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What is hypnotherapy?

Hypnotherapy is a therapy using hypnosis to alter a person's state of consciousness.

During the session, the hypnotherapist will relax the person and may make suggestions to help with a condition, explore causes of problems or to support goals such as weight loss or quitting smoking.

However, the person being hypnotised remains in control at all times and can end the hypnotic state whenever they want to.

As well as being a popular complementary therapy, hypnotherapy is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a possible treatment option for some people's symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

Who performs hypnotherapy?

Hypnotherapy should be performed by an appropriately trained person. Although some doctors, dentists and mental health professions may offer hypnotherapy, it is not a regulated health profession.

To ensure high standards, consider using a therapist who belongs to a body such as the National Council for Hypnotherapy or the British Society of Clinical Hypnosis.

How does hypnotherapy work?

Hypnotherapy is usually considered an aid to psychotherapy (counselling), rather than a treatment in itself. It helps with psychotherapy because the hypnotic state allows people to explore painful thoughts, feelings and memories they might have hidden from their conscious minds. In addition, hypnosis enables people to perceive some things differently, such as blocking an awareness of pain.

Hypnotherapy can be used in several ways:

Suggestion therapy: The hypnotic state makes the person better able to respond to suggestions. Therefore, hypnotherapy can help some people change certain behaviour, such as to stop smoking or nail-biting. It can also help people change perceptions and sensations, and is particularly useful for treating pain.

Analytical hypnotherapy: This approach uses the relaxed state to find the root cause of a disorder or symptom, such as a traumatic past event that a person has hidden in unconscious memory. Once the trauma is revealed, it can be addressed in psychotherapy.

Cognitive hypnotherapy: This approach has some similarities with cognitive behavioural therapy ( CBT) and tries to remove unwanted thoughts and behaviours,

What are the benefits of hypnotherapy?

The hypnotic state allows a person to be more open to discussion and suggestion. It can improve the success of other treatments for many conditions, including:

Although the evidence is not strong for hypnotherapy in many cases, some people do find it works. How it works isn’t always clear, but some people think there may be a placebo effect.

What are the drawbacks of hypnotherapy?

Hypnotherapy might not be appropriate for a person who has psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions, or for someone who is using drugs or alcohol. It should only be used for pain control after a doctor has assessed the person for any physical disorder that might require medical or surgical treatment.

Some therapists use hypnotherapy to recover repressed memories they believe are linked to the person's mental health disorder. However, hypnosis also poses a risk of creating false memories, usually as a result of unintended suggestions by the therapist. For this reason, the use of hypnosis for certain mental health disorders, such as dissociative disorders, remains controversial.

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