The first task for many psychologists who use hypnosis is telling patients what hypnosis is and what it isn’t.
"If you watch hypnosis on TV, the subject always ends up clucking like a chicken, being naked or assassinating a president," says Eric Willmarth, PhD, founder of Michigan Behavioural Consultants and past president of APA Div. 30(Society of Psychological Hypnosis).
Even though stage hypnotists and TV shows have damaged the public image of hypnosis, a growing body of scientific research supports its benefits in treating a wide range of conditions, including pain, depression, anxiety and phobias.
"Hypnosis works and the empirical support is unequivocal in that regard. It really does help people," says Michael Yapko, PhD, a psychologist and fellow of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis. "But hypnosis isn’t a therapy in and of itself. Most people wouldn’t regard it that way."
Hypnosis can create a highly relaxed state of inner concentration and focused attention for patients, and the technique can be tailored to different treatment methods, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy. Patients also can become more empowered by learning to hypnotize themselves at home to reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, or alleviate some symptoms of depression or anxiety.
Hypnosis has been used for centuries for pain control, including during the Civil War when Army surgeons hypnotized injured soldiers before amputations. Recent studies have confirmed its effectiveness as a tool to reduce pain. Among the leading researchers in the field is Guy H. Montgomery, PhD, a psychologist who has conducted extensive research on hypnosis and pain management at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where he is director of the Integrative Behavioural Medicine Program.
In one study, Montgomery and colleagues tested the effectiveness of a 15-minute pre-surgery hypnosis session versus an empathic listening session in a clinical trial with 200 breast cancer patients. In a 2007 article in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (Vol. 99, No. 17), the team reported that patients who received hypnosis reported less post-surgical pain, nausea, fatigue and discomfort. The study also found that the hospital saved $772 per patient in the hypnosis group, mainly due to reduced surgical time. Patients who were hypnotized required less of the analgesic lidocaine and the sedative propofol during surgery.
"Hypnosis helps patients to reduce their distress and have positive expectations about the outcomes of surgery," Montgomery says.
"I don’t think there is any magic or mind control.”
In a 2009 article in Health Psychology (Vol. 28, No. 3), Montgomery and colleagues reported on another study, which found that a combination of hypnosis and cognitive-behavioural therapy could reduce fatigue for breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy.
Research has also shown the benefits of hypnosis for burn victims. In a 2007 report in Rehabilitation Psychology (Vol. 52, No. 3), Shelley Wiechman Askay, PhD, David R. Patterson, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Washington Medical School found that hypnosis before wound debridement significantly reduced pain reported by patients on one pain rating questionnaire
Does Hypnotherapy Cause You to “Lose Control?”
Posted by Cassie Salewske, LMHC ACHt May 23, 2016 8:00:00 AM
If only I had a dollar for every time someone joked about me making them cluck like a chicken. When you tell people you’re a hypnotherapist, it’s common to hear uninformed comments like these. People fear hypnotherapy will make them lose control.
The truth is, hypnosis does not override free will. In a hypnotherapy session, clients are conscious; they are awake, participating, and remembering. Yes, hypnosis is known for using the “power of suggestion,” but our subconscious minds are susceptible to suggestion at all times. Advertising, music, movies, and books routinely plant suggestions into our subconscious. Language and communication are saturated with suggestion.
So the bigger question might be, when do we actually have control?
Perhaps a different paradigm might be useful. Should anyone ask you if they will “lose control” in a session, you can tell them no. Instead, what they might lose is the following:
Who wants to be afraid of everything all the time? It is easy to downplay how much fear controls our lives and our decisions, but honestly, it is central to our collective control issues. Imagine feeling more at peace with yourself, having increased insight about your problems, and losing the fear that is ultimately holding you back and stunting your growth.
One of the biggest complaints in our culture is being overwhelmed or “too stressed out.” Hypnotherapy helps clients address the underlying emotional issues that may be causing workaholism, poor self-care, over-commitment, and unhealthy habits and coping skills. It also provides tools for managing stress and releasing negative energy from the physical body. For more on the benefits of hypnotherapy in treating stress
People come to therapists wanting help with their emotional and psychological pain. They are full of questions:
• Why do I feel this way?
• Why can’t I stop doing this unhealthy behaviour?
• When will I ever get over this anxiety, depression, or grief?
Hypnotherapy provides answers and a solution. More specifically, it is a gateway to a client’s subconscious mind, where they are able to access the answers and solutions themselves. (And as an extra bonus, hypnotherapy also helps clients manage their chronic pain, as described in this post).
