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OCD and Hypnosis

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.

The bad news is there really is no easy fix for those who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder. But there’s some really good news too, and that is the fact that OCD is treatable — recovery is absolutely possible. For most people, it takes more than taking some supplements or being hypnotized. It takes a big dose of courage, determination, and hard work. It takes exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy.

One of the most difficult aspects of having OCD is finding the proper treatment. If you are ready to fight your OCD, please go down the right path and find a competent therapist who knows how to treat OCD with ERP therapy.

Hypnosis image available from shutterstock.

OCD and Hypnosis


Janet Singer

Janet Singer’s son Dan suffered from OCD so severe that he could not even eat. After navigating through a disorienting maze of treatments and programs, Dan made a triumphant recovery. Janet has become an advocate for OCD awareness and wants everyone to know that OCD, no matter how severe, is treatable. There is so much hope for those with this disorder. Janet, who uses a pseudonym to protect her son’s privacy, is the author of Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery, published in January 2015 by Rowman & Littlefield. Her own blog, www.ocdtalk.wordpress.com, has reached readers in 167 countries. She is married with three children and resides in New England.

APA Reference
Singer, J. (2018). OCD and Hypnosis. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 16, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/ocd-and-hypnosis/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.