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What is Hypnotherapy?

Photo of pocket watchHypnotherapy is the use of hypnosis, a trance-like state, for thera­peutic purposes. It has a long history and can be traced back to ancient Egypt, but its modern development started in the eighteenth century with the work of the charismatic Viennese scientist Franz Mesmer. He was followed in the nineteenth century by the Scottish physician James Braid.

In recent years, hypnotherapy has become recognized in several areas of healthcare. Hypnotherapists treat a range of chronic con­ditions, including pain, anxiety, addictions and phobias. Hypnotherapy is practised by several healthcare professionals, including psychologists, counsellors and doctors. One session lasts 30-90 minutes and, depending on the condition and the responsive­ness of the patient, 6-12 sessions are normally recommended. Autogenic training is a self-hypnotic technique, which, after some instruction, can be practised without the help of a therapist.

People who are suggestible generally respond best. Dozens of clinical trials show that hypnotherapy is effective in reducing pain, anxiety and the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. However, according to reliable reviews by the Cochrane Collaboration, it is not effective for smoking cessation, even though it is frequently pro­moted in this context. There is much less research for autogenic training, but the existing evidence is encouraging for anxiety, stress, hypertension, insomnia and some pain syndromes.

Hypnotherapy and autogenic training are relatively safe, but they should not be used by people with psychoses or other severe mental problems. With hypnotherapy, the recovery of repressed or false memories can create problems, and cases of false-memory syndrome (i.e. remembering distressing events which, in reality, have never occurred) have been reported.

What is the Evidence?

The prudent use of hypnotherapy can be helpful for some patients. Whether this is a specific effect of the treatment or a non-specific (placebo) effect is difficult to say. Autogenic training has the added advantage of being an economical self-help approach that maximizes each patient’s own involvement. Neither treatment is associated with serious risks when applied correctly.

For More Information:

This extract is taken from “Trick or Treatment?” (Transworld), a book that contains a series of 1-page summaries looking at the evidence for and against a range of alternative therapies. The authors of the book are Simon Singh (founder of the Good Thinking Society) and Edzard Ernst (the world’s first professor of complementary medicine