Hypnosis – what is it and how can it help you?
Hypnotherapy and specially, Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy, has been proven to be an effective and sustainable form of therapy in areas like weight-loss, IBS, moderate anxiety and depression, stop smoking, improve performance and confidence, etc. Here you will find information about the pros and cons of hypnotherapy and research about the subject.
The word “hypnosis” has always had a bit a mysterious connotation. Some people seem to encourage the believe that they have a very special or even esoteric skill, when they use hypnosis. This is added to by the fact that, although hypnosis has been known about for centuries, and been the subject of scientific research for over 200 years, there is still widespread misconceptions about what it actually is.
Unfortunately, hypnosis has become more widely recognised as ‘entertainment’ than as an instrument to change negative behaviours, ameliorate mental problems and ease some physical difficulties.
What is a hypnotic trance state?
Hypnosis or Guided Imagery induces a state of trance with the objective to make changes and learn new responses to the challenges we face.
The fact is that anyone who can focus their attention, use their imagination or who can become emotionally aroused, will, regularly, enter trance. We are in a self-induced trance whenever we are highly emotionally aroused. We can be in a trance when we are absorbed in creative activities or using our skills (gardening, writing, cooking, singing, dancing, playing football, etc.)
The famous state known as “being in the zone’ or ‘peak experience’, when we know how to do something really well and we effortlessly become one with what we are doing is also a trance state.
The deepest trance we experience is while sleeping, during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) state. We all spend part of our sleep time dreaming. It is during this state that we learn essential skills for our survival and we process emotional arousal.
So, hypnosis is not just a state of relaxation and concentration – It is the way we learn survival templates, the way we are conditioned, and the way we form our beliefs – and also the way we solve problems.
Thus, we should be very careful about the therapist we choose. In fact, hypnosis is not always safe – It is an extremely powerful process1 and anything powerful can be used to do harm as well as good.
Careless use of hypnosis can interfere with people’s development and well-being.
The literature is full of unpleasant effects that have been experienced after hypnosis. It can go from extreme fatigue, headaches, and confusion to creating false memories and to the extremes of inducing hallucinations.
The hypnotic induction is, in fact, a form of trespass upon the private mental territory of another’s essence. This is territory that we should only enter reverently if invited in, and we must be careful to close the gate properly when we leave.
Hypnosis and self-hypnosis in therapy
Hypnosis is a powerful tool to help people change. Once a person is in a trance state, therapists can make powerful, positive psychological interventions, such as embedding empowering suggestions, giving direct instructions, and guiding the rehearsal of desired outcomes in imagination.
Guided Imagery (trance) also provides the best platform for desensitizing from strong emotions from traumatic events. This is why, using specific techniques, offers the fastest method to help people overcome phobias and PTSD.
Trance plus therapeutic interventions are what constitutes hypnotherapy.
Whether therapeutic trance work does harm or not depends on many factors including:
- the integrity of the person doing the therapy
- the therapist’s sincerity and intelligence (emotional and otherwise)
- their level of skill and how well they use language skills; especially metaphor
- the therapist’s level of knowledge about emotional and psychological problems
- how well the therapist knows himself
- their understanding of innate emotional needs about what a patient really requires
- the therapist’s ability to put their own ego aside
- the nature of the ideas absorbed by the patient.
Good therapy should include a combination of methodologies. We are all different, and improving life performance or tackling emotional problems always involves taking into account several factors, such as how our thoughts and beliefs are built, our social and cultural background, and the habits we already have. Nevertheless, Guided Imagery is a powerful tool that should be used as an essential part of the treatment.
A hypnotherapy session typically involves the following components:
- Discussion of Goals: At the beginning of the session, the hypnotherapist will likely discuss the person’s goals and the reasons for seeking hypnotherapy. This discussion is intended to help the hypnotherapist understand the person’s needs and determine the best approach to the session.
- Induction: The hypnotherapist will then guide the person into a state of relaxation and suggestibility, known as a hypnotic trance. This may involve a guided visualization, breathing exercises, or other relaxation techniques.
