Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. On average, 1 in 4 people (1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men) will experience anxiety in their lifetime. In a 12-month period, over two million Australians experience anxiety (1).
For those who have anxiety at work, I have written another blogpost on this topic which you may wish to read as well as this (more general) blogpost.
Many people are aware that hypnotherapy can be used to decrease anxiety caused by various life events, but may wonder if there have been any clinical trials on this topic to help show scientifically whether hypnotherapy actually works in these situations.
In this blogpost, I cover some of the areas where hypnosis is used to help anxiety, and list a few of the many articles to support this.
A review of research in 2010 found there was a ‘tremendous volume’ of research to show that hypnosis (including self-hypnosis) is very effective in the treatment of anxiety associated with tension headaches, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, cancer, surgery, burns and a variety of medical/dental procedures, including the reduction of anxiety associated with a variety of surgical, medical and dental procedures (e.g., incisional biopsy, venepuncture, having radiological and imaging procedures, dentistry or oral surgery). (7) This was backed up by a further review of research in 2013. (13)
Another analysis identified 32 disorders for which hypnosis can be considered a possible treatment, 5 for which it seems effective, and 2 for which it appears specifically effective. (16)
An analysis of 17 clinical trials of using hypnosis to treat anxiety showed that hypnosis is a highly effective intervention for this condition. The group treated with hypnosis achieved more anxiety reduction than about 79% of the group not treated with hypnosis (by the conclusion of treatment) and about 84% of those not treated with hypnosis when followed up after the conclusion of the trials. Hypnosis produced more anxiety reduction when used in combination with other treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). (15)
Research has also shown that self-hypnosis can be used to help adolescents with high levels of anxiety and stress. The results showed decreases in anxiety (about specific events, and as a general personality characteristic) for two out of three participants, improvements in stress levels for two out of three participants, and improvements in quality of life for all participants. (12)
There are two main styles of hypnotic suggestions, traditional (direct), and permissive (indirect) suggestions. There has been research on which type of suggestion works better, but this has been inconclusive. Whether it is best for the therapist to use direct or indirect suggestions does seem to depend on the individual client (17). An example of a direct suggestion is “You feel relaxed when you see your manager” whereas an indirect suggestion could be “When you see your manager, you may notice how much more relaxed you are feeling, compared to how you felt last month”. Indirect suggestions can also use metaphors and be more conversational (like the example above).
The ability to benefit from hypnotherapy and hypnosis does tend to improve over time as the client becomes more skilled at going into hypnosis. Of course, some people are naturally more skilled at going into hypnosis, even without much practice (“high hypnotisability’), just as some of us are more skilled at e.g. playing sport. My own observations (on progress shown by my clients) indicates that it is a skill that can be learnt just like any other skill. Some studies have also shown this benefit particularly with self-hypnosis (7), and call this “conditioning” or “practiced effect”.
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs show benefit in reducing anxiety and stress, but typically could involve 8 weekly 2 hour sessions and perhaps a one-day retreat. A study was done to see if hypnotherapy could be used instead to allow a shorter treatment time. Forty-two students with high stress each completed an eight-week course of one hour’s hypnotherapy sessions per week. They showed significant and large decreases in perceived stress, and significant, large increases in mindfulness, self-compassion, spirituality, and meaning in life. The results indicate that this type of hypnotherapy program is promising as a treatment for stress and psychological distress. (10)
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
Treatment such as mindfulness training, hypnosis, and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are often used to help those with GAD. Research in 2018 indicated that combining mindfulness, hypnosis, and CBT helped to diminish worry, recover from specific anxiety, access mental resources, and improve hope for the future. (5)
A review (2) of five randomised controlled trials in this area showed that hypnosis was moderately effective in the reduction of exam anxiety. However, the review did not indicate the recommended number of sessions or “amount” of hypnotherapy, nor the most effective method of delivery.
Anxiety due to cancer and other chronic diseases
An analysis of 20 research studies found positive effects of hypnosis on anxiety felt by cancer patients. The effect was immediate, and sustained. The highest effect was found in paediatric studies, and hypnosis delivered by a therapist had a better effect than self-hypnosis in the studies they examined. (4)
A study of 50 patients with severe chronic diseases (including cancer) showed that their average anxiety score decreased from 32.6 before hypnosis, to 22.9 at 1 year after treatment, and to 17.1 at 2 years after treatment. (3)
Anxiety due to dialysis
Studies in 2013 (14) on a group of twenty-nine patients over 15 days showed that hypnosis decreased anxiety in this group (compared to their anxiety level before the hypnotherapy treatment). It also decreased depression, fatigue and sleepiness. The researchers recommended that the hypnosis treatment should actually be used during the dialysis to be most effective.
