Is Hypnotherapy Safe?
Why the question, “Is it safe?”
You might be wondering if hypnosis is safe, and how well you might tolerate the well-documented side effects of increased self-esteem, reduced anxiety, and a boost to your overall well-being.
This isn’t really a joke — these are actually the best known results of hypnosis.
Many people, however, still ask this question. We want to take this opportunity to discuss the benefits and risks, even though tackling the topic of “Is hypnosis safe?” implies there might be some danger attached.
More importantly, we want to explore why people are concerned about the safety of hypnosis, and what they think might go wrong — like the myth that you can get stuck in a trance or even be brainwashed.
In truth, there are some conditions which are contraindications for hypnosis — such as for people suffering from psychosis.
But for the vast majority of people, hypnosis is not only safe but a very pleasant experience, similar to meditation. And unlike most prescription and over-the-counter medications, hypnosis brings no unwanted side effects.
So, why the concern?
Misconceptions about hypnosis
Despite what you might have seen in movies or on TV — where characters are put under hypnosis unwillingly and are “programmed” to become assassins, bank robbers, or even lovers — hypnosis is on the whole a peaceful and calming experience.
When you work with a trained and licensed professional, hypnosis can be applied to address a number of behavioral and health concerns, including insomnia and sleep disturbances, anxiety and depression, phobias, chronic pain and pain control, digestive issues like IBS, and unwanted habits like nail-biting and overeating.
Because hypnosis is a state of increased focus paired with deep relaxation, you remain aware and in control at every stage of your session. Your therapist works with you to help you develop better coping strategies, address and assert control over the habits and behaviors you want to change, and cultivate a more positive and constructive outlook for moving forward.
Because hypnosis is truly a natural state, concerns about the safety of hypnosis seem to be rooted more in myths and misconceptions about the practice.
For instance, the reason you can’t “get stuck” in a hypnotic trance is due to the same mechanism that allows you to wake from deep sleep and take action, even if you were in the middle of an intense dream.
“Catalepsy,” a state of natural heaviness, during REM sleep is similar to the deep relaxation of hypnosis. Catalepsy prevents us from accidentally injuring ourselves during sleep but doesn’t prevent us from waking — even when we need to wake suddenly, when danger is present.
It’s the same with hypnosis. You are deeply relaxed, but you’re certainly not trapped. You can return to waking reality any time you want or need to.
Another common fear is that you can be hypnotized into doing something bad, or against your will. Even government agencies like the CIA have experimented with hypnosis, which gives understandable pause. But there’s little proof to support the use of hypnosis for mind control.
The goal of hypnosis is precisely the opposite: to give you more agency and control in your life. Hypnosis is a powerful tool for meaningful and lasting change.
Legitimate concerns about hypnosis
Hypnosis, when offered by a trained professional, is a safe and effective treatment, especially in combination with complementary therapies.
However, as trained and licensed professionals, we have a few specific concerns with regards to the use of hypnosis.
The first is about conditions that are contraindications for hypnosis — in particular, psychosis.
Psychosis is a symptom of another condition, and not a disorder itself. Psychotic illnesses include schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorder, and symptoms of psychosis can include hallucinations and agitated or erratic behavior. The underlying reason that hypnosis is not recommended in these cases is that people suffering with psychosis already have difficulty maintaining contact with reality, and there is concern that the use of imagination in hypnosis may worsen the problem.
Our second caution concerns the use of hypnosis by practitioners who don’t have adequate mental health training. In this case, it’s not hypnosis itself which is a concern, but instead with practitioners who claim to be able to treat mental health conditions without the necessary training and experience.
For instance, hypnosis can be an effective element of treatment for depression. But if you seek help from a practitioner who has no training in how to treat depression, it’s possible you may end up investing your time and money in getting bad advice. Or worse, such a practitioner may mis-apply hypnosis to your struggle, leaving you worse off.
Hypnosis can still be offered by these practitioners for relaxation, which brings many benefits. But it’s crucial to understand the difference between more general hypnosis and hypnosis offered in a therapeutic setting as an integrated element in specific treatment.
It’s also important to have realistic expectations about hypnosis in therapy. You might have seen advertised programs that promise to cure your eating disorder in three hypnosis sessions, only to feel let down when it turns out that your particular problem requires more sessions to address.
This doesn’t mean hypnosis doesn’t work! The mind is complex and nuanced, and none of us is a cookie-cutter clone of anyone else, which means that each course of treatment must be tailored to the individual.
Just like some people have bad reactions to different medications while others experience no side effects, there is no “one size fits all” hypnosis program that can fix everyone without adjustments.
For example, someone who has struggled with an eating disorder for twenty years will likely need more than three sessions to address both the behavior and its underlying issues and potential trauma.
It’s unfortunate that the modern world has conditioned us to expect everything to be quick and easy. Instead, we must allow ourselves the time, attention, and care we need to heal and achieve. If your treatment requires more time or takes a slightly different route — for instance, with the addition of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) — it doesn’t mean the treatment isn’t effective.
Each client has unique challenges and needs. Any treatment program, including those that integrate hypnosis, must be adjusted and tailored appropriately. In some cases, results will come quickly and easily, but sometimes there’s something deeper going on that needs to be addressed. It’s important to have realistic expectations and to set achievable goals and timelines for progress.
So, is hypnosis safe?
Hypnosis is a relaxed, focused, and meditative state, similar to what you experience multiple times a day — like when you drive a car. It’s also an extremely effective tool for change, especially when used in a therapeutic setting.
You are aware and in control during hypnosis, and working in partnership with your therapist to create meaningful and lasting change. To address a host of concerns — including trauma, anxiety, and stress — hypnosis is often integrated with other treatment modalities, like CBT.
For the majority of people, hypnosis is a safe and effective treatment that relies on your own willingness to change. Working with a trained therapist, you’re able to jettison unhealthy habits, establish new and healthier habits, and take back control over your own life.
Better still, hypnosis leaves you feeling calm and peaceful. And that may be the best side effect of all.
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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