One of the recurring questions which I get asked is if hypnosis is real, that is, does it produce identifiable effects when used to help clients with various issues.
To help answer this question I have chosen some articles from peer reviewed journals *** which are freely available on the internet (open-access), and summarised what each article states about the effects of hypnosis.
*** A peer-reviewed journal contains articles written by experts. Wikipedia defines peer review as:
the evaluation of work by one or more people with similar competences as the producers of the work (peers). It functions as a form of self-regulation by qualified members of a profession within the relevant field. Peer review methods are used to maintain quality standards, improve performance, and provide credibility.
These are just a few of the more recent articles on hypnotherapy:-
Recovery from surgery
A short hypnosis session before breast cancer surgery significantly decreased fatigue and anxiety in patients, and increased patient satisfaction with the outcome (1).
Research done on dental pain found a decrease in perception of pain and an increase in pain threshold in the experimental subjects (2).
Hypnosis is often used to help anxious, dental phobic patients. A study showed that areas of the brain associated with fear (the left amygdala, the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC), the insula and the hippocampus) were more active in patients with dental phobia while undergoing dental treatment. Phobic patients showed a significantly reduced activity in all of these areas when hypnotised (2).
A study done on children aged 5 to 12 years showed that the children treated with hypnotherapy reported significantly less pain than those not treated with hypnotherapy. This illustrates the benefits of hypnotherapy to help ensure patients have a pleasant visit to the dentist (2).
Usefulness in treating adolescents
Clinical hypnosis is a teachable coping skill that most adolescents are able to learn with minor effort, and it is safe, effective, and has no adverse side effects in trained hands.
Research shows that mind–body therapies and self-regulation therapies (such as hypnotherapy) can help develop appropriate connections between the relevant brain structures in adolescents, thereby stabiliing emotions and reducing risk-taking behaviours. They may reduce the impact of stress-related conditions, lessen depression and anxiety, alleviate pain, improve quality of life, and increase emotion regulation and subjective well-being (3).
A 16 year old girl with chronic headaches found that she had to miss school due to the severity of the pain. She was then taught self-hypnosis by the neurologist, and after practising this for a month, her headaches were no longer interfering with her school attendance (3).
A 14 year old boy with nocturnal enuresis (bedwetting) six to seven nights per week had two sessions of hypnotherapy. These gave him strategies to either wake up and go to the bathroom, or to decide to stay in bed and wait until morning before urinating. His bedwetting was resolved, and at a followup appointment two months later his enuresis had resolved completely (3).
A 17-year-old woman with Crohn’s disease and severe abdominal pain was referred for hypnotherapy by her gastroenterologist after multiple hospitalisations for Crohn’s Disease relapse. She was to undergo surgery, and in preparation for this she was given dietary advice and therapy. She was also given hypnotherapy consisting of muscle relaxation and visualisation, suggestions of a successful surgery and healthy gut, and that she could eat healthy food. The surgery was successful, and she recovered without complications with less abdominal pain (3).
A 14 year old boy with needle phobia was unable to receive immunisations or have blood tests. He was keen to learn hypnotic techniques, and was taught how to use dissociation, distraction and positive imagery (hypnotherapy). This was used with exposure therapy to enable him to have his required immunisations (3).
Anxiety and insomnia
A 13-year-old girl with palpitations / panic attacks, and sleep problems had symptoms of shortness of breath, sharp chest pain, and hyperventilation. After medical investigation to check for any physical causes, she was taught mind / body techniques such as visualisation and self hypnosis as well as focused breathing and behaviour modification techniques such as journalling and not using her computer for one hour before bedtime. These helped her cope with the insomnia, panic attacks, anxiety and any worried thoughts. At a two months followup appointment, she had no more panic attacks or excessive worrying (3).
A 17-year old man had substance abuse, panic attacks and anxiety. He also had psychosomatic issue such as chest pain, numbness and tingling in arms and legs. A physical examination showed no cause of these symptoms, so he was taught self hypnosis techniques such as progressive relaxation, mental imagery techniques and focused breathing. He practiced these daily, and after three weeks had no further panic attacks or emergency department visits (3).
Another article (4) explains how results of various treatments for depression were analysed to investigate the effectiveness of hypnosis for treating depression symptoms. 13 examples of hypnosis were analysed, and this showed that the average person receiving hypnosis showed more improvement than about 76% of participants not receiving any treatment (“controls”). The average person treated with hypnosis showed more improvement than about 51% of control participants. These effects are comparable to those associated with well-known psychological treatments for depression (e.g. cognitive therapy, interpersonal therapy) and suggest hypnosis is a very effective way of alleviating the symptoms of depression. This article states that “Clinicians may wish to give serious consideration to hypnosis as a treatment option when working with clients and patients who are depressed” (4).
(1) Amraoui J, Pouliquen C, Fraisse J, et al. (2018). Effects of a Hypnosis Session Before General Anesthesia on Postoperative Outcomes in Patients Who Underwent Minor Breast Cancer Surgery: The HYPNOSEIN Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Netw Open. 1(4):e181164. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.1164
(2) Muzaffar A. (2018). Review of clinical hypnosis in dentistry. Modern Research in Dentistry. 1(4) doi:10.31031/MRD.2018.01.000516
(3) Sawni, A., & Breuner, C. C. (2017). Clinical Hypnosis, an Effective Mind-Body Modality for Adolescents with Behavioral and Physical Complaints. Children (Basel, Switzerland), 4(4), 19. doi:10.3390/children4040019
(4) (2018) A Meta-Analysis of Hypnotic Interventions for Depression Symptoms: High Hopes for Hypnosis? American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 61:3, 227-243,