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Hypnotherapy as a Medical Treatment?

separator Hypnosis might conjure up an image of someone putting you into a trance and convincing you to do strange things, like bark at the moon. This common misperception may make you wonder whether hypnosis is anything more than a weird thing that isn’t worth spending time and money on.

In reality, hypnosis, or hypnotherapy, as some prefer to call it, is a state of focused concentration that enables you to become highly responsive to suggestion. How does this play a role in health care? Hypnotherapy can help decrease feelings of pain, anxiety, stress and fear. It can also motivate you to modify behavior—getting rid of bad habits and embracing positive new ones.

Understanding how the mind can influence the body is a key element of hypnosis. According to the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, clinical hypnotists use a combination of the following methods:

Mental imagery to visualize healing.
This technique can be used in numerous ways. For instance, people with cancer may imagine their immune systems attacking cancer cells. Or someone with ulcerative colitis may envision the colon as it is, and then imagine that the colon is actually healthy and causing no pain.

Suggestions for achieving results the patient is looking for.
This could be especially helpful for people trying to quit smoking, lose weight or make any number of difficult behavior changes.

Exploring the underlying, unconscious mind to identify past experiences that may be causing current anxiety, fear and phobias.
This kind of delving into the past can help some people who have problems such as fear of flying, a persistent feeling of anxiety or fear, nightmares, etc. It can be especially beneficial for those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. War veterans, survivors of torture and abuse, people who have lived through natural disaster—any kind of trauma, basically—are some examples of individuals who might benefit from hypnosis.

Hypnosis can be used for a wide range of situations and conditions, such as
  • Pain management for people with chronic conditions, for women in labor, for people who have had dental procedures, etc.
  • Control of the nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy
  • Reduction of the symptoms of depression, panic, anxiety, phobias, etc.
  • Control of high blood pressure
  • Cessation of unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking or overeating

EMDR: The Newest Type of Hypnotherapy
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a relatively new clinical technique for treating phobias and anxieties, low self-esteem and other problems often related to past trauma. It’s still controversial to some professionals, but clinical studies have shown that it can be effective for many people.

Dr. Francine Shapiro, PhD., a senior fellow at the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California, began developing the technique in 1987. She discovered EMDR when she realized that certain types of eye movements made unpleasant or disturbing thoughts and feelings go away.

During EMDR treatments, the therapist first asks the patient to talk about a past event that may have caused trauma and current feelings of anxiety, panic, or phobia. The next step is to stimulate the eyes to move rapidly back and forth from the right-side peripheral vision to the left, and then to talk about the past trauma and the current problem. The theory is that the eye movements can stimulate the information-processing area of the brain, calling up and processing memories rapidly, providing a new perspective and understanding.

Proponents of EMDR claim that the technique can help a patient achieve in six months or a year what they achieve after years of more traditional therapy. Opponents claim there are still too many unknowns. It’s a fairly odd type of therapy, and that alone can make people wary.

If you’d like to find out more about EMDR, visit the EMDR Institute’s Web site ( You’ll find descriptions of the EMDR training that therapists take, more details about the theories behind the technique, etc.

Hypnosis: successful for some, not for others
It’s estimated that about 90 percent of people can be hypnotized, and that about 20 to 30 percent of those are especially responsive to the technique. If you’ve been suffering from any kind of health problem and have not had success with treatments you’ve tried, talk with your doctor about hypnosis. Look for a practitioner who’s got a license from your state, not merely someone who has a certificate. Also be sure to investigate other degrees the clinician may have.

American Society of Clinical Hypnosis; K. Pelletier. The Best Alternative Medicine, Simon and Schuster, 2000; The EMDR Institute; A. Solomon, The Noonday Demon. Scribner, 2001
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