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Hypnosis in Mental Health: Unveiling the Evidence for Chronic Pain and Trauma Treatment

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

It's not what you think! There's no swinging pocket watch, "you're getting very sleepy"s, or clucking like a chicken.


Hypnosis can be a powerful tool for healing and change. Let's discuss how!

Hypnotized man in a comfortable state of deep relaxation

The world of mental health therapy can oftentimes feel overwhelming and confusing, especially if you are considering trying a new form of therapy. Chances are, you've heard about hypnosis before - whether through movies or pop culture - and have some preconceived notions about what it entails.


However, the truth about hypnosis in a mental health setting may surprise you! So much of what has been represented in the media is way off base. In this blog post, we will discuss the use of hypnosis by a licensed therapist, its evidence base for treating things like chronic pain and trauma, and debunking five common myths about hypnosis. By the end, you may rethink your views on hypnosis as a valuable tool in mental health therapy.


The Basics of Hypnosis:


First, let's explore the use of hypnosis in a mental health setting by a licensed therapist. Hypnosis, also known as hypnotherapy, is a form of therapy where a therapist helps a client enter a deep state of relaxation, often called a trance. In this trance state, the client experiences focused attention and heightened suggestibility. Because of this, the client is more open to suggestion and can access parts of their subconscious mind.


The therapist guides the client into this altered state of consciousness, whether the individual becomes more open to positive suggestions and changes in perceptions. This can be useful for resolving past trauma, anxiety, and other mental health concerns. Contrary to popular belief, hypnosis is not about losing control or being manipulated. Instead, it's a cooperative process that empowers the client to access their inner resources and facilitate therapeutic progress.


Does It Actually Work?


Let's examine the evidence base for hypnosis. Several studies have shown that hypnosis can be beneficial for those suffering from chronic pain. It can help reduce pain intensity, increase pain tolerance, and improve overall quality of life. Additionally, hypnosis has been shown to be effective in treating trauma-related issues, such as PTSD. A study published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis found that hypnosis was effective in reducing PTSD symptoms, such as nightmares, and improving overall well-being.


In addition to helping with mental health issues, hypnosis can also be used for a range of medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and asthma. It has also been found to be effective in treating insomnia and other sleep disorders. Additionally, it can help reduce stress levels and improve overall emotional wellbeing.


Our practice utilizes hypnosis specially for chronic pain and trauma treatment, so let's deep-dive some evidence in these two areas:


The Evidence Base for Hypnosis in Treating Chronic Pain


Chronic pain is a debilitating condition that affects millions worldwide, leading to reduced quality of life and emotional distress. Traditional pain management strategies often rely on medication, physical therapy, or surgery, but hypnosis offers a complementary and non-invasive approach. Numerous studies have highlighted the efficacy of hypnosis in managing chronic pain:


1. Meta-Analysis by Montgomery et al. (2000): This meta-analysis examined 18 studies involving 946 participants and found that hypnosis had a significant impact on reducing pain intensity, compared to standard treatments or no intervention.


2. Elkins et al. (2007): In a randomized controlled trial (RCT) with 100 participants experiencing chronic pain, those who received hypnosis reported greater reductions in pain intensity and disability, along with improved sleep and overall well-being.


3. Jensen et al. (2011): Another meta-analysis reviewing 13 RCTs found that hypnosis effectively reduced pain intensity and provided additional benefits, such as decreased distress and opioid consumption.


4. Accardi et al. (2017): In a study focusing on fibromyalgia patients, hypnosis was shown to improve pain perception, coping mechanisms, and physical functioning, indicating its potential for complex pain conditions.


The Evidence Base for Hypnosis in Treating Trauma


Trauma can manifest in various forms, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other emotional disturbances. Traditional trauma therapy often involves talk-based approaches, but hypnosis offers a unique avenue for addressing trauma-related symptoms. The evidence for using hypnosis in trauma treatment includes:


1. Brom et al. (1989): In a landmark study, this team conducted an RCT comparing cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with hypnotherapy in treating chronic PTSD. Both groups showed significant improvements, suggesting hypnotherapy as a viable alternative to traditional CBT.


2. Bryant et al. (2005): This study compared trauma-focused CBT with hypnotherapy in treating acute stress disorder resulting from motor vehicle accidents. Hypnotherapy demonstrated superiority in reducing acute stress and anxiety symptoms.


3. Vermetten and Bremner (2003): Using brain imaging techniques, this study found that hypnosis influenced neural activity in brain regions associated with traumatic memories, suggesting that it can modulate traumatic responses at the neurological level.




But what about all that crazy stuff you've seen on TV? There are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there. Let's debunk five common myths about hypnosis:


Myth 1: Hypnosis is mind control.


In reality, hypnosis is more accurately described as a state of heightened suggestibility. This means that the client is willing and able to accept suggestions from the therapist, but they still retain autonomy and control over their thoughts and actions.


Myth 2: Hypnosis makes you do things that are against your nature.


This is simply not true – during hypnosis, a person retains their own moral and ethical standards. Any suggestion accepted by the client must be in line with their values and beliefs.


Myth 3: Hypnosis only works on weak-minded people.


Nope. Hypnosis can be effective for anyone who is willing and open to the process. In fact, research has shown that intelligence and strong willpower may actually enhance the effectiveness of hypnosis.


Myth 4: You can get “stuck” in hypnosis.


Ever seen the movie "Office Space"? Another false myth – in reality, a person can come out of hypnosis as easily as they enter it. The therapist will typically cue the patient to wake up when the session is over, and they will simply open their eyes and be back to normal.


Myth 5: Hypnosis is dangerous.


When performed by a licensed therapist trained in hypnosis, it is a safe practice. Clients are always in control and can bring themselves out of the hypnotic trance at any time.




In conclusion, hypnosis can be a valuable tool in mental health therapy, especially when used by a licensed therapist. The evidence supporting the use of hypnosis in a mental health setting, particularly for chronic pain and trauma treatment, is compelling. Licensed therapists who incorporate hypnosis into their practice can help clients achieve meaningful relief, enhanced coping strategies, and improved overall well-being.


However, it's essential to remember that hypnosis is not a standalone treatment but rather a valuable complement to existing therapeutic approaches. As research in the field continues to evolve, hypnosis's potential as a transformative tool for mental health care becomes ever more evident.


Don't let baseless myths prevent you from considering hypnosis as a therapy option. By seeking a licensed therapist trained in hypnosis, you may find that this practice can bring you the relief and healing you need.

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