- Deepening: Once the person is in a hypnotic trance, the hypnotherapist will often deepen the trance to help the person access their subconscious mind more effectively. This may involve suggestions for deeper relaxation or visualizations designed to deepen the trance state.
- Therapeutic Interventions: With the person in a hypnotic trance, the hypnotherapist may then use a range of therapeutic techniques, such as suggestion therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, or regression therapy, to help the person address their goals and overcome any issues or challenges they are facing.
- Emerging: Once the hypnotherapist has completed the therapeutic interventions, they will guide the person out of the hypnotic trance and back into a state of wakefulness. This may involve counting up from 1 to 5, or other techniques to help the person transition back to full awareness.
- Debrief: Finally, the hypnotherapist will often debrief with the person, discussing their experience of the session and providing any guidance or recommendations for further sessions or ongoing self-care.
What will you experience?
During a hypnotherapy session, some people may experience a deep sense of relaxation and calmness. They may also feel a sense of detachment from their surroundings or a feeling of being “in a trance.” Some people may also experience visualizations or sensory experiences that are suggested by the therapist. Others may feel a heightened sense of focus and concentration.
It’s important to note that the experience of hypnotherapy can vary from person to person, and not everyone will have the same experience. Additionally, the effectiveness of hypnotherapy can depend on factors such as the skill of the therapist, the willingness of the person undergoing therapy, and the specific goals and issues being addressed in the session.
The science of hypnosis
Scientific research about the benefits of using Hypnosis in several circumstances and to several different problems had been increasing since the early history of hypnotherapy. Here are some of the most recent studies and conclusions:
For stress and anxiety
Hypnotherapy has long been used to overcome fear and anxiety and also to quickly and comfortably cure phobias. Many therapists use a hypnotic technique to help people dissociate from negative events, which has been shown to reduce fear by making difficult memories feel comfortable and indifferent.
Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine carried out a study on children who were anxious about medical examinations. Forty-four children participated. The group who was taught self-hypnosis reported much less anxiety and the examinations in their group even took less time4
There has been a great deal of research done on the effectiveness of hypnosis and hypnotherapy for treating anxiety disorders. Hypnosis by itself and as an adjunct to other treatments has been proven to help calm anxiety in cancer patients, burn patients, and state anxiety issues such as pre-test anxiety.
A meta-analysis from 2018 reviewed the findings of almost 400 records, 15 studies, and 17 trials of hypnosis for controlling the symptoms of anxiety. They concluded that hypnotherapy was more effective in treating anxiety than other methods alone. At the end of treatment, the average participant in the 17 trials reported more reduced anxiety than 79% of the control groups.13
A 2018 study of burn wound patients found that hypnosis was highly effective in managing pain and reducing the secondary symptoms of anxiety.14
Another peer-reviewed study from 2018 of cancer patients concluded that the group receiving hypnosis as an adjunct treatment showed statistically significant reduction in symptoms of pain and anxiety. They further went on the say that hypnosis can be considered effective for controlling anxiety in cancer patients and other chronic illnesses.15
A 2010 meta-analysis concluded that a “tremendous volume of research provides compelling evidence that hypnosis is an efficacious treatment for state anxiety (e.g., prior to tests, surgery and medical procedures) and anxiety-related disorders, such as headaches and irritable bowel syndrome.” The study also concluded that hypnosis showed promising results for treating general anxiety disorder but that more research was needed.16
If you wish to learn more about anxiety, here is some information that can help you manage it.
There have been several studies investigating the effectiveness of hypnotherapy for weight loss. Here are some of the key findings:
- A review of 6 studies found that hypnosis for weight loss resulted in a significant reduction in body weight, body mass index (BMI), and waist circumference when compared to control groups. The review also found that hypnosis was more effective when combined with behavioural therapy than when used alone.
- Another study found that participants who received hypnosis for weight loss lost significantly more weight than those who did not receive hypnosis. The study also found that the hypnosis group had better long-term weight loss maintenance than the control group.
- A randomized controlled trial found that a combination of hypnosis and behavioural weight management resulted in greater weight loss than behavioural weight management alone.
