Does hypnotherapy really work?

There is probably more scientific evidence available on the effectiveness of hypnotherapy than for any other alternative therapy. Scientists have been studying hypnosis for more than two hundred years. The most comprehensive scientific textbook of hypnosis is published by the University of Oxford, and contains hundreds of references to studies in peer-reviewed scientific journals. You can read more about this publication HERE

The British Society for Clinical and Academic Hypnosis, to which I belong, includes professors and other researchers, doctors (bother general practitioners and hospital consultants) , dentists, and psychologists.

Could hypnotherapy be dangerous?

Hypnotherapy is a powerful therapy and for this reason it should only be practiced by well-qualified, experienced, intelligent professionals with good morals whose own mental health is sound. A good quality training school will insist on extensive supervised practice before the practitioner starts work on their own. A competent and ethical therapist will not attempt to treat everyone who contacts them, because some clients will do better seeing another practitioner who has more experience in treating their particular problem.

Can anything go wrong in hypnosis?

A competent and experienced hypnotherapist will know how to guide you through any powerful experience, such as a release of emotion known as an abreaction, which may occasionally occur. This means you can expect to leave each session feeling better than when you arrived.

If a therapist attempts to discover buried memories using regression hypnosis, there is a danger of the client’s imagination creating memories of things which did not happen, or of distorting the memory, for instance by remembering one person as doing something when it was actually someone else. Hypnotic memory is more vivid and therefore more convincing than normal memory, but it is just as unreliable. For this reason it is never safe to use hypnosis to discover hidden memories.

If a person is hypnotised and told something negative about their self, or something they would normally find unacceptable, this could create serious distress in some people. No ethical hypnotherapist would ever do this, but unfortunately this is sometimes done by stage hypnotists for cheap amusement. This is a very unpleasant and irresponsible practice.

There are very rare cases of hypnotherapists taking advantage of their clients. Most people will reject unacceptable suggestions even in deep trance, but a few people are prone to being excessively trusting and obedient. These people could be taken advantage of in any situation, not just hypnosis. I have for instance seen cases of an audiologist (hearing specialist) and a podiatrist (foot specialist) being prosecuted for this behaviour. Neither of them had used hypnosis.

Most people know instinctively whether they can trust a person once they’ve met them face to face. For this reason I often arrange an informal meeting with a client before we start therapy so the client can decide whether they wish to proceed.

Actually, by far the most common danger of hypnotherapy is the danger of paying out lots of money for ineffective therapy from an incompetent practitioner! At present there are far too many training schools turning out far too many hypnotherapists, most of whom will never gain enough experience to be really competent.

What problems do you not work with?

I do not generally work with clients who simply wish to lose weight. This is because being overweight or obese is often a complex problems involving the body as well as the mind. A really effective weight-loss therapist needs a deep understanding of nutrition, the composition of modern foods (which may be artificially altered to stimulate appetite), and the different types of healthy bacteria which should be present in the gut (this is a new area of scientific study and is very important). There is so much to learn about these topics that I think it’s generally best left to those who take a special interest in it.

Another issue I don’t work with is extreme jealousy. I sometime have people calling me about their partners who are extremely jealous and controlling, asking if I can hypnotise the partner to remove this problem. Well for one thing it’s very unlikely that the partner would even see me, because these people (usually men, though not always) generally believe that they are in the right and that it’s their partner’s job to reassure them by submitting totally to their wishes. These people simply cannot have normal satisfactory relationships in our modern world where people expect a reasonable amount of freedom. A relationship with an extremely jealous and controlling partner will always end badly, so it’s better that it ends sooner when less damage has been done.

Twenty years ago most hypnotherapists (myself included) saw a lot of people to help them to stop smoking. These days I don’t often work with this issue. Scientific studies show that if clients are followed up after one year to see if they have permanently stopped smoking, about one third have stopped and the other two-thirds have gone back to smoking. This success rate is much less than what most clients would be hoping for. If anyone claims a significantly better success rate I suggest you ask them for the evidence of long term follow up. Having said this, a well-designed programme of hypnotherapy does have a better success rate than other treatments for stopping smoking, so by all means go for it if you can find an experienced practitioner who specialises in this issue. You are more likely to succeed if you take some time to plan ahead and consider the possible temptations, withdrawal symptoms, and how you will get past them.

Many scientific studies show that hypnosis can be very effective in enhancing sports performance, and there are therapists who specialise in this field. I don’t deal with it because although I’m keen on physical fitness I have absolutely no interest in competitive sports, so I’m just not the right therapist for people to whom this is really important.

Finally I don’t generally deal with women who want help in preparing to give birth. Hypnotherapy can be very effective in this area, but I believe it’s best left to female specialists who concentrate on this area and have a detailed knowledge of the physical side of giving birth. There are many “hypnobirthing” practitioners, many of whom are also midwives and have experienced giving birth themselves.

DISCLAIMER Individual results may vary and unless specified, outcomes are not guaranteed.