Does Hypnosis Really Work?

Our Hypnotherapy Experts

Is Hypnosis Effective?

In our practice, we often hear variations of the same question: “Does hypnosis really work?”

It’s a reasonable question, and yet even the experts will pause before responding.

Hypnosis is an effective form of therapy. Each of us here at NY Health Hypnosis & Integrative Therapy emerged from our post-doctoral training wanting something more to help our clients, and hypnosis was the answer. Hypnosis is a constructive and helpful complement to CBT, psychoanalysis, or DBT, and this combination offers client progress far beyond the results of traditional therapy modalities used in isolation.

If a prospective client asks about the effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), there’s no hesitation. We can point to the research, cite the supporting statistics, and explain these approaches just as they were taught to us in our doctoral programs and other training. Those answers are straightforward.

So why the hesitation around hypnosis?

Hypnosis is also evidence-based and has its own supporting statistics. Time and again, hypnosis has provided better client outcomes in combination with traditional therapy than can be found with therapy alone.

But often the simple question — “is hypnosis effective?” — is rooted in what people have seen on TV. The truth is, hypnosis is rarely a single-session, “quick fix” for all that may trouble you. 

Unfortunately, there are others who practice hypnosis with no mental health training who make such claims. These promises can be misleading and even damaging — for instance, imagine the let-down after a single session of hypnosis doesn’t permanently “cure” a person’s clinical depression.

But when hypnosis is applied conscientiously, clinical research demonstrates that hypnosis can help reduce anxiety and relieve pain. It can help you stop smoking and get better sleep. It can help with stress management and with reinforcing constructive coping skills and resilience. 

When used in combination with other therapy modalities, hypnosis is an effective tool for positive change and growth.

How Hypnosis Works

Hypnosis is a natural state of deep relaxation and heightened awareness that can be reached in a matter of minutes. It has been compared to meditation and to “flow state” in terms of narrowed focus and a shifting sense of the passage of time. 

Studies suggest that about two-thirds of adults are susceptible to hypnosis. Although suggestibility might at first be seen as a liability, it’s actually quite positive. During hypnosis, your attention is so keenly focused that the rest of the world falls away, allowing you and your therapist to concentrate on making positive changes and progress. At no time is the client not in control.

The process has two main stages: induction and suggestion.

To induce a hypnotic state, the hypnotherapist will ask you to imagine sensory experiences — like the crisp air of a mountain lake, or a quiet, pine-scented forest — to help you move deeper into a relaxing and pleasant visualization.

Once you’ve reached this calm, hypnotic state, your hypnotherapist uses suggestion to guide you away from painful rumination and toward solutions to your problems. This immersed concentration can open the mind to new experiences, suggestibility, and positive transformation.

But what is the brain doing during hypnosis? Brain-imaging studies show higher activity in the prefrontal cortex, parietal networks, and anterior cingulate cortex during hypnosis for suggestible subjects. These areas of the brain account for complex functions like processing emotions, learning, and perception and memory. Additionally, hypnosis has a calming effect on regions of the brain that control breathing, heart rate, and other autonomic functions, leading to a state of deep relaxation.

When you’re more open to suggestion, the success of other treatments can be improved. Hypnosis can be especially beneficial in addressing problems related to stress, trauma, grief, phobias, anxiety, sleep issues, pain management, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), migraines, and unwanted habits like smoking.

Research on Hypnosis

When performed correctly, hypnosis is an extremely effective complement to more traditional therapies to help clients let go of unwanted habits and to relieve medical conditions.

A 1995 analysis by the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology consisted of eighteen studies that compared therapy used with and without the complement of hypnosis. It was demonstrated that “the addition of hypnosis substantially enhanced treatment outcome” — to the extent that the average hypnosis client showed improvement greater than at least 70% of non-hypnosis clients.

Another study published by the same journal examined the effectiveness of combining hypnosis with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for addressing acute stress disorder, and researchers concluded that hypnosis produced a greater reduction in symptoms than when CBT was used alone.

And a 2017 study published in the Open Journal of Social Sciences found that subjects suffering from chronic insomnia benefitted from the relaxation and positive self-suggestion of hypnosis. The study described hypnosis as “a significant means for enhancing a sense of personal empowerment.” Subjects were better able to control the intrusive thoughts disrupting their sleep, and researchers observed improvements around anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns as well. The study also pointed to hypnotic suggestion boosting self-confidence and strengthening the mind-body connection.

It is important to note that hypnosis may not be appropriate in every case — such as for someone who is experiencing psychotic symptoms, including hallucinations — or for someone who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. As such, the therapists at NY Health Hypnosis & Integrative Therapy will always use their best judgment to ensure hypnosis is used appropriately in sessions.

Therapy and Hypnosis is a Winning Combination

Hypnosis can be beneficial for some things on its own (like public speaking or general motivation building), but can only be done effectively when combined with other therapy modalities, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), or psychodynamic therapy when used in the context of mental health.

For instance, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be used to help a client understand how their unwanted behaviors are tied to their thoughts and feelings, and to refocus and replace problematic thinking with more constructive perspectives. Hypnosis supports this work by allowing the client to implement these changes in a deeply relaxed and open state, which can lead to more rapid change.

Because hypnosis offers the opportunity to explore painful experiences, feelings, and thoughts in a deeply calm and receptive state, hypnosis allows clients to adopt a different perspective more quickly and easily. 

When using hypnosis to address mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, it’s important to consult a trained and licensed expert. While hypnosis can be appropriately offered in some situations by a practitioner without mental health training — for instance, for help with public speaking, smoking cessation, and general relaxation — it’s vital to seek the expertise of a trained professional to address more serious concerns. 

Backed by research, hypnosis is extremely effective in a therapeutic setting. Hypnosis is a powerful complement to traditional therapy and is a constructive tool for changing behaviors and for exploring root causes of a variety of problems — like anxiety, phobias, sleep disturbances, and more. This integrative approach promotes real and lasting change. To learn more about how hypnotherapy can help you, please visit our specialities page.

Our Hypnotherapy Experts are Clinical Psychologists at NY Health Hypnosis & Integrative Therapy that specialize in combining hypnosis and therapy for treating mental health issues. To get in touch or learn more about how combining therapy and hypnosis can help you, please contact us here.

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