Does hypnotherapy really work and what can it help you with? We explain more about the science, studies and research behind hypnotherapy and hypnosis.
There are many common myths and misconceptions about hypnosis and hypnotherapy. As Clinical Hypnotherapist Angela Cain, D.M.H, D.Hypno, CPNLP explains, “The main reason people are hesitant about trying hypnotherapy is because of live shows, films and entertainment on television making a mockery of this deeply relaxed state of mind. It is believed that someone can be hypnotised against their will, when in fact, it is quite the contrary.”
Hypnotherapy (the therapeutic use of hypnosis) can be an effective way of changing habits, lessening symptoms, and helping overcome or treat a variety of conditions and issues. It can not only help those struggling with their mental health, but can also support you in achieving your goals and making positive changes that can impact your work, well-being, and personal life.
But how does hypnotherapy really work? And what evidence is there to support its effectiveness?
How does hypnotherapy work?
Hypnotherapy is the therapeutic use of hypnosis to help treat specific health conditions and symptoms, as well as to change habits and remove unhelpful thought processes. By putting you into a hypnotic state (a state of deep relaxation), your hypnotherapist will then make suggestions for different ways you can handle a particular issue, behaviour, or situation that has been causing you trouble.
In this video, hypnotherapist Anne Gregory shares what you can expect from a hypnotherapy session and even shares a snippet of a client session so you can see what it's really like to go into a trance.
Does hypnosis really work?
Hypnosis and hypnotherapy only work if you want to be hypnotised. If you aren’t ready to make positive changes, or do not believe that hypnotherapy will work, it is unlikely to have an effect on you. As explained by the NHS, hypnosis does not work if you do not want to be hypnotised.
For those who approach hypnotherapy with an open mind and who are open to change, hypnotherapy can be an effective method in helping with a broad variety of issues. It is often recommended as a complementary method of helping with physical issues, behavioural changes, or ill mental health. It should not be used as a replacement for other treatments recommended or discussed with your GP or medical provider.
What can hypnotherapy help with?
Studies have shown that hypnotherapy can help:
Reduce stress and anxiety before medical procedures.
Assist with pain control for those experiencing childbirth, IBS, joint pain, dental procedures, and headaches. Some studies suggest it may be able to help those experiencing pain due to burns or cancer.
Relieve symptoms associated with menopause (eg. hot flashes).
Ease side effects of cancer treatments (radiation treatment and chemotherapy).
Help with mental health condition symptoms (eg. anxiety, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD).
Change negative habits (eg. help stop smoking).
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What studies have been done on hypnotherapy and hypnosis?
There have been many scientific studies and research conducted in regards to hypnotherapy, hypnosis, and how effective it can be. While more research is still needed in many areas to gain a better understanding of how effective it truly can be and how long-term the results are, there have been many studies that show the impact hypnotherapy can have for individuals. Here we share just a few of the conditions studies have revealed hypnotherapy can help with.
Hypnotherapy can help with pain reduction, pain management and during labour
One study published in 2007 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute revealed that patients who received hypnosis reported less pain, nausea, fatigue, and discomfort following surgery. Patients who underwent hypnosis also needed less time in surgery. Montgomery, one of the team behind the study, said: “Hypnosis helps patients reduce their distress and have positive expectations about the outcomes of surgery.”
A 2007 study that looked at 13 studies around hypnosis to treat chronic pain found that hypnosis consistently decreases pain across a variety of chronic pain-related issues. Generally, hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis were found to be more effective than physical therapy, attention, and education (though further research is still needed).
Another study published in 2007 in Rehabilitation Psychology outlined the positive benefits of hypnosis for burn victims. Researchers found that using hypnosis before removing dead tissue from burn wounds significantly reduced the pain patients reported on their pain rating questionnaire.
Further studies have revealed that hypnosis may help reduce post-surgical and medical proceedure-related pain in children and teens, as well as provide significant benefits to those in labour.
Hypnotherapy can help with post-traumatic stress disorder
Hypnotherapy has been shown to be highly effective in helping alleviate symptoms of PTSD. A 2011 study into hypnosis showed significant improvements of PTSD symptoms amongst children. A 2013 meta-analysis looking at the efficacy of hypnosis on PTSD found that it could help relieve symptoms in both the short and long term, while a 2019 study into women who experience PTSD due to sexual abuse showed a decrease in symptoms following hypnotherapy. Studies have also shown that hypnotherapy may be as successful as psychodynamic psychotherapy.
Hypnotherapy can assist with cancer treatment recovery
In addition to the findings on the 2007 study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institution (which revealed that patients who received hypnosis reported less pain, nausea, fatigue, and discomfort following surgery), a further study published in 2009 in Health Psychology revealed that a combination of hypnosis and cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can reduce fatigue for those undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer.
Find out more about why people with cancer use hypnotherapy, who should and shouldn’t use it, and how it can help, through Cancer Research UK.
Hypnotherapy can help you stop smoking
A literature review published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis in 2000 analysed 58 studies about hypnosis to stop smoking. It was revealed that, although hypnotherapy is more successful than trying to quit smoking without treatment, it was generally as successful as other smoking-cession treatments. It was not found to be more, or the ‘most’ successful. As many studies used a combination of hypnotherapy and CBT, some researchers feel that it is hard to judge how successful hypnotherapy alone is.
Other individual studies have shown higher success rates compared to those who undergo standard talking therapy alone.
The success rate of hypnotherapy is hard to judge. Generally speaking, there is no ‘standard’ success rate, as there are many different types of hypnotherapy that can be used to help with a broad variety of issues. As hypnotherapy is often used as a complementary form of therapy (eg. alongside other therapeutic approaches such as CBT or psychoanalysis), research into the specific success of hypnotherapy alone can be hard to ascertain.
Hypnotherapy can help lessen anxiety, stress, and overcome phobias
Typically used alongside cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), research has suggested that cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy (CBH) can help improve symptoms of anxiety and phobias.
One meta-analysis suggested that hypnosis can help reduce anxiety more than those taking part in the control group. It revealed that hypnosis combined with other psychological interventions is more effective in reducing anxiety than when used as a stand-alone treatment. Research has also suggested that hypnotherapy may be able to help offset stress by improving the immune system’s function.
A meta-analysis of 18 studies comparing CBT with CBT and hypnosis indicated that hypnosis significantly impacted how successful participants were in losing weight. Those who underwent CBT combined with hypnosis lost 20lbs or more after four to six months, while those who underwent CBT alone lost around half that amount. Those who underwent hypnosis were also more likely to maintain their weight loss after 18 months, while those who underwent therapy alone regained some weight.
Studies have shown both long and short-term benefits of hypnotherapy to help relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). One study showed the benefits of hypnotherapy for IBS lasting up to five years. Another major clinical study revealed that hypnotherapy can reduce gut symptoms (nausea, bloating, abdominal pain) by as much as 72%.
Hypnotherapy may help with insomnia and trouble sleeping
A systemic review of 24 papers revealed over half (58.3%) of studies reported hypnosis having a positive effect on sleep problems, with a further 12.5% having mised results. However, a 2022 narrative review into hypnotherapy for insomnia suggested that further research is needed to truly understand if hypnosis can help with sleep problems.
Hypnotherapy is not recommended for those with certain personality disorders and or a history of psychosis. If you have experienced hallucinations or delusions, you should speak with your GP before considering hypnotherapy.
If you are considering hypnotherapy for pain control or pain relief, it’s important to first speak with your GP to ensure you know and understand the source of your pain. This can help ensure there aren’t any serious conditions or symptoms being missed.
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