Hypnotherapy -- or hypnosis -- is a type of nonstandard or "complementary and alternative medicine" treatment that uses guided relaxation, intense concentration, and focused attention to achieve a heightened state of awareness that is sometimes called a trance. The person's attention is so focused while in this state that anything going on around the person is temporarily blocked out or ignored. In this naturally occurring state, a person may focus their attention -- with the help of a trained therapist -- on specific thoughts or tasks.
How Does Hypnotherapy Work?
Hypnotherapy is usually considered an aid to certain forms of psychotherapy (counseling), rather than a treatment in itself. It can sometimes help with psychotherapy because the hypnotic state allows people to explore painful thoughts, feelings, and memories they might have hidden from their conscious minds. In addition, hypnosis enables people to perceive some things differently, such as blocking an awareness of pain.
Hypnotherapy can be used in two ways, as suggestion therapy or for patient psychoanalysis.
- Suggestion therapy: The hypnotic state makes the person better able to respond to suggestions. Therefore, hypnotherapy can help some people change certain behaviors, such as to stopping smoking or nail-biting. It can also help people change perceptions and sensations, and is particularly useful in treating certain kinds of pain.
- Analysis: This approach uses the relaxed state to explore possible unconscious factors that may be related to a psychological conflict such as a traumatic past event that a person has hidden in their unconscious memory. Once the trauma is revealed, it can be addressed in psychotherapy. However, hypnosis is nowadays not considered a "mainstream" part of psychoanalytic psychotherapies.
What Are the Benefits of Hypnotherapy?
The hypnotic state allows a person to be more open to discussion and suggestion. It can improve the success of other treatments for many conditions, including:
- Phobias, fears, and anxiety
- Some sleep disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Grief and loss
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
It also might be used to help with pain control and to overcome habits, such as smoking or overeating. It also might be helpful for people whose symptoms are severe or who need crisis management.
What Are the Drawbacks of Hypnotherapy?
Hypnotherapy would not be appropriate for a person who has psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions, or for someone who is using drugs or alcohol. It should be used for controlling some forms of pain only after a doctor has evaluated the person for any physical disorder that might require medical or surgical treatment.
Hypnosis is also not considered a standard or mainstream treatment for major psychiatric disorders like depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or serious personality disorders. It is not a substitute for more established forms of psychotherapy or medication treatment used for these types of conditions.
Some therapists use hypnotherapy to recover possible repressed memories they believe are linked to the person's psychological problems. However, hypnosis also poses a risk of creating false memories -- usually as a result of unintended suggestions by the therapist. For this reason, the use of hypnosis for certain mental disorders, such as dissociative disorders, remains controversial.
Is Hypnotherapy Dangerous?
Hypnotherapy is not a dangerous procedure. It is not mind control or brainwashing. A therapist cannot make a person do something embarrassing or that the person doesn't want to do. The greatest risk, as discussed above, is that false memories can be created. It is also not a recognized standard alternative to other established treatments for major psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression.
Who Performs Hypnotherapy?
Hypnotherapy is performed by a licensed or certified mental health professional who is specially trained in this technique.