Hypnosis is a technique that has been used for centuries to manage various medical and psychological conditions.
Hypnosis has been shown to be a safe and effective technique for many conditions.
In this article, we will explore the conditions that research has suggested can be treated effectively with hypnosis. We reference one or two pieces of scientific evidence supporting the use of hypnosis for each of these conditions. Of course, it is important to recognise that a single study is not enough for a strong evidence base, although it can be an encouraging piece of the puzzle and point the way for further research, and for you to go deeper into the existing research.
Hypnosis for Pain Management
Pain is a common complaint among patients seeking medical care. Pain can be caused by a variety of conditions, including arthritis, cancer, fibromyalgia, and chronic headaches. Hypnosis has been shown to be effective in reducing pain in these conditions.
The paper "Hypnosis and Clinical Pain" by Jensen et al makes clear that "Hypnosis has been demonstrated to reduce analogue pain, and studies on the mechanisms of laboratory pain reduction have provided useful applications to clinical populations. Studies showing central nervous system activity during hypnotic procedures offer preliminary information concerning possible physiological mechanisms of hypnotic analgesia. Randomized controlled studies with clinical populations indicate that hypnosis has a reliable and significant impact on acute procedural pain and chronic pain conditions." (Jensen et al., 2003)
A meta-analysis of 18 studies revealed a moderate to large hypnoanalgesic effect, supporting the efficacy of hypnotic techniques for pain management. (Montgomery et al., 2008).
Hypnosis for Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety and depression are two common mental health conditions that can significantly impact a person's quality of life. Hypnosis has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
This meta-analysis quantifies the effectiveness of hypnosis in treating anxiety. Included studies were required to utilise a between-subjects or mixed-model design in which a hypnosis intervention was compared with a control condition in alleviating the symptoms of anxiety. Of 399 records screened, 15 studies incorporating 17 trials of hypnosis met the inclusion criteria. At the end of active treatment, 17 trials produced a mean weighted effect size of 0.79 (p ≤ .001), indicating the average participant receiving hypnosis reduced anxiety more than about 79% of control participants. At the longest follow-up, seven trials yielded a mean weighted effect size of 0.99 (p ≤ .001), demonstrating the average participant treated with hypnosis improved more than about 84% of control participants. (Keira et al., 2019)
There is a tremendous volume of research provides compelling evidence that hypnosis is an efficacious treatment for state anxiety (e.g., prior to tests, surgery and medical procedures) and anxiety-related disorders, such as headaches and irritable bowel syndrome. (Hammond, 2010)
The literature base regarding the use of hypnotherapy to help lift depression is underdeveloped. But one person who has done incredible work to show its utility in this area if Michael Yapko.Michael Yapko’s seminal 1992 book, Hypnosis and the Treatment of Depressions, was the first book ever written on the subject of applying hypnosis in the treatment of depressed individuals.
His paper from 2010 "Hypnosis in the treatment of depression" is another good place to start. (Yapko, 2010).
Hypnosis for Smoking Cessation
Smoking is a major public health concern and a leading cause of preventable death worldwide. Hypnosis has been shown to be effective in helping people quit smoking.
17 studies of hypnosis for treatment of smoking published since 1970 were reviewed. Abstinence after 6 months post-treatment ranged from 4% to 88%. Effectiveness of treatment outcome was examined in terms of: S population, individual versus group treatment, standardized versus individualized suggestions, use of self-hypnosis, number of treatment sessions and time span covered by the treatment, and use of adjunctive treatment. At 6 months follow-up, more than 50% of smokers remained abstinent in programs in which there were several hours of treatment, intense interpersonal interaction (e.g., individual sessions, marathon hypnosis, mutual group hypnosis), suggestions capitalizing on specific motivations of individual patients, and adjunctive or follow-up contact. (Holroyd, 2008).
Hypnosis for Weight Loss
Obesity is a major public health concern and is associated with an increased risk of many health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Hypnosis has been shown to be effective in promoting weight loss.
One study by Irving Kirsch showed that hypnosis enhanced CBT for encouraging weight loss. The benefits of hypnosis increased substantially over time. (Kirsch, 1996).
