Learn how hypnotherapy may help you with anxiety
Struggling with anxiety? Wondering if hypnotherapy can help you with problems like panic attacks, phobias, and fears? Hoping to find a natural way to feel calmer?
If the answer is yes, you aren’t alone. It is estimated that nearly forty million Americans each year are affected by some form of anxiety.
As a result, many people search for alternative pathways to healing with hypnotherapy leading the pack on a quest towards wellness.
In this article, you will learn:
- A basic definition of hypnosis
- How hypnotherapy works for anxiety
- The basics of clinical hypnotherapy
- 10 ways hypnotherapy may help with anxiety
- How to find a hypnotherapist
- Common myths associated with hypnosis
- A resource for more learning
Before continuing, it’s important to clear your mind of any preconceived notions about the practice of hypnosis. That’s because much of the imagery associated with hypnotherapy has been misrepresented in the media.
To help provide more clarity on this topic, I’ve included an educational video featuring psychiatrist Dr. Clyde Spiegel, an assistant professor of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
What is hypnosis?
At its core, hypnosis is nothing more than a heightened state of awareness. While in a hypnotic state (trance) you are completely awake and conscious. You hear everything around you and are totally aware of your environment.
While in this altered state, suggestions are given to you that are directly linked to your goals. For example, if you want to overcome a spider-phobia, suggestions may be given that help lower the intensity of your response the next time you encounter this creature.
In short, hypnosis helps to relax the mind, empowering you to refocus your thinking through the subconscious.
Does Hypnotherapy Work?
For many people, the answer is yes. We know from mounds of clinical research that hypnotherapy can benefit people with certain mental health issues, such as anxiety.
For example, a 2017 study demonstrated that participants who took part in hypnotherapy treatments experienced meaningful improvement of their symptoms.
Clinical Hypnotherapy for Anxiety
Bear in mind that clinical hypnotherapy is not a standalone form of treatment. Instead, clinical hypnotherapy is a procedure that can be used to facilitate other forms of therapy (APA, 2018).
An example might be a licensed psychotherapist, such as a psychologist, combining cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), with hypnotherapy, to help someone with panic disorder.
In this way, CBT is the primary form of treatment. Hypnotherapy is introduced as an adjunct to reinforce cognitive messaging.
Let’s turn our attention now to the 10 ways hypnotherapy may help with anxiety.
1. Lessen intensity of panic attacks
If you struggle with panic attacks as part of panic disorder, hypnotherapy may help to lessen the intensity of your attacks and minimize the triggers.
This is accomplished by:
- Teaching you how to calm yourself through mindfulness.
- Helping you to create new thinking around triggers.
- Establishing a mental place of safety during the onset of an attack.
2. Reduce ritualistic behaviors
People who struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) often engage in ritualistic behaviors. Hypnotherapy may help soften the need to engage in these rituals and reduce the sense of dread.
This is accomplished by:
- Imparting positive affirmations designed to counteract compulsions.
- Creating a sense of calm in the subconscious, which informs the conscious mind.
- Helping you to become an observer of your thoughts and not compelled by them.
3. Ameliorate PTSD symptoms
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental health challenge that impacts millions of people each year.
Military veterans, abuse survivors, and persons involved in a perceived life-threatening event often experience debilitating symptoms as a result.
Hypnotherapy may help by:
- Reducing the impact of PTSD triggers.
- Reinforcing a sense of calm when triggering memories surface.
- Adjusting your reaction to fear-producing stimuli.
4. Work through phobias
A phobia is an intense psychological and emotional reaction to an object, place, or thing.
An example might be having a phobic response to feathers or experiencing paralyzing panic when in the presence of a clown.
Hypnotherapy may offer relief by:
- Teaching you how to calmly react to phobic stimuli.
- Restructuring your thoughts to feel less panic.
- Helping you to observe your fears as opposed to being crippled by them.
5. Move past a fear of flying
Are you afraid to fly? Many people are, particularly if they have experienced a turbulent flight in the past.
Known in clinical circles as aerophobia, people with this condition struggle to travel for work or pleasure because they can’t bring themselves to step on a plane.
Hypnotherapy may help by:
- Teaching you breathing techniques when feeling nervous.
- Calming your thoughts when turbulence occurs.
- Encouraging you to calmly respond when you hear strange sounds.
People with social anxiety typically experience an intense fear of social situations or when they are expected to perform.
An example might be attending a crowded concert or worries about giving a public speech.
Hypnotherapy might help by:
- Teaching you how to use visualization techniques to lower anxiety while reframing distortions.
- Changing irrational, negative thinking.
