If you’ve never tried it, your mind might associate the word hypnosis with the assurance that “you’re getting verrrry sleeeeepy” at best and the—impossible—notion of mind control at worst. But clinical hypnotherapy (hypnotherapy being another term for hypnosis) is actually a therapeutic technique that’s been recognized by the American Psychological Association, the National Institutes of Health and other organizations as a legitimate and effective treatment for a whole host of ailments, from anxiety and depression to nausea and some skin conditions. To learn more about hypnotherapy for anxiety, specifically, we spoke to master hypnotherapist Keylee Miracle.
Should You Try Hypnotherapy for Anxiety? Here's What Experts & Studies Say
Meet the Expert
Keylee Miracle, M-NLP, CCH, is a master hypnotherapist and creator of The Neurointuitive Method. She is a two-time board-certified hypnotherapist trained in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. who provides care through trauma, stagnation and periods of intense growth.
What Is Hypnotherapy?
Hypnotherapy, also known as hypnosis, is a therapeutic practice during which a hypnotist guides a client into a state of deep relaxation and concentration. According to Psychology Today, “This state is similar to being completely absorbed in a book, movie, music or even one's own thoughts or meditations.” The idea is that when you’re under hypnosis, this concentration and focus allows you to be more open to a practitioner’s suggestions to make changes to help with a host of problems, from anxiety to irritable bowel syndrome. Hypnotherapy has been recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA) and American Medical Association (AMA) as a valid procedure since 1958, and in 1995, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommended it as a treatment for chronic pain.
How Could Hypnotherapy Be an Effective Tool for Managing Anxiety?
"Anxiety throws your body into ‘fight-or-flight,’ while hypnotherapy eases your body into its healing and rest state,” Miracle tells us. “Mechanically, hypnotherapy works through activating and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system.” (The parasympathetic nervous system works to relax or reduce your body's activities, whereas the sympathetic nervous system helps your body activate its “fight-or-flight” response.) “Repeated, intentional and careful activation of this part of your nervous system through hypnotherapy can shift your baseline,” she continues. “Under hypnosis, you can modify some of your thought patterns that heighten your anxiety and permanently resolve their roots.”
What Does the Science Say?
According to the American Psychological Association, there are plenty of examples in the scientific literature attesting to the usefulness of clinical hypnosis, adding that hypnosis has been used in the treatment of:
- Depression, anxiety and phobias
- Habit disorders
- Gastro-intestinal disorders
- Skin conditions
- Post-surgical recovery
- Relief from nausea and vomiting
- Treatment of hemophilia
- And more
During one 2016 study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, scientists scanned the brains of 57 people undergoing hypnosis, finding changes in the areas of the brain that allowed for greater emotional control and reduced feelings of self-consciousness. A separate review from 2017 found that hypnosis has a significant and prolonged effect on reducing anxiety in people with cancer.
What Happens in a Typical Hypnotherapy Session Focused on Anxiety Relief?
Miracle tells us that a hypnotherapy-based approach to anxiety is usually a multi-session endeavor that differs by practitioner. “A hypnotherapy session with me focused on anxiety relief includes an audit of common triggers in order to expose their roots,” she explains. “The Neurointuitive Method is always centered around identifying and resolving inner conflicts. Every thought and behavioral pattern has a series of supporting beliefs, decisions and emotions that can be modified. I tend to do this through an auditing session and production of a custom hypnosis track to more fully empower my clients.”
A typical hypnotherapy session in general might involve laying on a couch while a practitioner sits nearby and uses therapeutic words, phrases or techniques to help a person enter an altered state of consciousness. A session might also include guided relaxation, visualization or music. When you reach a relaxed and calm state, a practitioner will likel suggests ways for you to achieve your goals, whether that means easing anxiety or reducing cravings to smoke.
Who Should Try Hypnotherapy?
According to Miracle, hypnotherapy doesn’t have a type. “Since everyone has a parasympathetic nervous system, if someone comes with a need and a willingness to be served there is a good chance of effectiveness,” she says. She does admit that there are misconceptions about clinical hypnotherapy—like confusing it with “show hypnotism” that you might find on a cruise ship—but that trained hypnotherapists can provide real, lasting results. “Hypnotherapy is worth a try for anyone with a problem that is willing to solve it.”
Are There Any Folks Who Should Avoid Hypnotherapy?
While hypnotherapy can be an effective tool for working through all sorts of things, Miracle tells us thathypnotherapy should be used with caution in those with unmanaged personality disorders, “where it should be paired with explicitly behavioral therapies.” Plus, if you’ve ever experienced psychosis, it’s important to tell your practitioner. “For safety and effectiveness, it is best to be as open as possible, but it is a generally safe choice for most individuals.”
Basically, combined with other treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exercise or psychiatric medication, hypnotherapy can be an effective way to deal with anxiety.