The Difference Between Hypnotherapy & Guided Meditation

Our Hypnotherapy Experts

Hypnotherapy and Guided Meditation: What’s the Difference?

Hypnotherapy and guided meditation seem very similar, but are they the same thing? We get asked this question a lot, but the answer isn’t so simple.

While it’s true that hypnotherapy and guided meditation are characterized by similar states of deep relaxation — and while they can both offer benefits to health and wellbeing — they are not equivalent, and one cannot be substituted for the other.

So how can you know which is right for you? If you’re wondering about the similarities and differences between hypnotherapy and guided meditation, read on.

Guided Meditation: What It Is and How It Helps

Meditation helps us cultivate awareness, and many people benefit from following clear instructions in this deep state of relaxation — this is guided meditation versus sitting in silence.

Also known as guided imagery or guided visualization, guided meditation frequently incorporates relaxing sounds like soothing music or calming nature soundscapes that encourage you to imagine yourself in a tranquil, inviting environment, like sitting atop a misty mountain or at the ocean’s edge.

Your guide — whether a recorded voice or someone speaking in real time — sets the tone for the meditation session. As your body relaxes, your guide will lead you to focus on your breath or into other grounding exercises, such as running your fingers over the cool blades of grass or watching a babbling brook.

Guided meditation is a mind-body practice for bringing awareness to the present moment and to relieve stress. Having a guide can be particularly helpful in preventing your mind from wandering — you’re less likely to “get lost” with a guide — so you can focus your attention on your practice.

Instead of replacing thoughts of worry or “busy thinking” with peaceful images, guided meditation gives you the experience of remaining anchored in the here and now and allowing those thoughts to draft away from you with less effort.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the use of meditation increased from 4.1% in 2012 to 14.2% in 2017 — a more than three-fold increase. With continued concern about the pandemic and increasing stress about economics, politics, and more, it’s no wonder that more people are turning to meditation guided or unguided for relief.

Even short guided meditations of only a few minutes can yield positive results, as long as you make it a routine practice. For instance, a 2019 study published in Behavioral Brain Research found that new meditators who did a daily 13-minute guided meditation for eight weeks reported reduced anxiety and less fatigue.

There are many free guided meditations you can find online, as well as dedicated courses like the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program created by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Guided meditation sessions oftentimes have a theme to help you achieve a desired outcome — like getting better sleep, winding down at the end of a hectic day, or even inviting more calm and peace into your life. However, it is generally not used to overcome a specific disorder, such as shifting a difficult habit or breaking negative thought patterns.

Hypnotherapy: What It Is and How It Helps 

Similar to meditation, hypnotherapy uses guided relaxation to produce a state of deep calm and tranquility. In this hypnotic state, your attention is so concentrated that everything going on around you simply falls away.

But hypnotherapy is much more than a state of relaxation and tranquility — it’s also a form of therapy that can be used to treat a variety of concerns.Hypnotherapy is useful for treating complaints such as phobias, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, ADHD, trauma, stress, and grief. 

This is an effective tool for changing problematic behaviors like habits or overeating, as well as for developing new and constructive coping skills. Hypnotherapy has also been successfully applied to pain management, particularly in relation to chronic conditions.

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 a decrease in anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns as well. The study also pointed to hypnotic suggestions boosting self-confidence and strengthening the mind-body connection.

Hypnotherapy is particularly effective when used in conjunction with more traditional therapy modalities like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help clients let go of unwanted habits and to relieve medical conditions.

With the help of a licensed mental health provider that incorporates hypnotherapy into their work, you can use this state of deep relaxation to focus your attention on addressing specific problems and promoting positive change. You can explore painful thoughts or memories in a calm and safe space, and work on changing your perspective while developing new skills for coping with stress and other challenges in the real world.

While you are more open to the positive suggestions by your hypnotherapist in this state, you remain in complete control during your hypnotherapy session. As with any therapy, it is important to work with a trained and licensed professional. 

Similarities Between Hypnotherapy and Meditation

There are many similarities between hypnotherapy and meditation. Both induce states of deep relaxation in which you can feel detached from the immediate concerns of the world around you. Both help focus your attention and lead to a reduction in stress. And in both hypnosis and guided meditation, there is an external therapist or narrator to guide you.

Both states rely on the mind-body connection to cultivate concentration and promote feelings of deep calm. Progressive muscle relaxation and creative visualization are also common tools for both. In some ways, the hypnotic state closely mirrors deep meditation, and sometimes people in meditation will experience something akin to hypnotic imagery.

There are also similarities in the physiological changes that take place during both hypnosis and meditation. Specifically, both states can produce increased blood flow to the anterior cingulate cortex, which is the area of the brain that controls empathy, decision-making, impulse control, and memory. Both hypnotherapy and guided meditation can help you improve and maintain physical and mental health, yet they are not interchangeable.

How Are Hypnotherapy and Guided Meditation Different?

Despite many similarities, there are some key differences between guided meditation and hypnotherapy.

One important difference is the goal. People seeking therapy with the integration of hypnosis typically have a problem they want to solve or an issue they want help addressing — like giving up a habit or healing from trauma. On the other hand, meditation is more of a long-term practice of self-improvement and well-being. 

In other words, hypnosis can help you set and pursue specific goals related to mental health, while meditation promotes more general well-being.

While meditation is an exercise in remaining present in the moment, a therapist practicing hypnosis will often guide you into a comfortable state and use language to get in touch with internal resources so you can tap into your unconscious motivation and move forward.

Hypnosis is typically tailored to the individual, with each session designed to address root causes of problems, to provide relief, and to encourage positive steps forward. This is an interactive process in which both the therapist and the client take an active role.

In contrast, guided meditation generally is not interactive, with often scripted instructions coming from the narrator or teacher without interruption or response. Meditation is also often conducted in a group setting, whereas hypnotherapy is more typically conducted one-on-one in a controlled setting. Depending on your purpose, either hypnosis or meditation will usually become the more obvious choice. When in doubt, you should consult a trained and licensed expert for guidance.

What’s Better - Hypnotherapy or Guided Meditation?

Both hypnotherapy and guided meditation are useful, so neither is “better” than the other. But the application does make a difference. To cope with and alleviate basic daily stress and to improve your overall mindset, meditation is a wonderful tool, and it can be practiced alone or in groups.

For help addressing mental health concerns — like depression, anxiety, and difficulties stemming from trauma — hypnotherapy is a more appropriate and effective choice. For these and similar concerns, you should alway consult a licensed mental health professional.

So, which is better? Both practices offer important and lasting benefits. Depending on your purpose and goals, you might not have to choose one or the other. 

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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