Hypnotherapy, or therapy utilizing hypnosis, is often used as part of a treatment plan for phobias and other anxiety disorders. It is also used throughout the medical field for pain management, weight loss and a variety of other applications. Yet hypnotherapy is still considered controversial, as many mental health professionals dispute its effectiveness and many clients are afraid to try it.
Whether or not to try hypnotherapy for your phobia is a personal decision that should only be made in tandem with your mental health care provider. Nonetheless, it is important to understand the facts behind the hype in order to make a reasoned decision.
What Is Hypnotherapy?
It may be best to begin with what hypnotherapy is not. Hypnotherapy is not stage hypnosis. Stage hypnotists are performers who are excellent at reading people. They seek extroverts who will put on a great show for the crowd. Whether or not their subjects are truly hypnotized is debatable, but they are willing to go along with the sometimes outrageous suggestions of the stage hypnotist.
Hypnotherapy, by contrast, utilizes the heightened awareness of the hypnotic state to help you explore your phobia more deeply. You will be guided by the hypnotherapist to visualize yourself in a state of peacefulness and relaxation, even when confronting the object of your fears.
During hypnotherapy, you remain in control. It is not possible for anyone to force you to do anything against your will, even under hypnosis. You will be tuned into the work at hand, and so may not pay attention to your surroundings, but you will always be in charge of your own actions, behaviors, and statements.
Hypnotherapy is not the same as being “knocked out.” You will remember the things that occur during your hypnotic state, you will not be asleep or unconscious and you will be able to break the hypnotic trance at any time.
How Does Hypnotherapy Help?
Most of the time, we are distracted by our surroundings. Whether the TV is blaring, your kids are demanding attention or your spouse wants to talk, it can be difficult to fully focus on yourself. In addition, our conscious minds are cluttered. You may be worried about paying a bill, concerned about an upcoming project or planning tonight’s dinner. Even during a therapy session, these day-to-day concerns tend to distract us from focusing on our problems.
In the hypnotic state, you are deeply relaxed. Your conscious mind is quieted, allowing your unconscious mind to deeply focus on your issue (in this case, your phobia). You are also calmer, and therefore more receptive to facing your fear. Most hypnotherapists utilize a series of calming messages, such as “you are safe” and “no one can harm you” to reassure their clients that during hypnosis they can objectively face their phobias without having a panicked reaction.
Your hypnotherapist may make gentle suggestions for behavior changes that can help you conquer your phobia. For example, you may be taught to see yourself as a supportive advisor during your phobic reactions, thus learning to trust yourself and your ability to get through the situation. You may be taught certain cognitive-behavioral coping skills, such as guided imagery and the STOP! Technique, that you can use when confronting your fear. You may even be encouraged to talk about the first time you experienced the phobia and how you felt in that moment.
By Lisa Fritscher