Hypnosis

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What is hypnosis?

Hypnosis is a method that helps a person enter into a state of calm, alert awareness so he or she can more easily work on making personal changes. People often use hypnosis to overcome fears or habits.

  • Under hypnosis, a person is more focused. Hypnosis helps a person block out distractions and focus on a specific idea, sensation, or memory.
  • Hypnosis brings a state of deep relaxation. The relaxation during hypnosis makes it easier to observe anxieties, fears, pain, and other difficulties from a new perspective.
  • Hypnosis can help a person be more open to suggestion. Hypnosis enables openness, because the conscious mind — which can be more closed and critical — is quiet, while the unconscious mind has center stage.

In research studies, hypnosis has been shown to help reduce:

  • pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • stress
  • anxiety

There are many kinds of hypnotic techniques. After you're under hypnosis, a hypnotherapist may:

  • talk to you in a soothing way to help you feel relaxed and secure
  • make suggestions about positive behaviors
  • encourage you to clearly imagine yourself acting differently, a powerful practice called "mental imagery"

A hypnotherapist can work with you to find the technique that can work best for what you're trying to accomplish. Although it's important to begin by working with a hypnotherapist, the hypnotherapist can then teach you self-hypnosis so you can practice at home. Once you have a firm grip on an issue like pain or fatigue with the therapist, you can continue on your own with self-hypnosis.

What to expect in a typical hypnosis session

At your first hypnosis session, the hypnotherapist will probably ask you questions about your medical and emotional history. He or she will ask you to talk about any problems you're having, such as pain, anxiety, or tiredness. Once the hypnotherapist knows more about what you're going through, he or she will choose an appropriate hypnotic technique.

  • The hypnotherapist may begin by asking you to close your eyes and then may talk to you in soothing tones and describe vivid imagery to help you relax.
  • Once you are under hypnosis, the hypnotherapist may propose ways of reaching certain goals, such as pain reduction or increased feelings of serenity.
  • A typical session can last from half an hour to an hour.
  • You may have one session or a series of sessions.
  • At the end of a session, you are capable of bringing yourself out of hypnosis.
  • After your session, you can resume your normal activities.

What hypnosis is not:

  • When you're under hypnosis, the hypnotherapist cannot control you. It is not possible for a hypnotherapist to force you to do anything that you don't want to do.
  • You cannot be hypnotized against your will. You must be open and receptive to the idea of hypnosis for it to work.

Hypnosis practitioner requirements

In most states, the practice of hypnosis is not regulated, so it's important to look for someone who's experienced. Many licensed health care professionals, such as social workers, psychologists, and medical doctors, have been trained in hypnotherapy. People who are not health care professionals can be certified at a number of schools, which may require 60 to more than 200 hours of training. In the United States, certified, experienced practitioners can be found at the National Board for Certified Clinical Hypnotherapists (NBCCH). Although certification with the NBCCH is not a requirement for practicing hypnosis, the NBCCH was formed by hypnotherapists hoping to improve the standards and integrity of the hypnosis profession. Other countries have their own systems of certification.

Research on hypnosis in people with breast cancer and other types of cancer

There are no studies to show that hypnosis can affect outcomes after breast cancer specifically. However, hypnosis does appear to help with some of the symptoms of cancer and side effects of its treatment, such as pain, nausea, vomiting, stress, and anxiety. Research is also being done to find out whether hypnosis can help reduce hot flashes in women who have had breast cancer.

An Italian study published in Oncology in 2000 followed 16 adult cancer patients suffering from nausea and vomiting just before their next chemotherapy doses, which is sometimes called "anticipatory" nausea and vomiting. After they underwent hypnosis, the nausea and vomiting disappeared.

In a Stanford University study published in 1983, 54 women with metastatic breast cancer were followed for one year. Some of the women were offered group therapy each week, and a portion of these group therapy participants were trained in self-hypnosis directed at reducing cancer pain. The hypnosis techniques taught patients to allow the pain to happen, but to also imagine simultaneous sensations in the pain areas, such as feelings of freezing cold or warm tingles. Patients were taught to focus their attention on these alternate imagined sensations instead of the pain sensations. The patients taking part in both group therapy and self-hypnosis were found to have lower pain ratings than those who only had group therapy or had no therapy or hypnosis. 

Important things to consider before trying hypnosis

While hypnosis has shown benefits in cancer patients, hypnosis can occasionally trigger deep and sometimes upsetting emotions. Always check with your doctor before starting hypnotherapy, particularly if you have a history of mental illness.

Back to Types of Complementary Techniques

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