Hypnotherapy, also known as hypnosis or hypnotic suggestion, is a state of greater focus and concentration, almost like a trance. Usually a person experiences hypnosis with the guidance of a specialist who uses verbal cues and mental images.
A person under hypnosis may feel relaxed and more open to suggestions. However, this does not mean the person does not have control over their own actions.
The client enters a state almost like sleep, becoming more receptive to suggestions. The therapist will speak with gentle tones and describe images that encourage relaxation. The therapist may suggest to the client how to reach his or her goals and how to visualize achieving those goals. At the end of the session, the therapy usually helps the client end the state of relaxation.
When should hypnosis be used?
Hypnosis can help a person learn to control unhealthy behaviors or manage physical and mental symptoms. Before hypnotherapy, the therapist and client should discuss the process of hypnosis and what they hope to achieve with it.
Hypnotherapy has been used, or studied, for many situations and conditions, including:
- Anxiety before a medical test or procedure
- Quitting smoking
- Managing chronic or temporary pain
- Coping with symptoms, like hot flashes
- Side effects of cancer treatment
- Post-traumatic stress
Hypnotherapy should only be provided by a certified therapist or healthcare professional. He or she may have received training in psychology, medicine, social work, or even dentistry. Different schools and professional groups offer hypnotherapy training and certification. Check on licensing requirements in your particular state.
Does hypnosis really work?
So is hypnotherapy effective for individuals with behavioral health needs? It depends.
Each person responds to treatment differently, and hypnosis is no exception. Hypnotherapy may be most effective in conjunction with other treatment options, such as medication or cognitive behavioral therapy.
The research on hypnotherapy has shown varying results.
Back in 1979, research suggested that autohypnosis was more effective than placebo at treating insomnia. A more recent review of available research found similar results.
One study of 18 healthy women examined the effectiveness of hypnosis on wound healing after mammaplasty. Objective, observational measures of incision healing showed that hypnosis was superior to standard care.
Researchers also considered whether adding hypnosis to CBT could enhance obesity treatment. However, results of this small study were not statistically significant.
Experts are not completely sure what makes hypnotherapy effective for some. Recent research from the University of Turku in Finland suggests that a hypnotic state encourages regions of the brain to act more independently than in a normal waking state.
Some individuals, however, may have too much trouble focusing for hypnosis to be effective. Others may even experience worsening systems.
Dr. David Spiegel at Stanford University School of Medicine is a leading expert on hypnosis. He has been involved in studies on the effectiveness of hypnotherapy, including the Hypnotic Induction Profile (HIP), which is used to assess a person’s potential to experience hypnosis. You can check out Dr. Spiegel’s research on his Stanford page.
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