Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy: What’s the Difference?

GoodTherapy | Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy: What's the Difference?Hypnosis is often recognized as being used by performers in comedy or entertainment and is typically seen as fun and harmless in those situations. However, hypnosis has a broader application when used in helping practices. Essentially, there are three main platforms for hypnosis:

1. Hypnosis used for entertainment.

2. Hypnosis is used by a person trained in specialized uses, such as helping people to stop smoking, manage weight, or deal with sleeping problems.

3. Hypnosis is used by a licensed mental health practitioner (hypnotherapist) as one of the tools in the counseling/therapeutic toolbox.

Hypnosis and hypnotherapy have an extensive history as reputable methods used the therapeutic process by trained and skilled hypnotists and hypnotherapists alike. The difference between hypnosis and hypnotherapy is that hypnosis is defined as a state of mind, while hypnotherapy is the name of the therapeutic modality in which hypnosis is used.

A trained hypnotist uses hypnosis to help people with issues such as smoking cessation and weight management, but is not licensed as to practice hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapy is practiced by a hypnotherapist who is a trained, licensed, and/or certified professional. Only a hypnotherapist may use hypnotherapy to work with such mental health concerns as phobias, stage fright, eating disorders, and certain medical conditions.

How Does Hypnosis Work?

Hypnosis is defined as a harmless altered trance state characterized by very deep relaxation, highly focused attention, and an extreme openness to suggestions which are usually positive and foster positive therapeutic changes. However, a hypnotic trance is not necessarily therapeutic on its own. For example, when someone is driving to the mall, seemingly suddenly arrives, and is not sure exactly how he or she got there so soon, he/she has experienced an altered, hypnotic state. People may also experience this altered state when they are just beginning to fall asleep and are in a dreamy and drowsy state, aware but not completely focused—just focused enough to have a simple conversation but not remember talking at all.

When used for therapeutic approaches, specific suggestions and images given to people in a trance can alter their behavior in a positive manner. When in this state of hypnosis, you are more inclined to permanent change and more likely to be successful in making the lasting changes you desire. Almost all lasting changes happen in your subconscious mind.

Another example of how visualization in hypnosis works is when a hypnotherapist helps a person experiencing claustrophobia to visualize being in a very open space, without fear, when entering an elevator. By learning to positively visualize entering the elevator without fear, the person is often able to then do it in reality. The subconscious mind does not distinguish between a genuine experience and a suggested one. If you visualize it in a trance state, your body will react to it.

Who Can Be Hypnotized?

The simplest answer is that almost anyone can be hypnotized if they want to be. Modern research has shown that most people can be hypnotized to some degree and that the real question is how deep and to what degree they go into trance. Being able to be hypnotized is not a sign of being weak-minded, gullible, or giving up control. The ability to be hypnotized—or “hypnotizability”—is actually correlated with intelligence and the ability to have heightened awareness and focus while being in complete control.

For example, if while in a hypnotic trance you were asked to give the hypnotherapist your wallet or take off all of your clothes, you wouldn’t unless you truly wanted to. Likewise, if you were in the audience of a stage performance by a hypnotist and you were selected to participate in the show, you would quack like a duck only if you truly wanted to. In fact, the participants are usually chosen because the hypnotist believes you want to act silly and be part of the show. This is in contrast to someone who is not showing any indication he or she wants to be at the event or even have fun.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Ann Marie Sochia, MS, LPCA, CHT, NLP, Hypnotherapy Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Rae

    June 9th, 2014 at 3:54 PM

    Thanks for the enlightenment. This is something that I have long wondered about but have never found any really good explanation of or answer for. I think that this is something that most of us would make judgements about without having any real working knowledge of what each involves and which should/could be taken seriously in any sort of therapy setting. The one thing that I would regret the most is that even though hypnosis can be used in a therapeutic way, most people are still going to think of it as entertainment because of the more prominant way that most of us have ever seen it used.

  • Zee

    June 10th, 2014 at 4:24 AM

    I have been thinking about this for a while as something that I might want to tyr to help me lose weight. But I have always wondered what the person would suggest to me… like sweets are bad and would taste gross if I trued them? But then, yes I have thought this through, wouldn’t that just make me then want to turn to something else, like salty foods instead of sweets?
    I mean, this is not the root of the problem, there is something else that is deepre there that goes on with me and my relationship with food and so I know that but I need a fast fix that could help me with a jumpstart and this is the one I always come back to but nveer can quite pull the trigger on it.

  • Ilan

    August 2nd, 2019 at 1:30 PM

    I am a hypnotherapist in Washington State. Weight loss can be due to emotional/mental states. If we deal with these issues then weight loss will ensue without strenuous diets. Besides, diets do not work.

