The clinical applications for hypnosis are well established and are used by a variety of therapists for different purposes. The technique varies somewhat but typically involves a preliminary phase of assessment, rapport building and dealing with any misconceptions the patient or client may have about hypnosis. The next phase will be along the lines of combining relaxation with the use of internal focus and imagery, a process often described as hypnotic induction. The treatment phase extends hypnotic induction by using relaxation, imagery and suggestions to facilitate change, or sometimes to access unconscious memories or mechanisms that have a bearing on the problem. Finally, post-hypnotic suggestions are used in order to reinforce therapy. This is also a time for building belief in change and self-confidence in the client.
Clinical applications for hypnosis, generally referred to as hypnotherapy, appear to be extensive. Hypnosis used for symptom relief is different to that for resolving memories and personal conflicts. Suggestive hypnosis is frequently applied to conditions such as social anxiety and smoking, but also to conditions and disorders that are aggravated by psychological factors. Here we can think of things such as migraine, certain skin complaints and irritable bowel syndrome. This mind-to-body link underpins the approach to clinical hypnosis. The strong associations we form during a difficult experience and our emotional reaction to it may set up a scenario whereby the same or similar situations are responded to with some degree of anxiety.
This leads us to the, ‘but does it actually work?’ question. There is evidence to suggest that hypnosis can help to reduce anxiety. Of course if hypnosis cured anxiety it would quite simply be the number one treatment. Hypnosis therefore is best thought of as being useful for some people in alleviating their symptoms and helping to build self-confidence and self-esteem. It may be particularly useful when combined with cognitive behavioral therapy as part of an overall treatment strategy. The post-hypnotic phase of hypnosis might, for example, be used to suggest the person can relax whenever they choose and are open to the suggestions of the CBT therapist. Of course the combination of relaxation and imagery are well accepted components of anxiety reduction techniques.
As with all treatment procedures it is important to ensure some level of safeguard. If you are considering hypnosis you first need to be sure that you have not self-diagnosed and that your problem(s) are amenable to this form of therapy. Many health professionals use hypnosis as just one of several possible therapeutic methods. They are properly trained in its application and they are accountable to their professional body. There are however many ‘alternative’ therapists with little or no medical training. Unfortunately hypnosis remains one of several unregulated forms of therapy. For this reason you are advised to ensure your therapist is also a health professional who is properly accredited.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.