Hypnotherapy

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated April 30, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

One treatment option in the realm of mind body medicine that may be used by licensed professional therapists is called hypnotherapy or clinical hypnosis. Some individuals may be skeptical of this treatment because of hypnosis' reputation as a stage trick or a form of mind control. However, hypnotherapy can be an evidence-based practice that may help people overcome significant concerns and symptoms. 

Hypnotherapy may help you manage mental health struggles

Studies confirm that tele-hypnosis, or hypnotherapy with an online therapist, may help reduce anxiety symptoms. In one study, tele-hypnosis demonstrated many advantages over in-person treatment. If you're interested in exploring whether hypnotherapy may help you manage life's challenges and how you navigate your conscious mind, connecting with a licensed counselor can be a first step.

Benefits and risks

Hypnosis is a therapeutic tool used as a part of a more extensive therapeutic intervention to explore deep-seated thoughts, relationship challenges, fears, patterns, and repressed emotions. While some people may tout hypnosis as a fast track to losing weight or smoking cessation, the goal of hypnotherapy is often to reduce mental health challenges or physical symptoms. Guided relaxation techniques, focused attention, and concentration are all methods used by a hypnotherapist in clinical hypnosis. 

Does hypnosis work?

Hypnotherapy has been extensively studied, and research confirms hypnotherapy may be an effective treatment modality for some individuals. The American Psychological Association identifies hypnotherapy as a therapeutic facilitator for several psychological treatments. As early as 1958, medical associations such as the American Medical Association endorsed the use of hypnosis for dental anxiety and other treatments of medical necessity.

Common medical conditions and mental health conditions treated can include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Pain
  • Panic attacks
  • Chemotherapy and radiation treatment side effects in cancer patients
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Post-surgery recovery
  • Nausea
  • Skin conditions
  • Performance Anxiety
  • Hot flashes
  • Childbirth
  • Dental procedures
  • Sleep problems

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Psychological factors, such as stress, have been linked with inducing IBS symptoms. Research indicates positive outcomes in addressing symptoms after undergoing hypnotherapy with a trained therapist. It has also been found helpful in pain control. 

Methods

If you're considering hypnotherapy, it may be helpful to understand how hypnosis works. A qualified hypnotherapist may use several different strategies to aid you in unveiling your emotions and alleviating your mental health symptoms.

Relaxation

Often, a hypnotherapist may begin by helping you calm your nervous system and feel grounded within yourself. The hypnosis goal may be to achieve a relaxed but focused state of mind in which you may be open to a therapist's hypnotic state suggestion. The hypnotherapist does not want you to lose control but to focus on something like an object or your breathing, according to the National Institutes for Health.

Revisiting other times in your life

Once you are relaxed, your hypnotherapist may guide you through your life history to explore past experiences pertinent to your current challenges. They may ask you to recall details of the setting, the people present, and the sensations you experienced during these stressful events. You may notice yourself being unusually responsive as you feel free to discuss intimate details of your past.

Often, for the hypnosis process to be effective for stress reduction, you and your therapist may have previously met to discuss your life and your current mental health challenges during talk therapy sessions, paying attention to the potential you could create false memories. A therapist may not perform hypnosis during your first therapy session to ensure they understand your concerns and experience, such as psychotic symptoms, first. 

Suggestions

Once you have become immersed in your experience, your hypnotherapist may suggest altering your thoughts, behaviors, psychological responses, or perceptions relating to this experience. You might also be guided through meditation practice through suggestions during clinical hypnosis sessions. 

Clinical techniques

The validity of hypnotherapy techniques within clinical practice has been recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA) since 1958. The APA's Division 30 is also dedicated to the advancement of the use of hypnotherapy work within psychotherapy. 

During a hypnotherapy session, clients remain aware of their surroundings and their identity, and they can also recall what has transpired after the session is over. Hypnotic suggestion may prompt deep relaxation, or a trance-like state, facilitating the client's receptivity to the therapist's suggestions. However, it doesn't impose experiences on the client. Suggestions typically promote a relaxed state, calmness, and well-being, or, alternatively, increased focus and alertness. The creation of mental images may also facilitate a hypnosis session. 

In rare cases, a client may not remember what has transpired, called posthypnotic amnesia, when they have been led to expect it to happen. 

Clinical hypnosis work is conducted by a licensed healthcare provider, such as a psychotherapist, trained in the use of hypnosis. 

Clinical and experimental practices

Researchers also study the use and value of hypnosis in relation to memory, perception, learning, and experiencing sensations. 

It's also used in forensic settings. 

A person may also learn self-hypnosis techniques outside of a hypnotherapy session. One can practice self-hypnosis to promote behavioral changes, for example, such as quitting smoking and for altering negative thought patterns. 

According to an article published in the National Library of Medicine, "clinical hypnosis specifically uses self-directed therapeutic suggestions to cultivate the imagination and facilitate the mind–body connection, leading to positive emotional and physical well-being.

Hypnotherapy may help you manage mental health struggles

Choosing a therapist

Below are specific factors to consider when searching for a therapist with a clinical practice background who is trained in hypnosis.

Qualifications

A licensed hypnotherapist may be certified by The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) or the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis (SCEH), or the The American Association of Hypnotherapists (AAH).  Founded in 1998, AAH is a worldwide organization that certifies qualified professional providers of hypnotherapy work. It also promotes research and application of hypnosis treatment in holistic health care. 

To be certified by the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis or the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, a clinical hypnotherapist must have a doctorate in medicine, dentistry, or psychology or a master's degree in nursing, social work, psychology, counseling or marital and family therapy. You may request a therapist's credentials if they are not readily available on their website or at their office. 

Will insurance cover the prices of sessions with a qualified hypnotherapist? According to the  American Academy of Professional Coders, most providers will cover 50-80% of the costs when you’re working with a licensed professional. 

Personal Attributes

Each individual may have different personal attributes they desire in a therapist, so making a list of attributes important to you before meeting with a therapist for your first session may be helpful.

Trust

Trust can be a cornerstone of an effective hypnotherapy relationship. If you don't trust your therapist, you may not feel comfortable entering a relaxed or heightened state or fearing unintended

Options and other treatments

If you are worried that there is insufficient evidence supporting its benefits or that there may be harmful reactions, professional hypnotherapists can walk you through the research behind the practice. Hypnotherapy is one evidence-based therapeutic practice that may support clients through life's challenges. 

Tele-hypnosis may be effective for physical challenges like chronic pain or irritable bowel syndrome and mental illness like anxiety disorders, depression, or controlling impulses like quitting smoking. If you're interested in meeting with an online therapist, you can sign up for a platform like BetterHelp, which offers a growing network of providers specializing in various other forms of treatment, including cognitive behavioral therapy. Online therapy also gives you the option of video, phone, or live chat sessions with your licensed therapist, so you can partake in a method that feels most comfortable to you. 

Additionally, studies performed by qualified professionals from professional associations back up the effectiveness of telehealth therapy. Clinical trials found that hypnosis over the phone had many advantages over hypnosis in person. 

Takeaway

Tele-hypnosis can help you learn grounding techniques, guide yourself through memories, and learn about potentially suppressed emotions. If you're interested in learning more about how hypnotherapy works, consider reaching out to a counselor like a BetterHelp therapist for further guidance and support.
Explore mental health and healing in therapy
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started