Health professionals debate safety of hypnosis apps as they become readily available

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- When it comes to hypnosis, many picture a stage show in a nightclub with a hypnotist pulling people from the audience and make them do bizarre things. But the world of hypnosis is deeper than that, for some people it's a form of healing. Many people undergo hypnosis in a professional setting with a licensed specialist. But there's another option, a mobile app.

Bella Lledos has been a hypnosis client for the past five months. She calms herself under the voice of Toni Macri-Reiner with Indiana Hypnosis for Change. Toni is a certified hypnotist who practiced self hypnosis for years. She's working with Bella through her anxiety. Bella turns to hypnosis apps on her phone when she's not with Toni.

"Just kind of shut down for 30 minutes and listen to it for sleep and relaxation or I've done it for confidence," Bella said.

Hypnosis apps are growing in popularity. There are more than 1,000 of them in the app store. From smoking, to weight loss and sleep assistance. All at your fingertips. Cutting out the professional and opening a world of unregulated apps often created by people with no medical experience.

"And that's one of the real concerns if you were to use an app on your telephone is that there's no one there to monitor and make sure it is being use in a safe way," IU Psychiatry Professor, Dr. Elgan Baker said.

Dr. Baker says hypnosis can be a valuable tool, but not in the wrong hands.

"You don't know if you'll be in a safe environment when you use it. We always have our phones with us. You don't know if you're one of those individuals who is particularly susceptible to hypnosis and to suggestion."

The National Institute of Health took a deep dive into the world of hypnosis apps. Their study looked at 407 iTunes apps and found only 7% of the apps mentioned the hypnotist being a doctor, 34% said the hypnotist was trained or certified, but none of them reported being tested for efficacy or being evidence based. Toni is certified and says apps are no different than recording a session and sending it home for a client to listen to.

"There's really no danger in it unless you're with someone or an app that's not reputable that has ulterior motives," Toni said.

She says there's a method to picking the perfect hypnosis app for you.

"Do you like the way they sound? Do you like the suggestions they're giving you? If so, get in a relaxed place. Never do it while you're driving. Put headphones on and go for it. Listen to it. It's not going to hurt you. It's only going to be a benefit," Toni said.

Bella says there's nothing like the real thing and only use the apps in moments when she wants to feel calm.

"It's kind of a surface reinforcement. It doesn't go so deep with me. It's not tailored to my own experiences. It reinforces the changes I'm trying to make on a daily basis."