I recently came across this article about Howie Mandel (a celebrity with a good-sized case of obsessive-compulsive disorder) undergoing hypnosis. Apparently while Mr. Mandel was under hypnosis, many people were able to shake his hand — something he would otherwise never allow.
I admit I know very little about hypnosis, which is defined as “a state of human consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness characterized by an enhanced capacity for response to suggestion.” As a teenager, I attended a couple of events where people were hypnotized, and the participants obviously said and did things they wouldn’t normally do. I actually found that frightening.
I find it interesting that exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy (the first-line psychological approach to treat OCD as recommended by the American Psychological Association) and hypnosis appear to be opposite in some ways, at least in reference to the “reduced peripheral awareness.” While hypnosis reduces your awareness of what’s going on around you because your focus is narrowed, ERP therapy requires you to be aware of what’s happening all around you, so that you can feel the anxiety that is being created by a specific situation during therapy.
In the article, Mr. Mandel describes being hypnotized “like a real and natural Xanax.” No anxiety there.
If you search the Internet for “OCD and hypnosis,” you will find all sorts of claims ranging from hypnosis as a helpful tool for those with OCD to assertions that OCD can be cured through hypnosis.
Can hypnosis help those with OCD? I don’t know for sure. But in over five years of blogging about OCD, I have never heard from anyone who has had firsthand success treating his or her OCD with hypnosis. As far as I know, there have been no studies confirming its efficacy. What bothers me most about the promotion of hypnosis as a treatment for OCD is that it steers those with OCD and their loved ones in the wrong direction; away from the evidence-based treatment that does work.
Another issue to consider is how those with OCD might feel after courageously attempting this “therapy” only to have it not help them. It’s easy to see how they might believe their OCD is not treatable and lose all hope for recovery.
There are lots of claims out there about ways to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder. Hypnosis, traditional talk therapy, and various herbs are just a few examples of therapies that are touted. But they are not evidence-based.