HYPNOSIS is based on the premise the subconscious mind is more powerful than the conscious; when people are hypnotised, they are induced into a deeply relaxed state, and the practitioner can address the subconscious, thereby solving the problem, be it an addiction or a psychosomatic health condition. But a leading psychiatrist, Dr Peter Tsoi, of the Hongkong Medical Association, said while there was some merit to hypnosis, it was a technique that should be used selectively and appropriately. ''It is a very powerful technique, and it can be useful in some situations but it is certainly not useful for everything. We should not believe it is necessary in every case,'' Dr Tsoi said. Dr Tsoi - describing hypnosis as a ''short cut'' into the subconscious, replacing long-term, in-depth psychotherapy - said it could be harmful: in some cases, patients have been unable to emerge from the trance-like state and some subjects even went intoshock after the treatment, finding it frightening. Some psychiatric patients should avoid hypnotherapy completely, including those who suffer psychotic conditions like schizophrenia. ''But it can work well in people who have compulsive or addictive behaviour, or who suffer from health conditions that are psychosomatic, like hypertension and ulcer syndrome which are brought on by stress. If a person learns to relax better, they are able to control their ailments. Hypnosis is really an advanced form of relaxation,'' Dr Tsoi said. He also warned against female patients being treated alone by a male hypnotist, as this might put them in a sexually compromising situation. ''In a medical setting, a doctor examines a female patient in the presence of a nurse, and that should apply to hypnosis. A female attendant should always be nearby. Otherwise the situation might be dangerous for women,'' he said. A prominent psychotherapist and hypnotherapist, Mrs Lilian Lowe, said: ''Just because someone is qualified doesn't mean they are going to behave.'' Even in Britain, laws surrounding hypnosis and those who practise it are loose; there has been some legislation since 1992 with the setting up of the Society for Complementary Medicine, but even so, there have been cases of women visiting male hypnotherapists who feel they have been placed in a sexually compromising situation. ''Anybody can set up as a hypnotherapist. There are so many courses available in the US, UK and Australia that you can learn it in two weekends and start treating people,'' said Mrs Lowe, who has a degree in psychology and a post-graduate degree in education and psychotherapy. Still, the occasional controversy with hypnosis does not appear to have detracted from its popularity, particularly in Hongkong. It has become an option for people who want to cure themselves of addictions, and is said to be particularly helpful with weight problems. Mrs Lowe, who has been practising hypnotheraphy in the UK and Hongkong for 16 years apart from lecturing in behavioural management at the Hongkong Polytechnic, will next month start an intensive hypnosis course that will run during weekends over a year, at the training centre of the New Age Shop in Old Bailey Street. The techniques Mrs Lowe uses to guide her clients into a hypnotic state include visualising walking down steps and other imagery to encourage relaxation. ''I see a lot of career woman who suffer from anxiety attacks. Allergies have also been known to be helped by hypnosis, as I address the part of the body or mind responsible for the allergy,'' she said. Problems with alcohol can also be treated, although Mrs Lowe said she refused to do so unless the client was also attending sessions at Alcoholics Anonymous. Her 11/2 hour sessions cost $600, although follow up visits are shorter and less expensive. Mrs Lowe said learning hypnosis was beneficial for anyone involved in counselling or psychotherapy, and that the medical community was open to it. ''I haven't met any professional person who says it can't work. In the UK in the 1970s hypnosis was considered quite eccentric and was associated with fairgrounds, but it has become commonplace now. There has been enough research done to justify it,'' she said. Eastern-style acupuncturist Mr Lim Ming said he used ''human energy'' to lull his client into a hypnotic state. ''When you follow the Western style, instruments like light or music are used. But according to Eastern tradition, we need to use our own energy,'' he said. Mr Lim, who charged $750, claimed to have had success with clients who wanted to stop smoking; once he determined the reason behind the dependency, he made ''suggestions'' to the subconscious to stop.