The combination of healing, insight, and empowerment is what makes Heart-Centered Hypnotherapy a uniquely effective modality. When your clients become curious and start asking questions about hypnosis, perhaps the best response is:
What do you have to lose?
The Science of Hypnosis
June 24, 2013
Listen to Youth Radio’s investigation: The Science of Hypnosis
Hypnosis has been around for centuries. It’s been shown to reduce stress, anxiety and pain. Yet the practice is still struggling for mainstream public acceptance. New research from Stanford University is applying the latest medical imaging tools to figure out the science behind hypnosis, and what makes it work. Youth Radio’s Chantel Williams wanted to know what hypnosis can do for stressed out teens.
First, here’s what hypnosis isn’t: it’s not brainwashing or magic like in the cartoons. Hypnosis is a trance-like state of heightened concentration and it’s more common than you might think. Katie Duchscherer, a psychology major at Stanford University, says, “If you’ve ever really gotten into reading a book or watching a television show and the rest of the world around you has sort-of gone away. Hypnosis is very similar to that.”
What is hypnosis.?
Hypnosis is a “state of relaxed focus,” according to the American Association of Professional Hypnotherapists. David Spiegel, a psychologist at Stanford and lead author of the paper, describes it as the feeling of living in the moment without feeling self-conscious about your behaviour.
“You do shift into a different kind of brain function when you go into a hypnotic state,” he says. “It helps you focus your attention so you’re not thinking about other things, you have better control what’s going on in your body, and you’re less self-conscious .
The researchers found that when the hypnotizable patients underwent hypnosis, the parts of their brains associated with recognizing the surrounding environment and the patients’ actions were less active and that the networks associated with mind-body communication were more connected than usual. Together, the researchers say, these effects could lead to feeling more focus and control over the body, and less inhibition while moving and engaging with the environment
Despite the observed changes in the brain, it’s too early to tell whether hypnosis has definitive therapeutic values. This study was only looking at the effects of hypnosis on blood flow in a relatively small number of patients’ brains, and was not looking to treat any particular condition. Hypnosis has been used in Western psychology since the 19th century to help manage pain, like that endured during childbirth (paywall), quit smoking (paywall), but evidence of its efficacy has been mixed. It’s also difficult to implement as a practical treatment: Mark Hall, a licensed hypnotherapist and social worker, compared it to trying to fall asleep—impossible if you focus too much on it.
“Hypnosis is something that can be used to help [people] live in the moment,” Spiegel says. These preliminary brain scans suggest that there’s a biological basis for the effects its been known to have, and further studies may help define its role in medicine.
Mind-Body Therapies for Fertility and Stress Reduction
By Rachel Gurevich | Reviewed by Anita Sadaty, MD Updated May 19, 2018
Hypnosis is a mind-body therapy that involves going into a light sleep-like state, called a trance, induced by a therapist or recording of relaxation instructions. Once in this state, the mind is highly suggestible. The therapist helps the patient change negative thought patterns by suggesting alternative ideas.
• Golden, WL. Cognitive hypnotherapy for anxiety disorders. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 2012;54(4):263-274.
• University of Maryland Medical Center. Hypnotherapy. Accessed August 25, 2016.
• Vickers A, Zollman C. Hypnosis and relaxation therapies. Western Journal of Medicine. 2001;175(4):269-272.
Can Hypnosis Treat My Anxiety?
Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNP
Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNP on January 17, 2018 — Written by Sara Lindberg
Anxiety disorders affect 40 million Americans each year, which makes anxiety the most common mental illness in the United States.
There are many well-known forms of treatment for anxiety disorders including:
• cognitive behavioural therapy
• exposure therapy
But some people choose to treat their anxiety with alternative treatments like hypnotherapy.
What is hypnotherapy?
Contrary to what you’ve seen in movies, hypnosis involves a lot more than traveling into a trancelike state after looking into someone’s eyes.
During a hypnosis session, you undergo a process that helps you relax and focus your mind. This state is similar to sleep, but your mind will be very focused and more able to respond to suggestion.
While in this relaxed state, it’s believed that you’re more willing to focus on your subconscious mind. This allows you to explore some of the deeper issues you’re dealing with.
Hypnotherapy sessions may be used to
• explore repressed memories, such as abuse
• instill a desire for healthy habits that can lead to weight loss
• help to relax and reprogram an anxious brain
The practitioner, or therapist, is there to help guide this process. They aren’t there to control your mind.