- A meta-analysis of 18 studies found that hypnosis for weight loss was associated with a significantly greater amount of weight loss than no treatment, and that the effects were maintained over time.
- According to a 2021 review, hypnosis may be a safe and effective adjuvant treatment for assisting weight loss.
- A 2020 study indicates that hypnosis may lead to weight loss and considerable changes in leptin levels in people with obesity. Leptin is a hormone that helps control food intake.
- In a 2018 randomized control trial, found that regular self-hypnosis users reduced their calorie intake more significantly and lost more weight than those who did not use this technique. Those in the hypnosis group lost an average of 9.6 kilograms (kg) over a year compared with 5.6 kg among those in the control group. Individuals who learned how to use hypnosis but did not practice it regularly lost an average of 6.5 kg.
Overall, these findings suggest that hypnosis is an effective adjunct to other weight loss interventions. It’s important to note that individual results may vary and hypnosis should be used in conjunction with other healthy lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, for the best chance of success.
Find more information on therapy for weight loss here.
For pain relief and physical health2,3
Several studies show that people who are hypnotized before undergoing medical procedures like biopsies needed less sedation during the process, and experienced less pain, nausea, and emotional distress afterwards. Hypnotherapy has been found to be effective when treating acute pain after accidents and for chronic long-term pain, as well as increasing the immune system response.
Hypnosis can be used for all kinds of motivational issues, ranging from starting a healthy style of life, achieving goals, starting something new, feeling motivated to learn and change, etc. Research has shown that people are more likely to actually do something they’ve hypnotically rehearsed.
Hypnotherapy has been used to improve concentration, reaction time, sports performance, and muscle strength. A study showed that basketball players taught to visualize a free throw radically improved their skills without physically touching a basketball. Another study published in 2007 found that hypnotic visualization can increase muscle strength almost as much as actual exercise.
For self-esteem and self-confidence7
Hypnosis uses the imagination constructively to embed self-confidence and encourage a strong sense of who you are and what you can become.
For changing habits and stop addictions8
We know something is a ‘habit’ when we no longer have to really think much about it
Bad habits can be replaced with good habits.
Of course, some habits are easier to change than others but Guided Imagery has been proven effective as a way of changing habits and stopping addictions.
For example, a meta-analysis at the University of Iowa looked at more than 600 studies about the best way of stopping smoke. The results included 48 studies of hypnosis covering 6000 smokers. They clearly showed that hypnosis was three times more effective than nicotine replacement therapy.
Hypnosis has long been used to ease anxiety and pain in labour and childbirth.
The findings of a systematic review and a randomized controlled trial demonstrated significantly improved outcomes among women who used hypnosis during childbirth. The researchers concluded that “outcomes are consistently in favour of hypnosis”. They suggested hypnosis could be considered an effective alternative to epidural anaesthesia because it is less invasive, and not associated with serious complications, and many women seem to find it a more satisfying way of giving birth, handing control back to the mother.
Hypnosis can be used to encourage conception and increase fertility (in men and women). In 2004 an Israeli study involving 185 women showed that the success rate of IVF treatments doubled in a test group (from 14% to 28%) when the subjects underwent hypnosis during implantation.
For insomnia and sleep disorders11
Insomnia and other sleep disorders can be caused and, in turn, worsened, by anxiety and stress.
College students with insomnia were assigned one of three treatments for a study:
- No treatment
- Progressive relaxation (with no other suggestions)
- Hypnotic relaxation (with suggestions to sleep better).
After three therapy sessions, the progressive and hypnotic relaxation groups showed significantly greater improvement than the no-treatment controls. And hypnosis proved significantly more effective than just relaxation training.
Now we know that hypnosis, used expertly, is a wonderful tool in helping treat depression. It helps to still the mind, which is just what depressed people who chronically ruminate need. It calms down the mind and body – extremely helpful, as depressed people always have higher than normal levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Hypnosis helps people sleep better, recoup lost energy and rehearse new positive behaviours, as well as build motivation to meet their emotional needs in satisfying ways.
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