Monday, September 5, 2011

Hypnosis As A Form of Therapy

“Brian” asks:

“What are your thoughts about hypnosis as a form of therapy? I’m considering seeking out a therapist who specializes in this to help me with some personal stress and issues at home.”

Dr. Einhorn replies:

Thanks for your question, Brian. I think hypnosis can be a very useful part of therapy, but I don’t use it as a form of therapy by itself. I do include it as a part of therapy for some clients, along with talk therapy, which is my main method.

I'll just say a few things about hypnosis and how I use it in my practice. Trance is a natural state which occurs spontaneously, as we can see in animals as well as people, and in children as well as adults. It’s interesting that, for something so important, there’s no universally, or even generally, agreed definition of hypnosis. For purposes of this discussion, I’ll define it as a state of trance involving the partial and temporary suspension of executive functions and a restriction of attention focus to a primary stimulus in the context of a collaborative relationship whose purpose is the healing or improving of the patient or client. Relaxation training is usually a part of hypnosis. Deep relaxation can be an end in itself, or there can be an additional focus on therapeutic work in trance, called hypnotherapy. In hypnotherapy, we can access the unconscious in some respects more directly than in conscious conversation. In fact, we go in and out of trance in ordinary psychotherapy conversation without noticing it. Hypnotherapy is a way of using trance in therapy in a very focused way.

Deep relaxation, usually involving somatic or body awareness and/or guided imagery, is a great stress reducer and health improver, physically and mentally. Practicing deep relaxation for 15 minutes every day or even every other day can have a 24/7 stress reduction benefit. Deep relaxation can help a number of medical conditions, including hypertension and irritable bowel syndrome, as well as reducing anxiety and panic. Deep relaxation supports immune function in general, probably through helping to stabilize mood and generating healing neurochemicals such as endorphins. It's not a magic cure or a one-time one; you have to practice to get good at it, and keep practicing to continue to benefit from it. While it can take shorter or longer periods for different people to learn to relax deeply, once we learne how we can usually put ourselves into a more deeply relaxed state in a few seconds or minutes, depending on how upset or distracted we are when we begin.

Hypnotherapy takes trance into the work of psychodynamic psychotherapy. “Psychodynamic” is another one of those words that means different things to different people. I’m using it here to mean therapy that acknowledges the importance of unconscious processes and works with unconscious as well as conscious mental processes, such as thoughts, feelings, impressions, perceptions, associations, etc. The trance state allows a certain degree of direct access to unconscious process, which can sometimes help identity issues and impasses (an impasse is a place where we’re stuck, we can’t pass through it) in the person’s life or therapy. Those “issues and impasses” can sometimes be partly resolved in hypnotherapy, although more often they are worked through in the talk therapy that follows. Sometimes that working through can be done in a relatively short time, sometimes it takes a longer time. I want to emphasize that because hypnosis has a reputation as a quick fix, but it is not usually one, in my experience, and that is not how I use it.

So, hypnosis can add value to therapy, but I use it as a part of overall therapy and not as a stand alone method. Incidentally, I did write a song to help people relax and go to sleep using hypnotic imagery on my new CD. The CD is "The Elephant In The Dark" (which will soon be available on and the song is "Deeper and Deeper." I recommend that people listen to it four times through, which will be about 16 minutes; and of course not when they are driving or doing anything that they have to be alert for, only when it's safe to relax deeply and even go to sleep.