Most people are not sure what to expect the first time they visit a hypnotherapist. Typically, there is some nervousness, since the situation is unfamiliar, and because of some of the more common misconceptions about hypnosis. For example, many people believe that the hypnotherapist will be controlling their minds with hypnosis, because they have seen the dramatic responses of participants a hypnosis stage show, or heard or read sensational stories about hypnosis.
From the perspective of a hypnotherapist, the session begins on the first moment of meeting the client. We begin establishing rapport with the client by going though the familiar social rituals of introduction, and shaking hands. And, that familiarity brings a sense of comfort to the new situation.
Of course, there is some simple paperwork to fill out. When that is completed, the client will come into the hypnotherapist's office and sit down in the most comfortable chair in the room. The hypnotherapist will read the paperwork, and ask a few questions, and engage in some small talk. The small talk furthers the process of getting in rapport with the client, which is necessary because the client must trust and feel comfortable with the hypnotherapist to have a successful session.
The hypnotherapist will then offer the client a basic introduction to hypnosis. This is essential, because by dispelling common misconceptions, and offering new understandings of hypnosis to the client, the foundation for a successful session is being laid. It can undermine the client's success, for example, if the client believes that she or he did not go into hypnosis because there were no "hypnotized" feelings. In that case the client may reject the suggestions offered while they were in hypnosis. For the record, hypnosis has no special feeling in and of itself, even though some very nice or unusual feelings or experiences can spontaneously occur while someone is in hypnosis.
Then the hypnotherapist will ask the client about the issue that they want to change. The information gathering phase is crucial, because clients frequently give away the solution to their situation by the way that they describe the problem. For example, The author worked with a woman who cried uncontrollably whenever she heard music. She had barely been able to leave her house for three years. For example, if she heard holiday music at the mall in December, or someone hummed a tune on an elevator, she started crying uncontrollably.
She gave away the solution when she said that when she heard music she would, "see a (mental) picture of the house I grew up in, and start to cry." It only took a few minutes to use a hypnotic technique from Neuro-Linguistic Programming that made the triggering picture vanish, only to be replaced by an image that made her feel good. At that point the author sang a song to her, and she got a look of astonishment and joy on her face. No crying! Then the client was led into deeper hypnosis and give suggestions for continued comfort and joy on hearing music.
After gathering the necessary information it is time for the hypnosis session to begin. The hypnotherapist will use any of a variety of induction methods to guide the client into a hypnotic state. There is a common misconception that some people are more hypnotizable than others, that got started from some flawed research done during the early 20th century. The researchers used a monotone recording with a group of subjects, and concluded that those who not go into hypnosis were "unhypnotzable". The reality is that anyone can be hypnotized if the methods used fit their personality. One person may need to be put a little off balance with rapid fire verbal confusion techniques, and the next one may need slow, soothing imagery to go into trance. They are both able to go into a satisfactory hypnotic state, they just need to be led there by different methods.
While the client is in hypnosis, the hypnotherapist will use any of a variety of techniques and suggestions to help the client unconsciously develop new beliefs and responses that will allow them to experience the resolution of their issue in a naturally resourceful way. One such technique is called "end point imagery" during which has the client see himself or herself in the future automatically using their new behaviors in the times and places where the problems used to occur. And, as simple as that is, for some clients, end point imagery can be enough to reduce, or eliminate problem behaviors completely.
Once the client has been guided through the hypnotic techniques he or she is instructed to open the eyes and return to their normal conscious state, and the session is over. The client will typically remember everything that occurred, although occasionally some clients will be unable to remember parts of or even most of the session.