An introduction to clinical hypnosis

For many, the word hypnosis conjures up images of mysterious men waving pocket watches who are able to make people do ridiculous things for our entertainment. These representations have unfortunately led to a huge number of misconceptions and fears regarding hypnosis.

The main aim of hypnotherapy is not to manipulate the patient, but to give them the tools they require to take back control of their behaviour, feelings and emotions.

How does hypnotherapy work?

The aim of hypnosis is to relax and subdue the conscious mind, the part that reasons, evaluates and questions, in order to access the subconscious mind. In this state you’re still aware of what is happening but the inhibitive and constrictive nature of the conscious mind is bypassed. Without the conscious mind the subject will be more open to suggestions offered by the hypnotherapist. However, these suggestions must be acceptable to the client, otherwise they will not have an effect.  

It’s believed that the majority of the population can be hypnotised but hypnosis will not work if:

  • The patient does not want to be hypnotised
  • Anything is suggested by the hypnotherapist that makes them feel uncomfortable as their mind will automatically protect them and bring them out of the hypnotic state
  • They suffer from poor concentration, such as children and the elderly, as this may make it difficult to achieve a hypnotic state or focus on the goal they wish to achieve
  • They’re under the influence of drugs that will make them sleepy, as they may fall asleep during the session and will not be able to hear the hypnotherapist (Brief Strategic Therapy Foundation Course —

Under hypnosis a patient will experience feelings of relaxation, comfort and wellbeing in their body, while their mind becomes alert and focused on a goal. After waking from hypnosis, the patient may experience an emotional high for up to two weeks, experiencing feelings of calmness, more energy and increased confidence, to name a few. The patient may also experience vivid dreams for a few days after the hypnosis. 

Uses in the dental practice

The practice environment is ideally placed to offer hypnosis as it already has the privacy of the surgery and the comfort of the dental chair. The most common use for hypnosis within the practice is to help patients relax. This can bring huge relief to nervous patients as well as making the treatment session easier for the nurse or the dentist. People who suffer from phobias relating to the dental practice and dentistry are highly unlikely to visit the practice for treatment, unless it’s an absolute emergency, as this would probably trigger a phobic reaction.

Hypnosis can also be used for more clinical benefits, such as the control of fainting, bleeding, salivation, gagging and sickness. Similarly, it can also be used to encourage patients to quit smoking or alcohol, build confidence and even reduce repeated behaviours such as bruxism and temporomandibular disorders (TMJ) (Waxman, 1989). Some payment plan specialists, such as Denplan, offer tailor-made training days specific to your practice’s needs and can incorporate modules focused on clinical hypnosis, while earning verifiable CPD.

Important ethical considerations

It’s rare that hypnosis has any adverse affects on a person, however, you should never treat any patient without first taking a medical and psychiatric history. The case history should be taken in order to identify the behaviour the client wishes to change. The questions you ask will vary depending on what you’re treating. For example, questions regarding smoking cessation would include; how many do you smoke a day? When do you smoke? Where do you smoke? Fear of the dental practice would include questions such as; when did the fear begin? When are you most anxious?

A doctor, prior to hypnosis, should check many conditions, and patients who have a severe mental illness should not be treated as there is a possibility that they may go into remission. Furthermore, a depressed person may become more depressed if you were to use suggestions such as ‘growing heavy’ and ‘going deeper’, as these are feelings already associated with depression.  

Alcohol and illegal drugs cause an altered state of consciousness such as drowsiness and hallucinations. In these instances the patient should not be treated. Similarly, some medications may not respond well to hypnosis and when in doubt you should seek advice from the patient’s doctor (this is typically referring to strong prescription medication or drugs, which cause drowsiness or hyperactivity. The reason we have not listed specifics is because we would encourage anyone who is taking medication to consult their general practitioner before undertaking a hypnotherapy session).

It’s clear that hypnosis can be a very effective tool within your dental practice – enhancing a patient’s experience of dentistry, reducing fears and motivating patients towards better oral health. It can also differentiate your practice from the competition, ensuring your practice thrives long into the future by both attracting new patients and retaining existing ones.


Waxman, D. (1989) Medical & Dental Hypnosis, 3rd edition, London: Tindall.

Since joining Denplan in 1993, Lil Niddrie has worked in many areas of the company to support dental practices. She now combines her knowledge and experience to deliver a wide range of training. Lil is a qualified practitioner of hypnotherapy, emotional freedom technique and neuro-linguistic programming.

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