What is... psychology series

What Is… Hypnotherapy

In this series, I dig a little deeper into the meaning of psychological terms.  This week’s term is hypnotherapy.

Psychology Today describes hypnotherapy as a “trance-like state of focus and concentration” that is reached with the guidance of a clinical hypnotherapist.  This state is likened to being fully absorbed in a good book, and it allows individuals to turn the focus fully inward to access resources present within themselves.

How hypnotherapy is used

Psychology Today further explains that hypnosis is not a type of psychotherapy in and of itself; rather, it’s used by trained psychotherapy professionals to help facilitate other types of psychotherapy.

Hypnotherapy may be useful in anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, pain, and childbirth (also known as hypno-birthing).  However, there’s limited high quality evidence to establish its effectiveness, so it’s not generally considered to be an evidence-based treatment.

Wikipedia describes several types of hypnotherapy:

  • Traditional: uses direct suggestion to target symptoms.
  • Ericksonian: uses an informal conversational approach, and the founders of neuro-linguistic programming drew on Erickson’s work.
  • Solution-focused: incorporates elements of solution-focused brief therapy and Ericksonian hypnotherapy.
  • Cognitive/behavioural: incorporates elements of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
  • Curative: aims to uncover the causes of people’s symptoms through hypnosis.

According to the American Institute of Health Care Professionals, hypnotherapy is:

“utilized to create an unconscious change in the patient by introducing new responses, thoughts, behavioral changes and changes in attitude into the subconscious mind. Contrary to popular belief, a patient is not “put under” and has control over his or her actions. Hypnotherapy enables the patient to attain a peaceful state of being, where he or she is not distracted by other mundane problems. This helps patients to focus on their problems and by asking pertinent questions, a clinical hypnotherapist can get to the root of these problems.”

Hypnotherapist education & credentials

Curious about what might be involved in training, I did some looking around.  A school in my area of Canada has a 7.5-month program to get either a “resident hypnotherapist” certificate or, with a more intensive program, a “counselling hypnotherapist diploma”.  Another school has a four-week course to become a “clinical hypnotherapist”.

The Hypnotherapy Academy of America offers a range of modules in their “certification training in evidence-based hypnotherapy”, from pain control to natal regression, interlife exploration, and past life regression.  That certainly raised an eyebrow – evidence-based??

There is a patchwork of different certification organizations.  Some require a graduate degree in a medical or mental health field and licensing as a mental health or other health care practitioner, such as the Canadian Federation of Clinical Hypnosis, the American Society of Clinical Hypnotherapy, and the National Board for Clinical Certified Hypnotherapists.

It sounds like, when it comes to hypnotherapy, it makes a very big difference who’s doing it.  When the practitioner is a qualified mental health professional, it may be a useful tool to supplement their practice.  When the practitioner is trained to think that past life regression is an evidence-based therapy, the results are probably not so reliable.

You can find the rest of the What Is series here.


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15 thoughts on “What Is… Hypnotherapy”

  1. I’ve had that done. It made me so highly uncomfortable that I never went back to continue the treatment. I’m pretty good at meditation and visualization – which might be part of the whole hypnotherapy regime. The person who administered the ‘test’ in my case set off alarm bells before she even got started, I probably should have told her and left. I’m not good at confrontation though. She asked me to assume positions that were painful (I thought that stuff should be relaxing!) and ask questions which to me were too personal and strange, given the context of the meeting in the first place. So I’m heartened to hear that they require certification or extensive training, because obviously the novice can do a lot of damage IMHO.

  2. Very interesting Ashley, although I don’t think I would like to be hypnotised, who knows what demons they might drag up, lol

  3. I had past-life regression once! It wasn’t meant as a form of therapy so much as personal enrichment. This was…. thirteen years ago. During most of the session, I couldn’t get my mother out of my head. It was as if she was holding me back from regressing to past lives with her controlling nature. Then, at the very end, I saw myself as a young man with bronze skin wearing a tunic and sandals. I felt very confident and happy, as if it were an easy lifetime for me. I had a very large, jutting nose, but I was considered studly. Take it for what you will, but I totally believe it! For therapeutic purposes, I think it’d take too much time and effort, and you may as well focus on this lifetime; but if you’re interested in past lives (which I very much am), why not?

    I also had hypnotherapy to try to deal with my aversion to spanking. I was dating a man at the time whose nephew was always being spanked. It was causing me to have panic attacks every time I was near it. Unfortunately, the hypnotherapist, who came highly recommended, minimized my experiences and was unhelpful overall.

    One major issue I have with any of the above is that, no matter how hard anyone tries, I cannot physically relax to save myself. I was interested in astral projection as a teenager–same problem. My body will not relax at all.

  4. I think hypnosis is super interesting. It helps a lot of people. We had a hypnotist come to my psychology class my senior year of HS. It was for shits & giggles. But I couldn’t be hypnotized. Idk why. Lol.

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