What are the benefits of using hypnotherapy to treat anxiety?
Even though hypnotherapy isn’t as widely known as psychotherapy and medication for treating anxiety, researchers and scientists have been studying the effects it can have on mental health conditions such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression for several years.
In one 2016 study, researchers scanned the brains of people while they were undergoing guided hypnosis sessions. They found that a hypnotized brain experiences changes in the brain that give a person:
• focused attention
• greater physical and emotional control
• less self-consciousness
How is hypnotherapy used to treat anxiety?
Let’s say you have a fear of flying. During a hypnotherapy session, the therapist can give you what’s known as a “posthypnotic suggestion” while you’re in a state of trance.
In this dreamlike state, the mind becomes more open to suggestion. This allows the therapist to suggest to you how easily confident you will be the next time you sit on a plane.
Because of the relaxed state you’re in, it can be easier to avoid escalating any anxiety symptoms you may feel, such as:
• a feeling of impending doom
• shortness of breath
• increased heart rate
• muscle tension
• nervous stomach
Hypnotherapy should be used as a complementary treatment to cognitive behavioural therapy.
However, if you only use hypnosis to treat your anxiety, it could have effects similar to those of meditation. A hypnotic induction would help put you into this relaxed state, just like meditation. You can then use this state to address anxieties and phobias.
So, if you’re trying to treat a fear of flying, you can visualize yourself going back to the first time you were scared of flying. You can use a technique called hypnoprojectives, where you visualize your past events as you would’ve liked to have seen them. Then you see yourself in the future, feeling calm and peaceful while on a plane.
Hypnosis: What is it, and does it work?
Published Friday 1 September 2017 . By Maria Cohut
Hypnosis has been treading the line between quackery and therapy since around the 18th century, but recently it has been picking up steam as an alternative treatment for many disorders. What is hypnosis, does it work, and if so, how? We investigate.
Is hypnosis real? If so, what does it actually do? Since the 18th century, hypnosis has been surrounded by an aura of mystery.
The term "hypnosis" is derived from the Ancient Greek word for "sleep" ("hypnos").
Research suggests it was first coined in the early 19th century by Étienne Félix d'Henin de Cuvillers, a Frenchman interested in the role of suggestion on the mind, and the mental and behavioural processes that took place when someone fell into a hypnotic trance. Other sources suggest that it was Scottish surgeon Dr. James Braid who coined the term.
However, the concept of the hypnotic trance was born earlier, in the 18th century, with the notorious German physican Franz Mesmer. Mesmer claimed that he could showcase the existence of something he called "animal magnetism," which is an invisible fluid that "flows" between people, animals, plants, and things, and which can be manipulated to influence people's behaviour.
Mesmer's sham practices gave hypnosis a bad start, but interest for its potential persisted in the medical sphere. In the 20th and 21st centuries, hypnosis continued to be explored, and specialists have gained a better understanding of what it is and how it can sometimes be harnessed to bring health benefits.
Uses of hypnotherapy
The potential held by hypnosis for modifying perception is also what makes it particularly fitting as a complementary medicine approach.
Hypnotherapy is currently used, both in the United States and in Europe, to relieve several medical conditions and to help people let go of negative habits that can have a serious impact on their health.
Some cases in which hypnotherapy has been found useful include
People undergo hypnotherapy to seek help in managing many different conditions, such as IBS and insomnia.
• Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Studies have suggested that hypnosis can relieve IBS symptoms in the short-term, though long-term effectiveness has not yet been conclusively tested.
• Insomnia and sleep disorders. Hypnosis can help to manage insomnia, nightmares, and sleep terrors (which tend to affect children between the ages of 7 and 12), as well as some more unusual sleep disorders, such as sleepwalking. Relaxation and self-control suggestions are used to address these conditions.
• Migraine. Some research suggests that hypnosis can be effective in treating migraines and tension headaches, and it might be a desirable alternative treatment thanks to the lack of side effects.
• Clinical pain control. Hypnosis can have analgesic effects in the case of acute clinical pain, which usually means pain resulting from surgical procedures. Some studies also indicate that hypnosis may help women to manage childbirth pain, though supporting evidence is mixed.
• Quitting smoking. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health detail studies suggesting that hypnotherapy may help people who want to give up smoking, especially if paired with other means of treatment. But in this case, too, supporting evidence is mixed.