People are either intrigued or vaguely put off when they find out that I run courses in hypnosis. Much of the emotion comes from misconceptions about what hypnosis is and when it is useful.
Some people think hypnosis can be used to get people to do things they are not otherwise ready or willing to do. This is true in some ways. Mostly it is untrue. There's just not much evidence that neat hypnotic language patterns sneak in and influence people to do stuff that someone else wants them to do. There's not much evidence that anyone is always good at influence.
Other people think that hypnosis is nonsense. It is mostly about getting people to make fools of themselves on a stage. This belief usually includes a reluctance to consider unconscious processes or to consider that people make choices based on anything other than logic (or it's opposite). This is also not true. There is lots of evidence that there is a relationship between what we know (our conscious awareness) and what causes us to know (the unconscious processes that tell us what we think and what words to choose). There is lots of evidence that we do not always know ourselves and so it is possible that we are more or different than we think we are.
So, what is hypnosis? There is no absolute definition so I am going to make one up: hypnosis is the ability to create a special relationship between conscious awareness and unconscious process so that you can do more of what you really want to do. It is often facilitated by a hypnotist - an outside presence that guides the process of letting everything slip away except the awareness associated with one particular intention. It occurs naturally in people who focus their thoughts in order to focus their actions.
Hypnosis is useful when someone is ready to consciously take steps to achieve something that seems, for whatever reasons, to require more steps or decisions or strengths than that person believes himself/herself able to manage. It is a way of reaching deep inside oneself to discover that one has more abilities, more knowledge, and more will power than one thought. As a hypnotist, you develop the ability to help people pull themselves together, relax, and get results.
Does this mean that hypnosis is never manipulative? We all like to be manipulated sometimes, by people we trust. We all trust the wrong people sometimes, and we all try things that do not work out as we expect. Life is like that. Hypnosis is subject to the same conditions as all other relationships between the choices we make consciously and the conditions that produce them.
Hypnosis is not the magical ability to control others. And if it is nonsense, it is the best and most useful kind of nonsense - the kind that strips away pretense and presents us to ourselves.