added value it may have in a range of therapeutic presentations. Research and Case study material will be introduced to highlight when and how clinical hypnosis can be integrated into well established and recommended therapeutic approaches. Thursday 5th May 7-9pm. Only $20 for members more information.