What is hypnotherapy?

Though there is no robust body of scientific evidence for its effectiveness, hypnosis or hypnotherapy may help control symptoms of addiction and other mental health problems.
Though there is no robust body of scientific evidence for its effectiveness, hypnosis or hypnotherapy may help control symptoms of addiction and other mental health problems.

Hypnotherapy is a therapeutic technique to produce an altered state of consciousness (hypnosis) in a person by inducing deep relaxation. While the person in this state, the therapist makes suggestions for behavioral changes during hypnosis. Hypnotherapy is an alternative form of therapy, mostly used along with cognitive behavior therapy and medication.

Submission to hypnotherapy is a voluntary act.  The patient is always in control of their actions and can withdraw when they want to. The hypnotherapist cannot make a patient do anything they are unwilling to. Hypnotherapy is performed by certified mental health professionals who are specially trained in this form of therapy.

Hypnotherapy is considered complementary or alternative care and does not have a robust body of scientific evidence for its effectiveness. First-line treatments include talk therapy and medications.  Hypnosis, however, may help reduce symptoms or cravings in some people with mental health, chronic pain or addiction problems.

Four main stages of hypnotherapy

Induction

Hypnotherapists employ several techniques to induce hypnosis in a person.

Four-step induction

The hypnotherapist induces hypnosis by taking the individual through four steps, asking them to

  • Close their eyes
  • Imagine that they can’t open their eyes
  • Try to open their eyes while pretending they can’t
  • Relax the eyes and the whole body

Eye-fixation technique

This technique involves fixating the gaze on some object until the eyelids become heavy and close, and the person drifts into deep relaxation.

Arm-drop technique

The individual fixes the gaze on one of their fingers with the forearm kept vertical, until the hand becomes heavy and starts drifting downward. As the arm lowers, the eyes become heavy and close, and hypnosis is achieved.

Progressive relaxation technique

The individual settles down comfortably, focuses on breathing in and out, and relaxes their body from the feet up to go into complete relaxation.

Imagery

Imagery involves having the individual breathing deeply and imagining a scene that makes them feel safe and comfortable.

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Deepening of hypnosis

After induction of hypnosis, the hypnotherapist deepens the hypnotic level, because an individual is likely to respond more positively in such a state. The hypnotherapist may use some of the same techniques employed during induction, including the following:

  • Progressive relaxation
  • Visual imagery
  • Periods of silence
  • Deep breathing and counting
  • Counting

Posthypnotic suggestions

While the individual is in a deep hypnotic state, the hypnotherapist

  • Makes suggestions 
    • To counter problems with behavior
    • To stop addictive habits like smoking
    • To alter response to pain symptoms
  • Asks leading questions to induce the individual to talk about deep-rooted trauma, and offers suitable therapy

Termination

The most common method of terminating the hypnotic state is to count from one to five or vice versa.

What are the risks of hypnotherapy?

The main problem with hypnotherapy is that hypnosis may not be achievable in some people. Adverse reactions to hypnotherapy are rare but some people may experience:

  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Anxiety or distress
  • Confabulation (creation of false memories)
  • Abreaction (emotional outburst because of remembering past trauma), though this may be used as part of the therapy

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Medically Reviewed on 6/15/2020
References
Medscape Medical Reference
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