Often misunderstood, hypnosis is a legitimate, safe, and effective method of psychological intervention.
In pop culture, hypnotists have a magical (and slightly hucksterish) air - one part magician, one part con artist. Unfortunately, these depictions are gross misunderstandings of a real therapy that has done tremendous good for countless people.
The reality is that hypnotherapy offers real benefits. It harnesses the power of suggestion to help patients with quitting smoking, weight loss acceleration, and much more by tapping into the subconscious mind.
Curious about the benefits of hypnosis and how the practice may be able to improve your mental health? Read on to discover everything there is to know about how hypnotherapy works and whether you can trust it to achieve your next wellness breakthrough.
Hypnotherapy 101: A History
The great 18th-century Austrian healer Franz Mesmer (whose name helped coin the verb 'mesmerize') is the founder of modern hypnotherapy. Mesmer believed that, within the body, human beings held gravitational and magnetic energy that can be adjusted through healing work.
Mesmer realized that it was him who was inducing cures in his patients, and not the supernatural "gravitational" forces that he had his patients believe in. From this, Mesmer realized that the power of suggestion had a profound influence on the human mind. In the following decades, "mesmerists" began using the power of direct suggestion to bring about miraculous cures to all sorts of ailments.
The Scottish doctor James Braid, in the 1840s, was inspired by the work of Mesmer and his theories on magnetism within the human body. Braid was the first to coin the term hypnosis as a form of psychological intervention.
Using Mesmer's theory of animal magnetism1 as a foundation, Braid suggested that hypnotic suggestion could be applied to modern medicine. But Braid's hypnotherapy practice was limited to treating disorders of the nervous system.
Modern Hypnosis: A Safe & Effective Therapy
Today, hypnosis is practiced by thousands of therapists worldwide to help treat a variety of health conditions, both psychological and physical. Some of the more common ailments that hypnosis treats include the following:
- Substance abuse
- Learning disorders
- Sexual dysfunction
- Post-traumatic stress
Most contemporary hypnotists reject the more mystical aspects of the practice. A modern hypnotherapy session will not invoke the language of magnetism or the supernatural world. Instead, the hypnotism of today finds inspiration through medical science and uses the scientific method to tap into the subconscious mind.
Quitting smoking is one of the most common uses of hypnotherapy. A powerful addiction treatment, hypnosis work treats both the physical and mental addiction to nicotine, the active ingredient in tobacco.
Anyone who has ever experienced addiction understands that cravings are a mental phenomenon. For this reason, taking a pill or epidermis patch often isn't enough to kick the habit. But with hypnotherapy, you can make use of "top-down processing"2 to overcome the mental hurdle that keeps you going back for more.
Hypnosis for weight loss is also very common. During a regular weight loss hypnosis session, a patient can expect to "unlearn" positive associations between stress relief and eating. After a successful intervention, the patient can walk away from the session without the urge to overeat or eat to escape from stressful situations.
Is Hypnosis a Legitimate Therapy?
Yes! Modern hypnotherapy provides numerous benefits to patients suffering from a diverse range of health ailments.
Everything from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can be treated effectively by a skilled hypnotist. Recent scientific studies have found3 that hypnosis is effective in decreasing pain. The same study also found that hypnosis can positively influence bowel motility, blood pressure, social phobias, and bleeding during surgery.
Smoking hypnosis remains the most common form of hypno-therapy today. Some patients find that, with only one hypnosis session, they can stop smoking forever, thanks to the erasure of unwanted associations between smoking and stress relief.
In the United States, the National Association of Hypnotherapists4 (AHA) governs all aspects of the profession. The AHA also offers nationally accredited courses in hypnotherapy. The College helps ensure stringent quality standards across the profession and helps protect patients against malpractice and fraud.
According to Michael Yapko, Ph.D., and a member of the American Society of Clinical Hypnotherapists, "hypnosis works, and the empirical support is unequivocal in that regard." Yapko goes on to explain5 that hypnosis isn't a standalone therapy and that it's up to the therapist to use the hypnotic state to administer smoking cessation hypnotherapy carefully.
How Hypnotherapy Works
A well-trained hypnotherapist can provide numerous advantages over regular cognitive behavioral therapy. When induced in a trance, the patient drifts into a near-unconscious state like slow-wave sleep. From this point, the patient is open to the therapist's suggestion. When guided carefully, this state can be used to stop chronic pain or undo subconscious associations.
The sensation of being in a hypnosis session is similar to the process of falling asleep. Moments before you drift off, you may notice that you're barely awake and in a state of half-consciousness. It is in this vulnerable state that the hypnotherapist explores your thoughts, unconscious stress, phobias, disorders, and more.
Regular therapy cannot access the deeper recesses of the mind that hypnosis can. Hypnosis is the only therapy style that induces a trance state where therapeutic interventions can result in a lasting, life-long change.
Who Practices Hypnotherapy?
Clinical hypnotherapy is performed exclusively by fully licensed healthcare professionals - usually certified psychologists or psychiatrists - who have received extended training on the methods of hypnosis.
Before booking an initial assessment, you may want to speak to your primary healthcare provider about whether hypnosis is appropriate for your needs. Patients must exercise due diligence when selecting a hypnotherapist, and should only consult the services of a licensed, well-reviewed professional.
Who Is an Ideal Candidate for Hypnotherapy?
Hypnotherapy is a safe and effective way to unearth the roots of illnesses and ailments - especially of the behavioral variety. An excellent candidate for hypnotherapy is an otherwise healthy adult who struggles with common conditions of the mind - such as addictions or phobias.
Hypnotherapy is not for everyone. Patients who have a history of psychotic symptoms (e.g., delusions or hallucinations) should speak with their doctor before seeking the services of a hypnotist.