Just Like the Movies? Hypnotherapy Explained by an Industry Professional
How does hypnotherapy work? We spoke to Melburnian hypnotherapist Sonia Devine to find out.

If you’ve seen Louis Leterrier’s magician heist movie Now You See Me, you might remember the scene where Woody Harrelson’s character hypnotises a group of people and makes them tackle an FBI agent with the word ‘freeze’. How did he do it? Is it actually possible?

Real hypnosis, also called hypnotherapy, is a method used by doctors and hypnotherapists to treat common medical conditions and correct undesired behaviours in people. In reality, however, it works a bit differently than the magic act in the movie.

To find out the real deal, we spoke with Sonia Devine, a certified clinical hypnotherapist based in Melbourne, who explained what hypnotherapy is and how it can help us in our day-to-day lives.


Nowadays, more people are exploring the positive effects of hypnotherapy as an alternative way to treat common conditions and behaviours. Can you explain to us what hypnotherapy is and how it works?

'Hypnosis is a relaxed, altered state of awareness that allows a person to absorb, focus and concentrate on the words the therapist offers. When you relax, your brainwave frequency begins to drop. As this happens the conscious critical part of your mind, that is, the part that responds to your current beliefs and mind patterns, is not listening. This allows us to change unwanted negative beliefs that may be holding us back from leading a happy, fulfilled life.

Let’s take the subject of confidence as an example. Many of my clients have a deep-seated feeling of ‘not being good enough’. This causes them to doubt themselves, worry about what others think, hold themselves back from going for job promotions and other important life goals, and even sabotage perfectly healthy relationships. If a person was fully awake and heard their hypnotherapist say the words: ‘you accept yourself exactly as you are...’, then their conscious critical mind would immediately kick in and say, ‘no I don’t!’ In other words, the conscious mind continually acts upon beliefs in the subconscious.

For this reason, it’s very hard to change unwanted beliefs and behaviours when you are conscious and awake. But – when you are in a state of hypnosis, your subconscious mind is open and receptive to the suggestions the therapist gives it, while the conscious mind is off somewhere else. So, with the client’s permission, a hypnotherapist can help them change their unwanted beliefs and, in turn, enjoy more peace, success, freedom, and wellbeing.'

What are some of the common myths surrounding hypnotherapy?

'The most common myth about hypnosis is that a hypnotherapist can take control of your mind. In actual fact, a hypnotherapist cannot take control of your mind or make you do anything you would not otherwise have a predisposition to do. The goal of a hypnotherapist is to work together with the client to help them transcend their difficulties, not to manipulate or control them.

The second most common myth is that not everybody can be hypnotised. On the contrary, everybody can be hypnotised because all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. In other words, we all go into trance, or self-hypnosis, several times in any given day. For example, when you’re driving from A to B and you seem to do it on autopilot, when you’re daydreaming during a boring meeting, or when you get lost in a good book or movie, it is self-hypnosis. In a hypnotherapy session, the client is simply using the therapist’s voice to go into self-hypnosis and then with the client’s permission, the therapist makes the changes required on the client’s behalf.'

What behaviours or conditions do you commonly treat as a hypnotherapist?

'The most common problems I treat are weight issues, smoking, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and phobias. Often once the core issues are resolved, other things start to fall into place as well. For example, a person who suffers from anxiety and low self-esteem is more likely to be an emotional eater. So, once they are feeling better emotionally, the next logical step is to want to take care of their bodies. It’s a holistic process which often requires a multi-faceted approach.'

Can people who suffer from a mental illness use hypnotherapy to alleviate their symptoms?

'Yes, they can. However, hypnosis can’t change your brain chemistry, hormones, or anything else in the body that may be causing or exacerbating symptoms of mental illness. But often, mental illness can be situational; that is to say, the person is responding to past and current circumstances, where they become entranced by the mental noise in their heads and feel stuck in a chain reaction of negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.

My job as a hypnotherapist is to teach people how to use their minds so they don’t become identified with negative thoughts or feel controlled by them. Negative thoughts are always going to come and go; it’s how we respond to them that determines whether we will be happy or unhappy. So, the goal isn’t to eliminate negative thoughts, which is impossible anyway, but to teach the client to recognise negative mind states and triggers when they arise and accept that they will come and go, rather than trying to push them away. Acceptance, inquiry, and non-reactivity are the keys to dealing with mental illness.

For clients who have a history of bipolar disorder, it’s important they work closely with their doctor to ensure they are stabilised on medication before they embark on a hypnosis program. Schizophrenia is contraindicated, so I would never treat a client with this condition under any circumstances.'

We’ve heard hypnotherapy is very successful with phobias. How many sessions on average would you need to cure a phobia?

'Simple phobias such as fear of spiders, heights, and dogs can often be resolved fairly quickly with hypnosis. Complex phobias such as agoraphobia or social phobia are a little more complicated, but all phobias have the potential to be resolved with hypnotherapy.

Treatment of phobias involves a combination of hypnosis, exposure therapy, and teaching the client tools to manage the anxiety as it arises. The average number of sessions required to treat any issue in hypnosis is about 3 sessions.'


So, there you have it – hypnosis isn’t quite what we see in the movies, but it’s definitely real and extremely useful! If you think about the process in terms of the hypnotherapist guiding your mind in the direction you’d like it to go, it becomes much less intimidating, so we’d like to give a big thanks to Sonia Devine for taking time to answer our questions!

For more information on hypnotherapy and how it is used to help people, head to Sonia’s blog page, where you can find answers to all kinds of issues – including how to quit smoking, how weight loss hypnosis works, and much more.

Sanda Arambepola

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Just Like the Movies? Hypnotherapy Explained by an Industry Professional