A mental health professional may suggest hypnotherapy as an aid to psychological counseling. The hypnotic state allows patients to explore their hidden or painful thoughts, memories and emotions. Someone who is unfamiliar with the practice may ask, "What is hypnotherapy, and why is it done?"
Hypnotherapy, also called hypnosis or hypnotic suggestion, is a type of mental health therapy. The medical profession considers it to be a valid complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practice. It can be an effective treatment method for some people, if they are good candidates for hypnosis and the therapist is a trained professional.
During hypnotherapy, the therapist uses mental pictures and verbal repetition to help the patient reach a trance condition. Through guided relaxation and intense focus, the patient achieves a heightened sense of awareness. This trance-like state blocks out the outside world and opens the mind to suggestions.
How Hypnotherapy Works
Psychotherapists use hypnosis in one of two ways: suggestion therapy or patient analysis. During suggestion therapy, hypnosis enables a better response to mental suggestions. This can help patients change certain behaviors and habits, such as nail biting and cigarette smoking. It can also help patients change how they perceive the senses, which is useful for treating pain.
Another approach to hypnotherapy uses the trance condition to discover the root cause of a symptom or disorder. For example, hypnosis can help patients remember painful events from their past that are hidden in their memories. Once revealed, the doctor and patient can address the trauma in psychotherapy.
The Benefits of Hypnotherapy
Hypnotherapy offers many benefits for mental health patients and those who want to change their behaviors. Studies have shown hypnosis as effective for coping with stress, anxieties, fears and phobias. The hypnotic state may also improve the rate of treatment success with conditions like sleep disorders, depression, grief and post-traumatic stress.
Researchers have studied hypnotherapy for other conditions too. Among them are physical pain, menopause symptoms and behavioral challenges. For some patients, hypnosis can treat the pain associated with cancer, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, dental procedures and headaches. Menopausal women may find relief from hot flashes and other symptoms through hypnotherapy. Hypnosis is also used to treat insomnia, smoking, bed-wetting, over-eating and other behaviors.
The Risks of Hypnotherapy
Patients who are hesitant to consider hypnotherapy are usually wary of the perceived risks involved with this type of therapy. Modern medicine considers hypnosis to be a safe complementary practice when conducted by a trained therapist. While some patients may experience headaches, drowsiness or anxiety from hypnotherapy, adverse reactions are rare.
Mental health professionals do not recommend hypnotherapy for patients with severe mental problems, or for those who are using alcohol or drugs. They also caution its use for age regression, which can create false or altered memories. This particular use of hypnosis is controversial and has limited scientific support.
Is Hypnotherapy Dangerous?
What is hypnotherapy? The answer lies with the reason for seeking this type of therapy. As a complementary practice conducted by a qualified therapist, it can safely integrate with psychotherapy or counseling. Like other CAM practices, it is not right for everyone. Health professionals believe that the more likely a patient is to enter the hypnotic state, the more that patient will benefit from the therapy.
Contrary to popular belief, hypnotherapy is not brainwashing or mind control. A therapist cannot make patients do things that they do not want to do. The creation of false memories is the greatest risk with hypnotherapy. As a complementary practice, it may be less effective than traditional mental health treatments.