Hypnosis uses guided relaxation, intense concentration, and focused attention to achieve a heightened state of awareness, that is sometimes called a trance. During this state, the person’s attention is so focused that anything going on around the person is temporarily blocked out or ignored. A trained therapist helps a person to focus his or her attention on specific thoughts or tasks.
Hypnosis is usually considered an aid to psychotherapy because the hypnotic state allows people to explore painful thoughts, feelings, and memories they might have hidden from their conscious minds. In addition, hypnosis enables people to perceive some things differently, such as blocking an awareness of pain.
Hypnosis can be used in two ways, as suggestion therapy or for patient analysis.
- Suggestion therapy: The hypnotic state makes the person better able to respond to suggestions. Therefore, hypnotherapy can help some people change certain behaviors, such as stopping smoking or nail biting. It can also help people change perceptions and sensations, and is particularly useful in treating pain.
- Analysis: This approach uses the relaxed state to explore a possible psychological root cause of a disorder or symptom, such as a traumatic past event that a person has hidden in his or her unconscious memory. Once the trauma is revealed, it can be addressed in psychotherapy.
Benefits of Hypnosis
The hypnotic state allows a person to be more open to discussion and suggestion. It can improve the success of other treatments for many conditions, including:
- Phobias, fears, and anxiety
- Sleep disorders
- Post-trauma anxiety
- Grief and loss
Hypnosis also might be used to help with pain control and to overcome habits, such as smoking or overeating. It also might be helpful for people whose symptoms are severe or who need crisis management.
Drawbacks of Hypnosis
Hypnosis might not be appropriate for a person who has psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions, or for someone who is using drugs or alcohol. It should be used for pain control only after a doctor has evaluated the person for any physical disorder that might require medical or surgical treatment. It also may be a less effective form of therapy than other more traditional treatments, such as medication, for psychiatric disorders.
Some therapists use hypnosis to recover possibly repressed memories they believe are linked to the person’s mental disorder. However, the quality and reliability of information recalled by the patient is not always reliable. Additionally, it can pose a risk of creating false memories, usually as a result of unintended suggestions or the asking of leading questions by the therapist. For these reasons, hypnosis is no longer considered a common or mainstream part of most forms of psychotherapy. Also, the use of hypnosis for certain mental disorders in which patients may be highly susceptible to suggestion, such as dissociative disorders, remains especially controversial.