That is a really good question and one that generates a lot of debate. Before offering my answer to the question, I can tell you what it is not. It is not magic. You will not walk in, enter a trance and have all of your concerns and troubles magically resolved. It is not mind control or a sign of being weak willed. In fact, many people find that practicing hypnosis helps to sharpen their focus and provides them with an experience of inner peace. It is not the stuff of Hollywood in which the subject becomes an automaton under the influence of the hypnotist. In fact, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. That is, I cannot make you enter into a hypnotic experience; it is you who has the power to do this.
It is quite likely that you have, throughout the course of your life, experienced states of being that would fall under the heading of “trance.” For example, driving down the highway and suddenly realizing that that truck that was in front of you is now behind you and, despite you having no recollection of having passed it, you are certain that had it swerved or begun to brake, you would be fully aware and completely in control of your vehicle. Becoming so absorbed in a good book or so engrossed in a movie that you lose track of time is another good example of what I would refer to as a trance phenomenon. If you have ever walked into a room where a child is so captivated by the TV program they are watching that they fail to notice your arrival or respond to their name being called, you have witnessed trance like behavior. The essence of the hypnotic experience is a reduction in the general awareness of what is going on around you and an increased focus of attention on internal experiences or on more narrowly defined external experiences.
One goal of hypnosis is to access this experiential state and harness the power of it, allowing you to access your strengths and resources to resolve difficulties and promote the changes you desire.
Ultimately, the best way to understand hypnosis is to experience it.