While hypnosis has been around for centuries, unfortunately it is best known as a parlor game for making people cluck like chickens or do other funny things. Only within recent decades has it been significantly used for clinical purposes such as smoking cessation, relaxation for dental surgery and procedures, pain management, weight loss, childbirth, numerous psychiatric illnesses, relaxation and stress management (including self-hypnosis). More recently, we have found that hypnotherapy is also a viable option for recovery from Substance Use Disorder (SUD).
What is Hypnosis?
Hypnosis is a broad definition that means being in a trance-like state whether this is for entertainment, sports improvement, dental or medical reasons, forensic use, or for use in psychiatric concerns such as phobias, anxiety, PTSD, substance abuse, or other psychological conditions. When it is conducted for clinical reasons by a clinically-trained provider, then it is referred as hypnotherapy or clinical hypnosis. Hypnotherapy is a specific treatment used by some physicians/dentists, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other professionals who have been trained in the use of hypnosis for some type of expert intervention. Also, numerous research studies beginning in the 1970s reveal the value of using hypnotherapy for a variety of conditions, including substance use disorders.
The Society of Psychological Hypnosis defines hypnosis as, “A state of consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness characterized by an enhanced capacity for response to suggestion.” In this manner, the brain is utilized to change the physiological, neurobiological, and psychological aspects of one’s inner being. Likewise, the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis relates there are three main ways for the treating professional to use hypnotherapy:
1) mental imagery/imagination (including the senses) for the patient for symptom relief (simple hypnotherapy)
2) use suggestions or ideas that are compatible for the client (teach specific skills for coping)
3) explore in greater depth the underlying, unconscious beliefs, values, and behaviors that lead to problems.
How It Works
Studies find that most people can be hypnotized and it works because of the relationship between the patient and the clinical hypnotist. Like all therapies, it involves a level of trust and it is controlled by the patient who determines to accept the hypnosis and the procedures; one cannot be hypnotized to do something against their will. There is no danger to hypnosis - one cannot be “stuck” in a trance state, although there can be problems if the clinician is unethical or doesn’t know much about the process (just as a bad therapist can cause problems). Nor is hypnosis a type of sleep or just relaxation. The hypnotic trance, while being very relaxing, shows that the brain is still very engaged in processing information. In this state, patients can ease withdrawal symptoms, be open to suggestions to alter problematic behavior, examine core beliefs, and focus on the strengths that they already have and ones they can develop.
In Trancework: An Introduction to the Practice of Clinical Hypnosis, we learn that, “Using hypnosis to teach better problem-solving skills, increase impulse control, resolve underlying depression and/or anxiety, enhance a stronger sense of commitment to sobriety or abstinence, and many other such empowering skills are just some of the possible approaches in addressing substance abuse.” Likewise, hypnotherapy can guide the client deeper into the core issues underlying addictions instead of just focusing on symptom management.
Just as psychotherapy, SUDs treatment, 12 step meetings, and other coping methods don’t cure SUDs, hypnotherapy doesn’t cure but can be an adjunct treatment for recovery. It is a valuable technique when used professionally as it focuses on one’s strengths, allows the patient to be in control of the outcomes, and can offer an overall sense of well being. In summary, it is well worth exploring as an aid for recovery.