“In healthcare, hypnosis can be used as a psychological treatment to help you experience changes in sensations, perceptions, thoughts, or behaviors. It’s done in a clinical setting and performed by a trained, licensed healthcare professional, like a psychologist or a physician,” says Alison T. Grant, MD, physician at Penn Family and Internal Medicine Cherry Hill.
Hypnosis usually includes suggestions for relaxation, calmness, and overall well-being, which may last just during the session but can sometimes be reactivated later by the patient. Common approaches involve instructions to think about pleasant experiences or verbal cues to draw you into a trance-like state.
Hypnotherapy — which is the form of therapy that uses hypnosis as either a standalone or supplemental treatment — can benefit your health in a variety of ways.
Here are six common health issues hypnosis can help:
1. Trouble Sleeping, Insomnia, and Sleepwalking
Hypnosis may be a helpful tool if you sleepwalk or struggle with falling and staying asleep. If you have insomnia, hypnosis can relax you enough to get you to sleep more easily.
If you’re a sleepwalker, hypnosis can also train you to wake up when you feel your feet hit the floor and help you avoid sleepwalking escapades.
And if you just want to sleep a little better, hypnosis can help with that, too. Learning self-hypnosis techniques can increase the amount of time you sleep and the amount of time spent in deep sleep — the type of sleep you need to wake up feeling refreshed.
How it works: Verbal cues put you in a trance-like state, similar to how it feels when you’re so involved in a book or movie that you don’t notice what’s going on around you. After hypnosis — or even during — you’ll fall asleep.
Relaxation techniques — including hypnosis — can sometimes ease anxiety. Hypnosis tends to be more effective in people whose anxiety stems from a chronic health condition — such as heart disease — rather than from a generalized anxiety disorder.
Hypnosis may also be able to help if you struggle with a phobia — a type of anxiety disorder where you are intensely fearful of something that does not pose a significant threat.
How it works: Hypnosis works to help anxiety by encouraging your body to activate its natural relaxation response through the use of a phrase or nonverbal cue, slowing breathing, lowering blood pressure, and instilling an overall sense of well-being.
3. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Symptoms
The effectiveness of hypnosis on IBS has been consistently supported by clinical studies. IBS is abdominal pain created by your bowels, and hypnosis can help improve symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea, and bloating.
Dr. Grant explains that, “sometimes IBS can cause secondary symptoms, like nausea, fatigue, backache, and urinary problems. Hypnosis has shown to be able to help with these, too.”
How it works: Hypnosis leads you through progressive relaxation, providing soothing imagery and sensations to combat your symptoms.
4. Chronic Pain
Hypnosis can help with pain — like what’s experienced after surgery or from migraines or tension headaches. And it can help with chronic pain, too. People with pain related to conditions like arthritis, cancer, sickle cell disease, and fibromyalgia, — as well as people who have lower-back pain — may experience relief from hypnosis.
How it works: Hypnosis can help you cope with pain and gain more self-control over your pain. Additionally, studies indicate that hypnosis can do this effectively for long periods of time.
5. Quitting Smoking
“Giving up cigarettes is not easy. There are many methods to help you quit, such as nicotine patches or prescription medications. While the research is still out, many people have found that hypnosis has helped them kick the smoking habit,” explains Dr. Grant.
Hypnosis for smoking cessation works best if you work one-on-one with a hypnotherapist who can customize the hypnosis sessions to match your lifestyle.
How it works: In order for hypnosis to work for smoking cessation, you need to truly want to quit smoking. Hypnosis can work in two ways. The first is to help you find a healthy, effective replacement action, and then guide your subconscious toward that habit, rather than smoking. This could be something like chewing a piece of gum or taking a walk. The second is to train your mind to associate smoking with undesirable feelings like a bad taste in your mouth or a foul odor from smoke.
6. Weight Loss
As with smoking cessation, there aren’t many studies yet that can confirm the effectiveness of hypnosis on weight loss, though some studies have found modest weight loss — about 6 pounds over 18 months – through hypnosis. It is usually most helpful when hypnotherapy is used in combination with diet and exercise changes.
How it works: When you are hypnotized, your attention is highly focused. This makes you more likely to listen and respond to suggestions for behavior changes, such as eating a healthy diet or getting more exercise, which could help you lose weight.
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