Complementary and alternative therapies (CAM) are popular in Australia. A survey completed in 2007 found that almost 70% of those interviewed used at least one form of CAM in the past year, and 44% visited a CAM practitioner in the same time period (1).
In fact, the estimated number of visits to CAM practitioners by adult Australians in that 12-month period was over 69 million, and this was almost identical to the estimated number of visits to medical practitioners (1).
“Is hypnosis the same as meditation?” is one of the most common questions that I am asked, so I will answer this to the best of my ability below.
Before I do that, however, I need to define what meditation and hypnosis actually are.
• The Macquarie Dictionary defines meditation as: “a practice involving discipline of the mind, in which contemplation of spiritual matters can lead to altered states of consciousness”.
According to Verywellmind there are two main types: concentrative meditation and mindfulness meditation.
- In concentrative / calming meditation, we focus our attention on a specific item while tuning out everything else around us. This can be a physical item (e.g. a candle) or a feeling or movement (e.g. our breath, or a mantra). We return focus to that item if our mind starts to wander.
- In mindfulness meditation we can enter a state of being aware of and involved in the present moment and making ourselves open, aware and accepting. It includes both mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). This can help us relax and better deal with negative thoughts and emotions, and improve our awareness.
Michael Mosley, a presenter on the BBC TV program “Trust Me, I’m a Doctor”, participated in an experiment to measure how his brainwaves changed when practising mindfulness while exposed to emotional images and distracting sounds (6).
He found that mindfulness appeared to improve his choice on whether he reacted emotionally to the pictures (or not). The response to distracting sounds was also less while he was using mindfulness (6).
The Macquarie Dictionary defines hypnosis as: a trancelike mental state induced in a cooperative subject by suggestion.
Participation in hypnotherapy is voluntary. No-one can be hypnotised by another person without their consent.
We all go in and out of naturally occurring trances many times a day. Examples are reading an interesting book, getting absorbed in a TV program, driving along a familiar route and not remembering the journey, or getting so involved in watching a sports game that you forget where you are.
Some hypnotherapists even say that their job is to change the trance that their clients are naturally experiencing (e.g. negative focus on an upcoming interview) to a more useful and productive trance (e.g. determination to succeed and preparation for the interview)!
Hypnosis involves focused concentration, and reduced awareness of other surroundings. It can often result in time distortion (e.g. the feeling that time is passing more slowly or more quickly than it actually is).
Similarities and differences
Both hypnosis (including self-hypnosis) and meditation can result in theta brain wave patterns – which are approximately 5 to 8 cycles a second.
Guided meditation is similar to hypnosis, so a group guided meditation can be similar to a group hypnosis class.
Both can help you let go of distracting thoughts, focus on the present moment, and relax.
Both can help you build resilience and the ability to minimise negative thoughts.
Both can result in heightened awareness.
Both can be practiced by ourselves either with (or without) listening to recordings.
Hypnosis and self-hypnosis are generally targeted at a specific result such as stopping smoking, decrease of pain, removal of a phobia, etc. In contrast meditation is generally for wider benefits such as decreasing anxiety, or improving management of negative thoughts and emotions.
Although both meditation and hypnosis can be conducted in groups, it is more common for hypnosis (in the form of hypnotherapy) to be conducted one-to-one with another person (the hypnotherapist).
Meditation generally involves calmness and relaxation, whereas hypnosis does not necessarily involve these. Hypnotherapy can involve active concentration on an event in the future, e.g., if the client is visualising and rehearsing a new behaviour such as a healthy food choice, or giving a presentation.
Meditation generally does not involve speech, whereas in hypnosis clients may speak to the hypnotherapist to communicate what they are imagining or feeling, and also to confirm when they have successfully visualised achieving goals.
How to choose between hypnosis and meditation
So what is the best approach for each issue?
If you wish to achieve a specific goal (e.g. deal with stress at work or at home, weight loss, stopping a habit, dealing with a past trauma), start with consulting a qualified hypnotherapist.
If you want to learn how to be more present, focused, open and accepting of what happens in life, then you could start with meditation.
Most hypnotherapists will also include mindfulness and other forms of meditation in their therapy if it is useful to their client.
- Xue, C.C.; Zhang, A.L.; Lin, V.; Da Costa, C. and Story, D.F. (2007) Complementary and alternative medicine use in Australia: a national population-based survey. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 13(6), 643-650.
- Holroyd, J. (2003). The science of meditation & the state of hypnosis. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 46(2), 109-128.
- Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10, 144–156.
- Rapgay, L., Bystrisky, A., Dafter, R.E., & Spearman, M. (2011). “New Strategies for combining mindfulness with integrative cognitive behavioral therapy for the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder.” J Rational-Emotive Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, 29,92-119.