What is hypnotherapy?

Hypnosis, hypnotherapy, and hypnotic suggestion are all names for a type of therapy that involves putting people into a trance-like state. Achieving this state is intended to promote focus in an individual. In this focused state, a person can be more receptive to suggestions, such as quitting smoking.

Hypnotherapy is a therapy that spans hundreds of years and has many practitioners across the United States. Researchers have studied whether hypnosis can treat a variety of medical conditions, from irritable bowel syndrome to anxiety and depression. The goal for hypnotherapy is to help a patient learn to better control their state of awareness. In the case of depression, hypnotherapy sessions may be focused on helping a person achieve a state of relaxation. In this relaxed state, they can discuss their feelings and emotions without raising stress and anxiety levels.

A hypnotherapy session usually lasts about an hour. A trained therapist uses various relaxation techniques to guide you into a hypnotic state. In this state, you are still conscious and aware. Your body becomes more relaxed and the mind more responsive to suggestions from the therapist.

The therapist’s suggestions will depend on the condition or behavior you are trying to treat. Hypnotherapy can help target unwanted or unhealthy habits and possibly replace them with healthier behaviors. Examples include being able to better control pain or anxiety or adjusting negative thought patterns that could be worsening depression symptoms.

Pros of hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy offers the potential to help treat your medical conditions without the need for invasive therapies or additional medications. Therapists consider hypnotherapy a safe treatment option, with minimal side effects.

While it may not work for everyone, hypnotherapy is what’s known as a complementary therapy. A person can use hypnotherapy in addition to other treatments for depression to enhance an overall sense of well-being, lift mood, and boost feelings of hopefulness. Hypnotherapists use it to treat a number of conditions, including:

  • anxiety
  • chronic pain
  • concentration problems
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • smoking control
  • teeth grinding

A person with depression experiences a wide variety of emotions. According to the University of New Hampshire, hypnotherapy can help a person learn to reduce and/or better control feelings of anxiety, stress, and sadness. Hypnotherapy is also used to treat negative behaviors that could be worsening a person’s depression. These behaviors may include smoking and poor eating and sleeping habits.

Cons of hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy does have some risks. The most dangerous is the potential to create false memories (called confabulations). Some other potential side effects are headache, dizziness, and anxiety. However, these usually fade shortly after the hypnotherapy session.

People considering hypnotherapy should first consult their doctor or psychiatrist. It is possible that hypnotherapy could worsen symptoms. People suffering from delusions, hallucinations, or other psychotic symptoms might not be the best candidates for hypnotherapy.

It’s also possible that hypnotherapy is not an effective treatment method. The therapy requires a person to focus and enter a trance state of hypnosis. For some people, this is very difficult.

Hypnotherapy appears to work best when used with other forms of treatment, says Steve G. Kopp, a licensed mental health counselor and marriage and family therapist. It can help reduce a patient’s resistance to other more traditional treatments.

“It seems most effective complementing cognitive behavioral therapy or interpersonal psychotherapy,” Kopp says.

It’s important to remember that depression, along with severe and chronic mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, also affect a person’s physical health. Depression is more than just feeling sad or having negative thoughts. It’s a condition where the chemicals in your brain are imbalanced. Hypnotherapy is a complementary therapy, and it shouldn’t be the only therapy a person uses to enhance their mental health.

Kopp also warns that hypnotherapist quality varies widely. Anyone considering hypnotherapy should make sure the therapist is not only certified to perform hypnosis, but is also a trained mental health professional.

Several professional organizations and licensing agencies exist for hypnotherapy practitioners. Examples include the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) and the American Association of Professional Hypnotherapists. To be an ASCH member, practitioners must attend at least 40 hours of workshop training, 20 hours of individual training, and have completed at least two years of clinical practice as a hypnotherapist.

Some medical professionals may incorporate hypnotherapy into their practices. Examples include:

  • dentists
  • family therapists
  • marital therapists
  • nurse practitioners
  • doctors
  • social workers

For those interested in hypnotherapy, contacting these organizations to find a local chapter and licensed professionals is a good start. Some insurance companies will pay a portion of the cost of hypnotherapy treatments. However, insurance companies often require a licensed professional to administer the treatments.