Does hypnotherapy work? It’s a good question! I received some when I was in my third year at uni, in an attempt to treat the anxiety attacks that were getting in the way of life. I underwent three private sessions and I was given a custom-made hypnosis CD to use at home, so that I could ‘self-treat’ in the more panicky moments. But how much difference did hypnotherapy really make…?
Well, the first thing I’d say is that hypnotherapy was nothing like I’d expected. Until this point, my only experience of it had been in the theatre or on TV, where stage hypnotists would – by some magical process – trick their subjects into dancing like chickens or singing like Elvis. I thought I would be sent into a deep trance in which I’d lose all sense of awareness or memory, where things could be said or done that I’d have no recollection of, but would nonetheless change my perception of reality.
Suffice to say, it was nothing like this! Well – not entirely. The kind of hypnotherapy I underwent aimed – first and foremost – to get me to relax, coaxing me towards that ‘first thing in the morning’ state where you’re warm and comfortable, and devoid of any meaningful thought processes. (At least conscious ones.)
The trance state
When we ask ‘does hypnotherapy work?’ I can safely yes, it did for me. To a degree.
My experience was like this. I was instructed to adopt a certain posture, close my eyes, and allow myself to be guided into a ‘trance’ state by the therapist’s voice. If I remember rightly, the theory behind this technique is that new concepts, ideas and thought processes can be seeded into the subconscious mind when it’s led into this state. So in theory, when a subject emerges from trance their thinking has – to all intents and purposes – been rewired.
(I’m probably doing the world of hypnotherapy a great disservice with my description here. I should stress – I’m no expert! I’m just relaying what I recall, and describing what happened to me when I was undergoing hypnotherapy…)
Certainly, I remember that much of my therapy was geared towards planting the suggestion that I was ‘in control,’ and that anxiety was unnecessary for me. For instance, in one session, I was actively encouraged to get anxious! My therapist told me – while in trance – to worry. To really worry – to experience all those uncomfortable thoughts and sensations that accompany an anxiety attack. And then I was instructed to breathe them all away, to let them go, labelling them as ‘unhelpful.’
In another session, I was led towards a ‘library of short films and documentaries’ that were all about me and my life. I was to watch them, and see myself living life with ease and renewed confidence. I guess the thinking here is that I’d be able to tell my unconscious mind that I did actually have the strength to do all the things that worried me, and that I had the resources within me to live a life that was free from anxiety.
On another occasion, I was prompted to ‘meet’ with my personality. In my case, this manifested as a Christmas tree made out of mirrors! Goodness knows what that says about my self-perception or my character, but there we are. I found it interesting nonetheless.
But does hypnotherapy work?
I guess everyone’s take-aways from hypnotherapy will be different. In my case, I continued to experience panic attacks and anxiety for many years, and indeed I continue to experience a degree of anxiety to this day. But I do consider the course of hypnotherapy that I received to be instrumental in my ‘journey,’ at the risk of sounding corny. I can see how it connects with some of the other forms of therapy I’ve received, such as cognitive behaviour therapy, which is all about replacing ‘unhelpful’ thoughts with more helpful ones.
In addition, one of the most useful things I took away was learning how to control my breathing. It was my hypnotherapist who taught me that breathing through the nose is one of the best ways to avert a panic attack. Apparently, it’s much easier to hyperventilate when breathing through the mouth, whereas the nose is built in such a way as to only take the right amount of oxygen needed to survive and function. Now I haven’t fact-checked this claim, but I can certainly testify to the benefits of nose breathing (in fact I talk about it in another post: What does a panic attack feel like?)
And if nothing else, the process of being ‘hypnotised’ is incredibly relaxing, similar in many ways to meditation or mindfulness, or even prayer. So I have no regrets about the sessions that I took, and I continued to dip into my bespoke hypnosis CD for many years after my therapy had ended. And I should also say that this was, like, 12 years ago for me – and I remember so much about it! So it clearly made some kind of difference to my brain 😉
But tell me what you think. Have you received hypnotherapy? Does hypnotherapy work for you? Or are you thinking of getting some treatment for yourself and would like to know more? Feel free to leave your comments and questions in the comments below.