  • Scott

    November 28th, 2019 at 2:35 PM

    I too live in Washington State. I have a question. The article stated that a skilled hypnotist can do weight loss and smoking cessation where dealing with phobias and other mental issues requires a hypnotherapy license. In Washington, to practice hypnotherapy one must be registered which falls in the therapy Dept where a hypnotist that falls into the camp of magicians and mentalists just needs a business licence to practice the art. The question I have is can I just get the hypnotist business license to do smoking cessation here in Wa? I have a very good program that I’ve been using for some time now free of charge. To be clear I ONLY want to do smoking cessation. Thank you in advance

  • Ann Marie Sochia

    June 11th, 2014 at 9:35 AM


    I agree it is a shame that many people only see Hypnotherapy as a form of entertainment when it is so much more. I have helped many people overcome phobias, lose weight, quit smoking, anxiety and depression. Non of which are entertainment.

    Thanks for the response.

  • Ann Marie Sochia

    June 11th, 2014 at 9:39 AM


    I can’t speak for every hypnotist or hypnotherapist or even your situation directly without a full consultation. However, generally I suggest replace an unwanted unhealthy habit with a more productive, healthy, and wanted habit such as…instead of eating a 2 scoop ice cream cone drink a class of water and take a walk. Distract your mind.

    Hope that helps.

    Thanks for the response.

  • Taylor

    June 12th, 2014 at 2:20 PM

    So if I understand all of this correctly, then hypnosis can be used as part of a tool within hypnotherapy but not as a subsititute for it? It is just a part of that form of therapy, yes?

  • Julia

    October 30th, 2014 at 10:41 PM

    Not all state require hypnotherapists to be licensed. California is one that doesn’t. Certification is required though.

  • JonJo G.

    November 14th, 2014 at 12:18 PM

    A fantastic explanation that will open some people’s minds as to how best hypnosis can be used. Hope some of my clients read this before their first visit, big help with the pre-talk.
    Many thanks JJG

  • Ann Marie Sochia

    November 14th, 2014 at 3:09 PM


    Hypnosis is performed by a Hypnotist and Hypnotherapy is performed by a Hypnotherapist. They are very similar but often have different training’s Hypnotherapy is more medical in nature.

    Thank our for the questions.

    Ann Marie

  • Ann Marie Sochia

    November 14th, 2014 at 3:10 PM


    Great point. Not all sates require t he practitioner be licensed. I wish they did.


    Ann Marie

  • Ann Marie Sochia

    November 14th, 2014 at 3:11 PM


    I am glad I was able to provide a tool for your clients big visit and pre-talk. Feel free to give them the link to this article.


    Ann Marie

  • Son

    May 5th, 2016 at 9:31 AM

    Motivation is the key to positivity in our lives. If we were not motivated enough, we would just not have the will in us to go about our daily lives. Its motivation that helps us get through the most mundane things– motivation for working harder, motivation to have a healthy relationship, motivation to earn more, motivation to have a happy family. And yet sometimes we find ourselves lacking in motivation; I think we have all had days when getting out of bed to get ready to go to work seemed like a Herculean task. Sometimes lack of motivation can really bring people down, and hinder their efficiency and ability. This may lead to frustrations and further breakdown of communication between people. However, if you intercept this lack of motivation timely, you have help at hand. Go for hypnotherapy for motivation to get the zest in life back. Hypnotherapy is intrinsically related to the concept of motivation, and can help you in every walk of life. From motivation in sports, to business; from quitting smoking to losing weight, hypnotherapy for motivation could help you out. But here’s the catch: you can think of successfully motivating yourself only once you have your goals identified. Identification of a goal is very necessary before you start motivating yourself. Motivation is all about helping you realize your true potential, sometimes this potential gets thwarted by certain experiences in our lives. Hypnotherapy for motivation works towards removing those mental blockages by connecting with your subconscious.

  • Mindy

    November 5th, 2019 at 8:31 AM

    That’s interesting how hypnotherapy can help you make changes in your life and overcome phobias and other problems. I imagine it requires a lot of trust to engage in that with a counselor. It’s probably a good idea to do your due diligence and find a professional that you feel comfortable with for that kind of therapy.

  • Johan

    January 30th, 2020 at 1:47 AM

    This is an amazing & great blog. I want to know more about Hypno Therapists. Thank you so much for sharing the information.

  • Levi

    July 26th, 2020 at 5:55 PM

    Anne, it’s good to know that that a person under the state of hypnosis will become more inclined to make lasting permanent changes in their life, which is why hypnotherapy can positively alter their behavior. My husband has been meaning to quit smoking especially since we’re going to have a baby soon. He’s been having a hard time quitting because he’s been a smoker since his teenage years. Perhaps we could get professional help and try hypnosis to get him to quit for good. Thanks for this idea!

  • Nicola

    September 24th, 2020 at 7:28 PM

    Hi Scott, I could have written the exact same message except that in my case WA means West Australia. I am “only” a hypnotist and life coach and I do one off two hour quit smoking sessions and they work. Good luck with yours.

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