If you ever watch old movies, you may have seen a doctor, magician or evil genius use a swinging pocket watch to hypnotize someone. As the person's eyes follow the swinging watch back and forth, he slowly falls into a trance.

The hypnotist then suggests that the hypnotized person do something, such as remember a key fact, cluck like a chicken or divulge a secret. Is hypnosis just movie make-believe? Or is it real?

Believe it or not, hypnosis is indeed real. However, it's quite different from what you may have seen in the movies.

Hypnosis is a trance-like mental state. When hypnotized, you have a high level of focus and concentration on your inner thoughts. You feel relaxed and calm, which helps you block out distractions and focus completely on a certain thought, memory or feeling.

Today, hypnosis is considered a safe alternative form of therapy that may help with a wide variety of conditions. Hypnosis is often referred to as hypnotherapy or hypnotic suggestion. Some of the things people get hypnotherapy for include pain management, weight loss, quitting smoking, reducing stress and improving athletic performance.

There are many techniques for hypnosis. A hypnotherapist usually induces hypnosis — a process called hypnotic induction — by talking slowly in a soothing tone. In addition to using relaxing images to create a sense of safety and well-being, the hypnotherapist usually speaks at length about what is happening and why hypnosis is being used.

Once the subject is in a relaxed trance-like state, the hypnotherapist speaks more directly to the purpose of the hypnosis, such as suggesting ways to manage pain or reduce cravings to smoke or overeat. The hypnotherapist may also suggest visualizing what it will be like to reach a goal.

Hypnotherapy is different from hypnosis performed for entertainment in front of an audience. That type of hypnosis — called stage hypnosis — is done purely for fun and doesn't necessarily involve the same level of deep relaxation as hypnotherapy.

Because of stage hypnosis and the way hypnosis is portrayed in the movies, there are many misconceptions about hypnosis. Contrary to what many people believe, hypnosis is not like sleep and does not make a person unconscious.

During hypnosis, a person stays fully awake, but often experiences a decreased awareness of what is going on around himself as he focuses intently on one thing. Hypnotized subjects often respond more readily to suggestions, which explains why hypnosis can be effective as a form of therapy to change behavior.

Even though hypnotized people are more open to suggestions, they still retain their free will. Hypnosis does not make people lose control over their behavior. Unlike things you may have seen in the movies, a hypnotist can't make you do things you don't want to do.

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