Hot flushes in post-menopause
Hypnosis was found to allow post-menopausal women to have significant reductions in anxiety during this trial. This anxiety reduction continued after the end of the randomised control trial. Anxiety also decreased after each weekly session (compared to before the session), and the weekly scores reduced continuously throughout the trial. (11)
If you would like help with managing anxiety, or simply wish to find out more information, please email me or phone me (Lisa) on firstname.lastname@example.org / 0403 932311. I will do my best to answer any of your questions, and to help you decide if I am the best therapist for you. All with no obligation.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 2007. Cat. no. (4326.0). Canberra: ABS.
- Baker, J., Ainsworth, H., Torgerson, C., & Torgerson, D. (2009). A systematic review and meta- analysis of randomised controlled trials evaluating the effect of hypnosis on exam anxiety. Effective Education, 1, 1, 27–41. https://doi.org/10.1080/19415530903043664
- Brugnoli, M.P., Pesce, G., Pasin, E., Basile, M.F., Tamburin, S. and Polati, E. (2017) The role of clinical hypnosis and self-hypnosis to relief pain and anxiety in severe chronic diseases in palliative care: a 2-year long- term follow-up of treatment in a nonrandomized clinical trial. Annals of Palliative Medicine, 7 (1), http://dx.doi.org/10.21037/apm.2017.10.03
- Chen, P.-Y., Liu, Y.-M., and Chen, M.-L. (2017) The effect of hypnosis on anxiety in patients with cancer: a meta-analysis. Worldviews on Evidence-Based Nursing, 14(3), 223-23. https://doi.org/10.1111/wvn.12215
- Daitch, C.(2018).Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Mindfulness, and Hypnosis as Treatment Methods for Generalized Anxiety Disorder. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis,61(1),57-69,DOI: 10.1080/00029157.2018.1458594
- Davis, E., (2015), Literature review of the evidence-base for the effectiveness of hypnotherapy. Melbourne: PACFA. https://www.pacfa.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Literature-Review-Hypntherapy-by-Eileen-Davis.pdf
- Hammond, D. C. (2010). Hypnosis in the treatment of anxiety- and stress-related disorders. Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, 10(2), 263-273. https://doi.org/10.1586/ern.09.140
- Hammond, D. C. (2015). Defining hypnosis: An integrative, multi-factor conceptualization. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 57: 439–444.
- Lynn, S. J., Laurence, J-R. & Kirsch, I. (2015). Hypnosis, suggestion, and suggestibility: An integrative model. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 57, 314–329.
- Olendzki, N. (2016). An investigation of the feasibility of Mindfulness-Based Hypnotherapy for stress and anxiety. Baylor University thesis. https://baylor-ir.tdl.org/handle/2104/9862
- Roberts, R. (2018). A hypnosis intervention reduces anxiety among postmenopausal women with hot flashes : results from a randomized controlled trial. Baylor University thesis. http://hdl.handle.net/2104/10425
- Shankar, N. (2016). Self Hypnosis for School Success: Empowering Adolescents with Anxiety and Stress. Doctoral Dissertations. 1300. University of Connecticut.
- Spiegel, D. (2013) Tranceformations: Hypnosis in brain and body. Depression and Anxiety, 30,342–352. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.22046
- Untas, A., Chauveau, P., Dupre-Goudable, C., Kolko, A., Lakdja, F., & Cazenave, N. (2013). The effects of hypnosis on anxiety, depression, fatigue, and sleepiness in people undergoing hemodialysis: A clinical report. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis,61(4), 475-483. doi: 10.1080/00207144.2013.810485.
- Valentine, K. E., Milling, L.S., Clark, L.J. & Moriarty, C.L. (2019) The efficacy of hypnosis as a treatment for anxiety: a meta-analysis. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 67(3), 336-363.DOI: 10.1080/00207144.2019.1613863
- Wark, D. M. (2008). What we can do with hypnosis: A brief note. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 51(1), 29-36. https://doi.org/10.1080/00029157.2008.10401640
- Yapko, M. (2012). Trancework: An introduction to the practice of clinical hypnosis. New York, NY: Routledge.