Hypnotherapy for Stress
Stress is the response of the human mind and body to troubling internal and external conditions. Preparing for a college entrance examination, thinking about an upcoming surgical procedure, and planning for one’s wedding can all cause stress. In most cases, stress is a beneficial response because it prepares the mind and body to respond to a change in the environment. In some instances, however, stress may go on for long periods of time and become more severe, causing serious mental and physical disorders. A number of treatments are available for stress, ranging from prescribed medications to psychiatric counseling; however, hypnotherapy can be an excellent method to quickly change your response to stress. Whether you seek the help of a professional hypnotherapist or learn self-hypnosis techniques, hypnotherapy can help decrease your stress levels and benefit your mental health.
How Is Hypnotherapy Used to Treat Stress?
Hypnotherapy is a procedure in which a practitioner—the hypnotherapist—helps a person to become very relaxed and attain an altered state of consciousness known as a trance. In this condition, a person becomes very focused and attentive and is subject to suggestions made by the hypnotherapist. The job of the hypnotherapist is to help the patient develop a better understanding of the conditions that have contributed to the stress that he or she feels, to see how stress can be beneficial and how it can be harmful, and to understand how he or she can make changes in his or her life to better deal with stressful situations in the future. The end result of a successful hypnotherapy session is that a patient will have a more realistic perception of the seriousness of problems he or she faces, and be less likely to overreact to situations that do not represent a serious threat in one’s life.
The process of hypnotherapy commonly involves a series of steps, beginning with relaxation, followed by concentrated attention on the hypnotherapist’s presentation of the problem and solution, succeeded by the patient’s acceptance and adoption of the new context in which his or her problem is set, ending in a return to wakefulness. Hypnotherapy often involves a number of sessions with a practitioner because one’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions are usually well established and not subject to rapid change. For that reason, younger people may respond to hypnotherapy in fewer sessions than older people because there has been less time for thoughts and feelings to become imbedded in their minds.
Many practitioners encourage the use of self-hypnosis in the treatment of stress problems. Self-hypnosis can be achieved with commercially available recorded programs in which a specialist talks a person through the steps of hypnotherapy in the privacy of his or her own home. Hypnotherapy may also be combined with other types of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy in which a patient learns how to replace negative, unhealthy thoughts and behaviors with ones that are positive and healthy. The state in which hypnotherapy can place a person often helps achieve this conversion more easily, and thus the two techniques are often used in concert with each other.
What Is Hypnotherapy?
Healers have used the process of hypnosis throughout human history. The modern science of hypnotherapy, however, dates to the eighteenth century when Austrian physician Franz Anton Mesmer attempted to rationalize the use of hypnosis in medical treatment. Mesmer used hypnosis to treat a variety of health problems, including headaches, muscle pain, paralysis, and blindness. Mesmer’s methods were rejected by his colleagues as being unscientific, and hypnotherapy remained largely a pseudoscientific procedure until the mid-twentieth century. At that time, American psychiatrist Milton H. Erickson decided to explore the use of hypnosis in the treatment of some of his cases. Erickson’s research was instrumental in convincing the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association in 1958 to accept hypnotherapy as a legitimate treatment for many disorders. Today, most hypnotherapists are professionals with degrees in other fields, such as medicine, counseling, psychology, or psychiatry, who have received special training in hypnotherapy. Many belong to the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, which establishes and enforces standards for the training in and practice of hypnotherapy.
What Are the Long-Term Consequences of Stress?
Stress is a normal part of everyone’s life. Most people learn how to deal with stress in such a way that it does not become a serious ongoing health issue in their lives. In some cases, however, stress can have grave, long-term effects on a person’s mental and physical health. These effects may include hypertension (high blood pressure), increased susceptibility to infection, greater risk for accidents, and alcohol and drug abuse. A particularly serious long-term consequence of stress has become known as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD occurs when a person has been exposed to an event or series of events so terrible that his or her mind is unable to forget about or accommodate those events even months or years after they occurred. Men and women who have served on a battlefield are particularly susceptible to PTSD, which can eventually lead to a variety of mental disorders, and may end in suicide.
The American Psychotherapy and Medical Hypnosis Association is a professional association for hypnotherapists.
Alladin, Assen. Hypnotherapy Explained. Oxford, UK: Radcliffe, 2008.
Banyan, Calvin D., and Gerald F. Kein. Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy: Basic to Advanced Techniques and Procedures for the Professional. St. Paul, MN: Abbot Publishing House, 2001.
Richmond, Raymond Lloyd. “Hypnosis and Cognitive Psychology.”