Hypnotherapy assists patients with anxiety disorders by treating their symptoms as well as uncovering and releasing the root causes for the phobias. Hypnotherapy is an especially effective treatment when dealing with pain or anxiety from impending medical or dental procedures. Many studies report that hypnosis reduces anxiety before surgery and enhances recovery afterward by giving the patient a feeling of self-control.
How Does a Hypnotherapist Treat Anxiety?
The goal of hypnotherapy is to change the negative fixed ideas that fuel anxiety by replacing them with positive, realistic coping thoughts that are imprinted into the subconscious mind.
For pain and physical issues creating anxiety, such as impending surgery, suggestion hypnotherapy enables patients to release anxiety by responding positively to proposals from the therapist. Symptoms of anxiety can be addressed when the hypnotherapist teaches skills for relaxation, mental control, and behavior modification. Instant relaxation skills, for example, can help a patient cope with episodes of anxiety while they are occurring. These skills include deep breathing, refocusing attention, and thought interruption.
For anxiety disorders, hypnotherapy can help uncover the root causes for the phobias so they can be brought into awareness and processed. Patients can explore experiences or negative fixed ideas that are now triggering anxiety, reprocess the memories, and reframe them to desensitize their emotional responses to the anxiety triggers.
Why is Hypnotherapy Effective for Anxiety?
For anxiety disorders, hypnotherapy is effective because the patient is able to follow the same channels used in ordinary consciousness to learn how to respond to new situations. When something new happens, people learn a particular behavior in response to that circumstance. Each time similar events occur, the emotional and physical reactions associated with the original memory are repeated. These reactions can produce excessive levels of anxiety.
A hypnotherapist guides the patient through memories of the original anxiety-provoking event, helps the patient to separate the memory from the learned behavior, and then helps to reconstruct the event with new, healthier associations. This results in less anxious responses to the same event or object.
What Happens During a Hypnotherapy Session for Anxiety?
A hypnotherapist begins a session by discussing the presenting problem. Then the hypnotherapist begins combining relaxation suggestions with imagery to help a patient move into a trancelike state, similar to the consciousness experienced during daydreams or meditation.
This heightened state of concentration opens the mind to suggestions that will assist the patient with overcoming anxiety. The patient, however, remains in control and exercises free will during the hypnotherapy session. Upon entering deeper levels of awareness, distractions disappear, blood pressure drops, and breathing and heart rates slow down. Forgotten emotions and memories are accessed so the patient can explore the causes of anxiety and then release the critical thoughts and phobias.
The hypnotherapist can use different techniques to help the patient face her or his fears and look at them in new ways to decrease their hold. The hypnotherapist then suggests new ways for coping with the sources of anxiety. The patient is brought to normal conscious awareness, and the session concludes with reflections on the experiences.
Most people can be hypnotized, though people who are more trusting and comfortable with the hypnotherapist are more easily drawn into the hypnotic state. Hypnotherapy sessions last about an hour, and most people begin to improve within four to ten sessions. Children ages 9-12 can usually be easily hypnotized and may respond after only one or two visits.
Are There Any Risks Associated With Hypnotherapy?
Before considering hypnotherapy, obtain a proper diagnosis for the anxiety from a doctor to understand what is being treated. If the anxiety is psychological in nature, first obtain an evaluation by a psychiatrist. Without a proper diagnosis, hypnotherapy may exacerbate symptoms of anxiety. Also, in rare instances, hypnotherapy results in the development of false memories created by the unconscious mind. Hypnotherapy is not an appropriate treatment for those who experience delusions and hallucinations or for those who use drugs or alcohol.
What is Anxiety?
When worry and fear escalate from mental gymnastics to physical symptoms, a person is suffering from anxiety. Anxiety is the innate “fight or flight” response that can protect people from danger. However, when anxiety persists beyond the need to fight or flee, it can interfere with daily living and eventually undermine physical health. People with anxiety disorders have a greater risk for developing chronic medical conditions. Tens of millions of adults suffer from anxiety disorders.
There are six types of anxiety:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Excessive, unrealistic worry about money, health, safety, career and other aspects of daily life that lasts six months or more are symptoms of GAD. These can be accompanied by trembling, muscular aches, fatigue, headaches, abdominal upsets, irritability and insomnia.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Compulsive acts, such as repetitive hand washing, are done to alleviate obsessive, irrational thoughts by people with OCD.
- Panic Disorder. People with panic disorder suffer from recurrent episodes of unprovoked terror or impending doom, accompanied by rapid heartbeat, dizziness, a feeling of choking, sweating or weakness. During severe attacks, a person might feel as if he or she is having a heart attack or can’t breathe.
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Reliving an intense physical or emotional threat or injury through tormenting memories, nightmares or flashbacks are symptomatic of PTSD. Patients might also experience angry outbursts, emotional detachment, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, and a heightened startle response. They also avoid places that remind them of the anxiety-provoking event.
- Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia). People living with Social Phobia experience overwhelming self-consciousness in ordinary social encounters. This anxiety is exacerbated by a heightened fear of embarrassment and a sense of being ridiculed and judged by others. Physical symptoms they might manifest include profuse sweating, heart palpitations, blushing and faintness.
- Specific Phobias. These include an intensely fearful reaction to specific things or situations, such as spiders, dogs, or being in enclosed spaces.
Anxiety attacks usually occur suddenly and without warning and peak within ten minutes. The attacks can leave people feeling totally out of control. Seeking assistance through hypnotherapy can help alleviate these difficulties and provide more of a sense of control.
How Can I Find a Hypnotherapist?
Many states do not regulate hypnotherapy. Find a licensed clinical hypnotherapist who is specially trained in both medicine and psychology. Consider members of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) and the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. About 10 percent of all people cannot be hypnotized.