It’s crappy to have a serious illness. Not only can an illness make you feel horrible, side effects of your treatments can debilitate you. In order to get better and/or reduce side effects, many patients try complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments. Is this a good idea? Are these treatments safe and effective? This post provides information on the pros and cons of hypnosis.
For an overview of important general information on CAM treatments, please read the first post in the series. Additionally, you might find the following posts, with pros and cons of other common CAM treatments, helpful:
- Acupuncture, Ayurveda & Reiki
- Chiropractic, Osteopathy and Homeopathy
- Naturopathy, Tai Chi and Dietary Supplements
- Yoga and Magnetic Therapy
Before starting any CAM treatment, realize that CAM treatments involve some degree of risk. And, as you can imagine, some CAM treatments are more effective and safer than others. And not all CAM practitioners have the same level of training and expertise. So stay safe. Do some research, talk to your doctor, and be realistic about potential outcomes. And don’t ignore traditional therapies while pursuing CAM therapies.
Can hypnosis help medical conditions?
You’ve probably seen hypnosis make people do terrible things in a movie. Or, perhaps you’ve been to events where hypnotists make people do silly things in response to a trigger word (barking like a dog, anyone?). But, did you realize that hypnosis can help several medical conditions? In healthcare, hypnotherapy can help patients experience changes in sensations, perceptions, thoughts and/or behaviors. Hypnotherapy is usually used in conjunction with traditional therapy and treatment. And unlike in the movies or at parties, a trained, licensed healthcare professional performs the treatment. Hypnotherapists instruct patients to think about pleasant experiences and/or use verbal cues to help patients reach a “trance-like” state of deep relaxation and increased focus.
Hypnosis changes brains.
In 2016, Dr. David Spiegel (Stanford Univ. School of Medicine) and colleagues, published the first research on the impact of hypnosis on the brain. The researchers found distinct changes in brain activity among hypnotized patients. This should pave the way for additional research on the effect of hypnosis on the brain, which could lead to improved treatment effectiveness.
What kinds of issues can hypnosis help with?
Hypnosis can help with many health issues, including:
Trouble Sleeping, Insomnia, and Sleepwalking
Hypnosis can help those who sleepwalk or struggle with falling and staying asleep. For those with insomnia, hypnosis provides relaxation which can help people fall asleep. Additionally, hypnosis can help sleepwalkers by training them to wake up when their feet touch the floor. Finally, for those who want to improve the quality of their sleep, self-hypnosis can increase the amount of overall sleep as well as the amount of time in deep sleep.
Hypnosis can put you in a trance-like state, making it easier to fall asleep during or after hypnosis.
Anxiety and Phobias
Hypnosis can sometimes ease anxiety, especially when the anxiety comes from a health condition, such as cancer, rather than from a generalized anxiety disorder. Hypnosis may also help those with phobias – when you deeply fear something that does not pose a significant threat, like spiders or heights.
Hypnosis helps by encouraging your body to use its natural relaxation response, triggered by a phrase or nonverbal cue. This can lead to slowed breathing, lowered blood pressure, and an improved sense of well-being.
Stress and depression
It is possible, but unproven, that hypnosis can help people dealing with stress and depression. A 2017 study evaluated past research on the impact of hypnosis on stress. The researchers concluded that due to poorly designed studies and a high risk of bias, the effectiveness of hypnosis for stress reduction is unclear. Clearly more high-quality clinical research is needed.
How does it help with stress?
Patients may be able to reduce their stress levels by reaching a state of deep relaxation through hypnosis. Additionally, hypnosis can help patients make healthy lifestyle changes that can reduce daily stressors.
How can hypnosis help with depression?
Hypnosis can help patients “reprogram” their subconscious minds to better manage and potentially release underlying causes of depression, including stressors, worry, negative thinking patterns and suppressed negative memories. Furthermore, hypnosis can improve coping abilities, help patients connect with past positive memories, and may improve the effectiveness for traditional depression treatments.
Menopausal hot flashes
A 2013 study found that weekly hypnosis sessions reduced hot flashes by 74% (among women who had at least 50 hot flashes/week). Conversely, there was a 17% reduction in hot flashes among women who had weekly sessions with a clinician but did not receive hypnosis.
Scientists currently do not know how hypnotherapy reduces hot flashes.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Symptoms
Research has consistently shown that hypnosis can help IBS symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea, and bloating. Additionally, hypnosis may help with secondary symptoms such as nausea, fatigue and back pain.
Hypnosis helps patients relax by providing soothing imagery and sensations that can combat symptoms.
Hypnosis can help with acute and chronic pain, including headaches, post-surgical pain, back pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia and cancer related pain.
Hypnosis can help patients gain more self-control over their pain. Furthermore, research indicates the improvements in pain levels from hypnosis can last for long periods of time.
While it has not been proven, many people find that hypnosis helps them quit smoking.
If someone really wants to quit smoking, hypnosis can help in two ways. Hypnosis can guide your subconscious to a healthy replacement activity, such as gum chewing. Also, hypnosis can train your mind to link smoking with undesirable feelings, such as a bad taste in your mouth.
There are not many studies that link hypnosis and weight loss. But some studies show hypnosis can lead to modest weight loss. As you would expect, hypnosis works best for weight loss when used along with changes in diet and exercise.
Since attention is highly focused when hypnotized, people can become more likely to listen and respond to suggestions for behavior changes, such as a healthy diet or increasing exercise, which can help with weight loss.
Is hypnosis safe?
Generally, yes, when performed by a trained therapist. But, it might not be appropriate for a person with psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions, or for someone using drugs or alcohol. Although rare, some patients have adverse reactions to hypnosis, including:
- Anxiety or distress
- Creation of false memories
Importantly, don’t use hypnotherapy for pain control until you see your doctor to make sure you don’t have a condition that needs medical or surgical treatment.
Before starting hypnotherapy, talk to your primary care doctor and/or to the specialist treating you for the condition for which you want hypnotherapy.
Don’t worry – you won’t bark like a dog!
Hypnotherapy isn’t mind control or brainwashing. And, a hypnotherapist will not make you do something embarrassing or something you don’t want to do.
It doesn’t work for everyone.
Unfortunately, some people cannot enter a state of hypnosis fully enough to make hypnotherapy effective.