Hypnotherapy for anxiety is a treatment that may reduce angst, change your view of symptoms, and boost self-regulation.
While everyone seems to have a quick fix or idea to get rid of anxiety these days, it can feel anxiety-provoking trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
It doesn’t help that mental health conditions and treatments have been steeped with stigma for many years, so treatments like hypnosis or electroconvulsive therapy are portrayed in the media as sensational and sometimes scary.
Clinical hypnosis is not the same as the hypnosis you’ve seen on a stage or in movies. Therapeutic hypnosis is shown to be a relaxing and beneficial technique for anxiety management, especially in combination with other treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
According to the Society of Psychological Hypnosis, hypnosis is “a state of consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness characterized by an enhanced capacity for response to suggestion.”
Hypnosis isn’t “mind control” as the media portrays, but a type of consciousness where you are intentional and open to suggestions. Rather than being “controlled,”
Hypnosis may help you change your perception of your anxiety symptoms to manage them.
Hypnotherapy is the use of hypnosis as a treatment.
According to the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, hypnosis may help with:
- anxiety, phobias, and stress
- sexual dysfunctions
- sleep disorders
- alcohol use
- smoking cessation
- speech disorders
- chronic pain
- memory or concentration improvement
- strengthening self-esteem
- medical or dental procedures
The benefits or drawbacks of hypnotherapy will depend on many things — including the condition or issue you’re trying to help and your mindset coming into the session.
What are the benefits of hypnotherapy?
Some of the possible benefits that have been reported with hypnotherapy include:
- reduced anxiety symptoms
- reduced fear surrounding certain things, such as dental and medical procedures
- increased sense of self-efficacy and self-mastery
- improved self-regulation
- learning the skills to change your perception of symptoms like anxiety, pain, and fatigue
- improvement in breathing regulation
Some 2014 research also suggests that it’s more cost-effective and has a shorter time commitment compared with other treatment options. There are also no adverse side effects or drug interactions that could come with taking medications.
What are the disadvantages of hypnotherapy?
Currently, research is still mixed on the exact effectiveness of hypnotherapy for a number of conditions, including anxiety. It’s possible that hypnosis is better for some types of anxiety or anxiety disorders, but more research will be necessary to figure that out.
Possible downsides and risks of hypnotherapy include:
Acute side effects
While considered pretty safe, like any treatment, it has the possibility of causing mild side effects. These include:
Some people are more able to experience hypnosis than others. Experts call this hypnotizability. So if you have low hypnotizability, hypnotherapy may not be as effective compared with someone who has high hypnotizability.
Depending on your insurance and where you go for hypnosis, your insurance may not cover all or any of your treatment costs. The therapy referral must deem the treatment “medically necessary” for coverage.
It may be harder to access a reputable hypnosis practitioner depending on where you live.
Further distress if reliving an event
If the hypnosis practitioner is helping you to relive an event from another time in your life (aka “age regression“), you may have anxiety or unwanted emotions when coming out of hypnosis. This may also change or create a false memory.
If you’re planning on trying hypnosis for anxiety, you’ll want to find a reputable, licensed healthcare professional who you feel comfortable with.
According to the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, you should look for a practitioner with:
- graduate training
- a valid license in a healthcare field such as psychiatry, social work, or medicine
- proper training or experience in hypnosis
Hypnotherapy — like any other type of treatment — may or may not work for your anxiety. But it’s possible.
Hypnotherapy is being studied more and more in recent years as researchers, and mental health professionals look into additional mainstream and natural treatments.
At the moment, research on hypnosis for anxiety is mixed with some studies showing no benefits and others showing many.
In a 2019 analysis of research, people who received hypnosis reduced their anxiety levels by more than 79% on average compared to participants who didn’t receive hypnosis.
Other studies have shown promising results:
2021 studyfound that hypnosis was beneficial for reducing anxiety symptoms in postmenopausal women, regardless of hypnotizability scores. Research in 2017reported that hypnosis could reduce anxiety in cancer patients, especially children with cancer who had stress related to cancer procedures.
study in 2020of people with COPD showed that a 15-minute session of hypnosis helped improve participants’ anxiety levels and lowered their respiratory rate.
In a review of research in 2014, the researcher found that hypnosis was effective for treating certain types of anxiety, but there wasn’t enough research to say it could benefit all types.
According to the research, hypnosis could lower anxiety from:
- other dental and medical procedures and conditions
It could also help with anxiety-related disorders, such as tension headaches and irritable bowel syndrome. But there wasn’t enough evidence to show if hypnosis could help treat anxiety disorders.
Still, whether you have an anxiety disorder or any type of anxiety, hypnosis may help. Today, many researchers agree that hypnosis therapy is usually most effective when combined with other anxiety treatments.
One study in 2018 suggests that it would be most effective for treating people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) to combine:
The researchers say this combination therapy could help clients with worrying, self-soothing skills, and improving their hope for the future.
Most professional organizations recommend reaching out to a licensed professional when looking to treat anxiety with hypnosis. But it is possible to use hypnosis at home.
According to a research review in 2014, getting trained in self-hypnosis is a quick, cost-effective, and safe alternative to medications for treating certain types of anxiety. The researchers do add that hypnosis along with other treatments such as CBT or acupuncture has better outcomes than just hypnosis alone.
Still, you may want to look for a licensed professional who can train you in self-hypnosis so you can use the skills you learn to continue hypnosis at home. Self-hypnosis could be another tool you use to manage your anxiety.
If you want to learn more about self-hypnosis, you can read more in this Healthline article.
How does hypnosis feel?
The experience you have in hypnotherapy will likely be unique to you and what you need to work on. Many people report feeling pleasant or relaxed during a session. Afterward, you may feel more:
- at peace
When I get hypnotized will I lose control or not remember anything?
There are a lot of myths surrounding hypnosis due to the media.
During hypnosis, you are an active participant in your treatment and fully conscious. Many people are even more alert than usual.
You also have the same amount of control as you typically do and the practitioner cannot make you do anything you don’t want to.
According to the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, while rare, a small percentage of people do go into deep enough trances to have spontaneous amnesia, but most people remember everything from their hypnosis sessions.
What is a hypnotherapy session like?
There’s not currently one template for hypnotherapy, so it may look different from practitioner to practitioner, depending on where they’re trained and licensed.
Still, there is a general model, according to the American Psychiatric Association Division 30, Society of Psychological Hypnosis. Sessions typically involve two phases:
- Hypnotic induction: The practitioner gets you ready for the hypnosis session. They might ask you to think about relaxing imagery and help you focus on what you want to accomplish in the session.
- Application: The practitioner begins hypnosis by making suggestions to you to target your specific symptoms and challenges. If you have anxiety, suggestions might be something like: “You will feel calmer next time you feel the wave of anxiety starting.”
Can hypnosis take away my anxiety?
There are no cure-alls when it comes to mental health treatments, so it’s unlikely that any one single thing will “take away” your anxiety.
But hypnosis could help you:
- learn to manage your anxiety symptoms
- improve your ability to regulate your emotions
- make you feel more capable of facing challenges
While future research may show us just how much hypnotherapy can benefit anxiety, it has so far shown promise as a tool for managing anxiety symptoms.
Many experts agree that hypnosis is a good add-on treatment for anxiety, so you may want to consider trying it in combination with other treatments like:
While you can practice self-hypnosis for anxiety at home, it’s best to first reach out to a licensed professional to get trained in how to do it properly at home. If you’re in the United States, you may want to use the clinician search tool from the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis.