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Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
You’re getting sleepy, very sleepy. Okay, that may be what hypnosis looks like in the movies, but it doesn’t usually play out that way in real life. Something else you may not know: Hypnosis is sometimes used to treat anxiety.
The Anxiety an Depression Association of America reports that more than 40 million American adults are affected by some form of anxiety disorder. This means it is one of the more common mental health conditions.
There are a variety of treatments available for anxiety, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication. But it’s also worth learning a bit more about how hypnosis is used for anxiety and whether or not it’s effective.
One of the most common anxiety disorders is called generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). If you have a difficult time managing your anxiety more frequently than you don’t over a six month time period, you may be dealing with GAD.
Other symptoms of anxiety include a rapid heart rate, tiredness or fatigue, irritability, nerves, trouble sleeping, stomach problems and more.
Along with generalized anxiety disorder, there are a few other diagnosable types of anxiety disorders. Learn a bit more about them, here:
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Repetitive thoughts and compulsive behaviors (like checking that you locked the front door over and over repeatedly) are the primary marker of this anxiety disorder.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): People who experience traumatic events (like assault or military service) may develop PTSD.
Social Anxiety Disorder: Whether it be parties or public speaking, this affects people by making them feel overwhelmed in social situations.
Panic Disorder: Panic attacks are a sign of this kind of anxiety. Symptoms include heart palpitations and shortness of breath.
Hypnosis is considered a state of mind defined by focused attention and high receptivity for suggestions. Because the mind is thought to be more open to suggestion, hypnosis is sometimes used to treat everything from anxiety to addiction and more.
So, how is hypnosis performed? There are a few techniques used to get people in a hypnotic state. The first is centered around relaxation — sounds nice, right? The thinking is that a relaxed client is more likely to fall into a trance-like state.
Some methods used to get people into this relaxed state include laying down, controlled breathing and counting down.
Another method to initiate hypnosis is called the handshake technique. A handshake is a very normal part of our society. And with this technique, the therapist disrupts the normal way a handshake goes down.
When you go to shake hands, the therapist willl grab your wrist instead, or shake your hand but pull you forward. The idea is to disrupt the general idea of what a handshake is — with the thinking that the interrupted pattern opens the subconscious mind.
Yet another way to induce hypnosis involves visualization. Here, a person is asked to recall something they are familiar with — such as their childhood bedroom. They are asked to go over every detail.
Next, they will be asked to recall something they are less familiar with — maybe a place they’ve only been to once or seen on television. It’s thought that when someone struggles to recall details, their mind is more open to suggestions.
Now that you know how hypnosis is generally performed, you should know there are actually three types of hypnosis. They are:
Traditional hypnosis: With this common form of hypnosis, direct instructions and suggestions are used to influence a person’s thoughts and behaviors once they are in a hypnotic state. To get into this state, a therapist will have you close your eyes and forget everything in your mind until you are in an almost trance-like state.
Modern hypnosis: Sometimes called the Erikson approach because it was developed by renowned psychologist Dr. Milton Erikson, this method was created based on understanding a person’s unique situation and tailoring the hypnosis to that. It often uses metaphors rather than direct suggestions.
Self-Hypnosis: This is exactly what it sounds like — someone hypnotizes themself. Suggestions are made by you or through listening to guided hypnosis.
When it comes to treating anxiety, there is some research that suggests it could be helpful for certain types of anxiety disorders.
In a 2016 study, hypnosis was found to provide more emotional control and focused attention. While the study didn’t look directly at anxiety, it could be concluded that these things could help someone with anxiety.
There is also some evidence that hypnosis can help address symptoms of panic disorder. Since hypnosis clears the mind it can neutralize panicked feelings and then help you dive into ways to deal with the root of your panic disorder. However, the study was only done on 57 people.
It may also be effective for people with agoraphobia, which is something that can be a part of panic disorder. Agoraphobia is categorized by an intense fear of becoming overwhelmed or being unable to escape. Through hypnosis, a person may be able to approach these fears in a more relaxed manner.
It’s important to note that research in both of these cases is limited. In fact, both studies were case studies each based on one person.
In addition to the above, some anecdotal evidence has found that hypnosis may be an effective way of treating stress, PTSD, irritable bowel syndrome and depression.
If you are interested in trying hypnotherapy sessions, you’ll want to make sure whoever you see is trained in hypnotherapy. One helpful resource is the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis. There, you can find a list of providers.
If you suffer from anxiety in your daily life, there are treatments available to help you manage it. The most traditional and proven methods to help reduce or resolve anxiety are online therapy and medication.
A more alternative approach would be hypnosis — which can also be used in conjunction with the above mentioned treatment methods.
Hypnosis involves getting your brain into a more relaxed state so it is more open to suggestions and guidance. To do so, a healthcare provider may do a number of things to help you relax, such as utilize breathing techniques or visualization methods. Once you are in a trance-like state, hypnotic suggestions can help you attempt to resolve feelings around anxiety.
While there is some research that supports that hypnosis may help with anxiety, most of it is anecdotal or involves limited numbers of people. More research needs to be done before concluding that hypnosis is a surefire way to treat anxiety.
If you’d like help figuring out what type of treatment can help you with your anxiety, the first step is to speak to a mental health professional.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.
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