It’s not a stage trick anymore. Hypnosis, and its cousin, clinical hypnotherapy, is now used to treat a variety of conditions and ailments, purely through the power of suggestion. It has a long and storied history, dating back to the nineteenth century. William Benjamin Carpenter in the mid-1800s was one of the first to realize some behaviors can take place outside of conscious awareness. Early psychotherapists including Freud wrote about how the subconscious influences our everyday lives, for good or ill.
Massage therapist David Lesser developed the framework for hypnotherapy in the sixties. Lesser was an electrical engineer before changing careers. His engineering background had trained him to analyze problems logically, something he applied to his therapy work. Lesser came to believe the stresses that brought patients to his massage clinic had causes his patients often were not aware of. His research pioneered what we know today as curative hypnotherapy.
Clinical Hypnotherapy Treatments
Clinical hypnotherapy works by changing behaviors and attitudes from negative into more positive ones. A typical session involves your hypnotherapist placing you in a relaxed, trance-like state. The therapist then guides you through the condition you’re being treated for, letting you examine it in different ways, but always maintaining safety, comfort, and relaxation.
Some conditions that have been treated through clinical hypnosis are:
Anxiety and phobias. Hypnosis combines relaxation and suggestibility. If you suffer from anxiety, under hypnosis you can learn to develop techniques for controlling panic attacks. The same has been shown to work for phobias.
Post-traumatic stress disorder. Victims of PTSD often relive their traumatic experiences through vivid flashbacks and nightmares. Hypnotherapy may help with this by letting the patient explore these memories safely.
Overeating. Hypnotherapy has been used as a tool in dieting. Studies show it can contribute to an additional six pounds lost over 18 months, compared to those who don’t use some form of hypnotherapy as part of their diet regimen.
Pain control. Hypnosis has been used in managing pain, with varying degrees of effectiveness.
Smoking. Research shows hypnotherapy can be effective in helping smokers break the habit.
As with other forms of therapy, hypnosis takes time to work; don’t expect a quick fix after one or two sessions.
Self-hypnosis and Mindfulness
Even if you don’t have a professional hypnotherapist working with you to overcome mental challenges, there are techniques you can learn to use yourself. One, self-hypnosis, may be effective for you, and you can do it at home.
Another related technique, mindfulness, is all about learning to focus, to avoid distractions and live in the moment. It is valuable in making you aware of habits before they form, and in breaking old habits.
Clinical hypnotherapy is one tool in the therapy toolkit. Research shows it is quite effective, but its effectiveness depends on the individual. Some people are more suggestible than others. Your therapist can help you determine what treatment options are best for you.