Another study examined the effect of adding hypnosis to a behavioral weight-management program on short- and long-term weight change. One hundred nine subjects, who ranged in age from 17 to 67, completed a behavioral treatment either with or without the addition of hypnosis. At the end of the 9-week program, both interventions resulted in significant weight reduction. However, at the 8-month and 2-year follow-ups, the hypnosis clients showed significant additional weight loss, while those in the behavioral treatment exhibited little further change. More of the subjects who used hypnosis also achieved and maintained their personal weight goals. The utility of employing hypnosis as an adjunct to a behavioral weight-management program is discussed. (Bolocofsky 1985).
Hypnosis for Insomnia
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can significantly impact a person's quality of life. Hypnosis has been shown to be effective in improving sleep quality and reducing insomnia symptoms.
One study of children and adolescents had 70 participants. It found that two or fewer hypnosis sessions were provided to 68% of the patients. Of the 70 patients reporting a delay in sleep onset of more than 30 minutes, 90% reported a reduction in sleep onset time following hypnosis. Of the 21 patients reporting nighttime awakenings more than once a week, 52% reported resolution of the awakenings and 38% reported improvement. Somatic complaints amenable to hypnosis were reported by 41%, including chest pain, dyspnea, functional abdominal pain, habit cough, headaches, and vocal cord dysfunction. Among these patients, 87% reported improvement or resolution of the somatic complaints following hypnosis. (Anbar, 2006)
Another study compared a hypnotic relaxation technique to stimulus control and placebo conditions as a means of reducing sleep onset latency (SOL). 45 Ss (aged 23–67 yrs) matched on their baseline SOL (as measured through sleep diaries) were randomly assigned to hypnotic relaxation, stimulus control, or placebo groups. Ss experienced 4 weekly, 30-min training sessions, with demand effects being controlled through the use of counter-demand instructions. The hypnotic relaxation treatment was effective in helping Ss go to sleep more quickly. The stimulus control and placebo groups did not record similar improvement. (Stanton 1989)
Hypnosis for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder that can cause abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel movements. Hypnosis has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of IBS. There is a strong evidence base.
One study reviewed a total of 14 published studies (N = 644) on the efficacy of hypnosis in treating IBS (8 with no control group and 6 with a control group). It concluded that hypnosis consistently produces significant results and improves the cardinal symptoms of IBS in the majority of patients, as well as positively affecting non-colonic symptoms. When evaluated according to the efficacy guidelines of the Clinical Psychology Division of American Psychological Association, the use of hypnosis with IBS qualifies for the highest level of acceptance as being both efficacious and specific.
Other Medical Conditions
Hypnosis has also been shown to be effective in managing other medical conditions, including:
- Asthma: Critically reviewing evidence primarily from controlled outcome studies on hypnosis for asthma shows that hypnosis is possibly efficacious for treatment of symptom severity and illness-related behaviours and is efficacious for managing emotional states that exacerbate airway obstruction. Hypnosis is also possibly effective for decreasing airway obstruction and stabilizing airway hyper-responsiveness in some individuals, but there is insufficient evidence that hypnosis affects asthma's inflammatory process. (Brown, 2007).
- Hot flashes: A randomised controlled trial of postmenopausal women found that hypnosis reduced the frequency and severity of hot flashes (Elkins et al., 2013).
- Psoriasis: A wide spectrum of dermatologic disorders may be improved or cured using hypnosis as an alternative or complementary therapy. (Shenefelt, 2000).
Hypnosis is a safe and effective technique that can be used to manage a variety of medical and psychological conditions. Scientific evidence supports the use of hypnosis in pain management, anxiety and depression, smoking cessation, weight loss, insomnia, and irritable bowel syndrome. Hypnosis has also been shown to be effective in managing other medical conditions, including asthma, hot flashes, and psoriasis. As with any medical treatment, it is important to discuss the use of hypnosis with a qualified healthcare provider to determine if it is appropriate for your individual needs.
(2000) A meta-analysis of hypnotically induced analgesia: How effective is hypnosis?, International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 48:2, 138-153.
Patterson, David R., and Mark P. Jensen. "Hypnosis and clinical pain." Psychological bulletin 129.4 (2003): 495.
Shenefelt PD. Hypnosis in Dermatology. Arch Dermatol. 2000;136(3):393–399.
Stanton, H. E. (1989). Hypnotic relaxation and the reduction of sleep onset insomnia. International Journal of Psychosomatics, 36(1-4), 64–68.
(2005) Hypnosis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Review of Efficacy and Mechanism of Action, American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 47:3, 161-178.
(2010) Hypnosis in the Treatment of Depression: An Overdue Approach for Encouraging Skillful Mood Management, International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 58:2, 137-146.