- Encouraging you to look at your anxiety through the lens of acceptance, which paradoxically makes fear less powerful. This is a core concept of acceptance and commitment therapy, also known as ACT.
7. Separation anxiety
When we hear the term separation anxiety, we often think of children who are afraid of being away from a caretaker. The hard truth is adults suffer from this condition, too.
The key feature of separation anxiety is a deeply held fear of being separated from a loved one (spouse, children). Compounding those fears are worries about harm being visited upon the loved one while away. Examples include a car accident or a mugging.
Using hypnotherapy, you may:
- Lessen the impact of fear at the time of separation.
- Discover new and healthy ways of coping with worry.
- Learn more productive ways of thinking about separation.
8. Cope with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
As the name implies, GAD is a condition whereby a person experiences excessive worry about a number of topics.
Examples include concerns about loved ones, employment, health, and finances.
Targeted hypnotherapy may by:
- Teaching you to have a different relationship with your thoughts, thereby lessening the impact of anxiety.
- Refocusing your awareness on the present, thereby helping you to avoid obsessive thoughts.
- Relaxing your mind so that you can sleep.
9. Building inner confidence
Many people living with anxiety struggle with self-esteem and confidence. This is particularly true when negative self-talk permeates the mind.
Hypnotherapy may be beneficial by:
- Helping you integrate new, more productive thinking.
- Teaching you creative visualization skills that are designed to build confidence.
- Guiding you to a place of change by transforming the relationship with your thoughts.
10. Skip nervous eating
If you find yourself nibbling on unhealthy foods, sometimes without thinking, you may be a nervous eater.
This is particularly true if you are going through a stressful life event, such as a breakup or job loss.
Hypnotherapy may offer relief by:
- Creating greater awareness around food.
- Encouraging calmer thoughts, particularly during difficult moments.
- Teaching you new ways to think about eating so that food does not become a magnet.
How to Find a Hypnotherapist
Clinical hypnotherapy should only be performed by a mental health professional or medical provider with special training and certification in the art of hypnosis.
- Someone licensed to do therapy.
- Holds an advanced degree, such as a masters or doctorate in a field related to mental health or medicine.
- Certified by a national hypnosis or hypnotherapy association.
You can find qualified hypnotherapists online through organizations like:
- The National Board of Certified Clinical Hypnotherapists (NBCCH)
- The American Academy of Medical Hypnoanalysts (AAMH)
- The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH)
Difference Between a Hypnotist and Clinical Hypnotherapist?
If your goal is to learn relaxation techniques or receive instruction on self-hypnosis, working with a certified hypnotist may work just fine.
However, if you are seeking treatment for a mental health issue, such as anxiety or depression, you should only work with a licensed mental health professional or medical doctor who holds certification in clinical hypnotherapy.
Common Hypnotherapy Myths
There are several myths associated with hypnotherapy, thanks to inaccurate representations on television and in films. What follows are some of the big ones.
Do any of these seem familiar?
- Hypnosis can make you act against your will
- You won’t remember anything from the hypnotic experience
- Hypnotherapy can be used to supplant subliminal messages that will cause you to act wild (ex. bark like a dog)
- You are put to sleep during hypnosis
- Hypnosis can be used to make another person fall in love
- Clinical hypnotherapy and stage hypnosis are the same
Hypnotherapy, Anxiety and You
If you are being treated for anxiety by a mental health professional, clinical hypnosis most likely will be used as part of the counseling process.
Most therapists teach patients self-hypnosis skills with an eye on anxiety reduction. In turn, you can call upon these skills to help yourself remain centered and calm.
If you are experiencing symptoms of an anxiety disorder, such as panic attacks, excessive worry, or increased nervousness, it’s important to talk to a doctor or qualified mental health clinician.
Doing so allows your health care professional to evaluate your situation and arrive at a proper diagnosis.
If appropriate, hypnotherapy may be recommended as part of an overall treatment approach. Bear in mind that hypnotherapy doesn’t work for everyone. The truth is, there are some folks who simply can’t be hypnotized.
In addition, certain types of mental health challenges are inappropriate for hypnotherapy. Examples include dissociative disorder, ongoing substance abuse, and specific psychotic disorders.
Some medications may interfere with the ability to be hypnotized. For all of these reasons, it is important to work with a licensed healthcare professional.
In the final analysis, it’s up to you and your doctor to decide if hypnotherapy is suitable for your situation. A great resource to consider is Hypnotherapy for Dummies.
If you are looking for alternative ways to move through anxiety, hypnotherapy may be a powerful tool for lasting change.
Hypnosis today: Looking beyond the media portrayal (2018). American Psychological Association.