Is Hypnotherapy an Effective Depression Treatment?


Image courtesy of Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.

Have you ever seen someone be hypnotized by a stage or street magician? Many of us have seen the stereotypical image of a so-called “hypnotist” manipulating people like puppets into clucking like chickens, performing weird tasks, or eating strange foods. You may even have seen someone use hypnotism to help someone overcome a fear of snakes or spiders.

But have you considered that it may be useful-- in the hands of an experienced and licensed clinician-- in treating depression?

It’s true. For the many people who have tried traditional antidepressants in the past-- or are doing so now-- and haven’t had any measured improvement, hypnotherapy could be a game-changer.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • Hypnotherapy
  • How its used to treat depression
  • Treatments that compliment hypnotherapy as a depression treatment
When seeking a good hypnotherapist, look for credentials and licensure in hypnotherapy specifically. Image courtesy of The Healthy.

What is hypnotherapy and how does it work?

Hypnotherapy is an ancient practice of relaxing the mind to enter a trance state. The trance is brought on by a combination of intense concentration and focus awareness on the patient’s part, using guided relaxation techniques delivered by the therapist. It allows the patient, with the help of the therapist, to examine and perceive their unconscious mind in a way that is free of distraction and emotion.

Doing this allows the patient to be both open to suggestion and discussion, which allows greater freedom and range in addressing issues or bad habits. It is used to treat a wide variety of ailments, including:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Smoking/Drinking to excess
  • Drug or other addictions
  • Stress
  • Grief/loss
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Chronic pain
  • Phobias

Hypnotherapy, due to its trance-like state, opens the mind in a way consciousness can’t. Thus, it is not an appropriate treatment for those who have hallucinations, delusions, or mental illnesses with those as symptoms. This is because their hallucinations and delusions may cause the patient to create false memories under hypnosis, which renders the treatment a problem instead of a solution for them.

Some side-effects, such as headache, dizziness, or anxiety, have been reported but were mild and faded shortly after the session.

A hypnotherapy session is typically an hour long, and starts with the patient getting into a comfortable position. A trained hypno-therapist will guide you through relaxation techniques to relax your body and mind, until they are both so relaxed but your attention so focused that you enter the trance state. Then they will either explore your unconscious mind for factors contributing to the condition, or use the power of suggestion to change perceptions or behaviors surrounding bad habits or ailments. The power of suggestion can also be used to create positivity and overall feelings of wellbeing within the patient.

Other types of therapy can then be employed along with hypnotherapy to treat the underlying cause of the ailment or condition.

Depression is multi-symptomatic, which means that each treatment plan needs to be individualized. This individualization can take a long time. Hypnotherapy may cut the “error” out of trial and error. Image courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels.

Why consider hypnotherapy for depression?

Depression treatments require the ability to change the way the brain’s wiring connects and functions-- sometimes this is done through the chemicals found in antidepressants. There seems to be a prevailing attitude towards depression treatments that what we have currently works fine and more clinicians need to hop on the bandwagon.

However, traditional medical treatments for depression do not always work. People are not all one size, and neither are their mental illnesses-- so neither should their treatment be one size. Antidepressants do not work for every depression patient, and some patients have terrible side effects, such as suicidal thoughts or allergic reactions, from them that are just as bad as the depression, and might even contribute to it. Other, milder side effects-- such as a lower libido, constant digestive issues, bowel issues, weight gain, dry mouth, excessive sweating-- definitely don’t boost morale.

Since hypnotherapy allows the patient to enter their subconscious, it opens the entire mind up. Which means that the therapist can then treat the whole mind, instead of the measly 10% that consciousness makes up. It allows for the underlying reasons behind the depression to come forth and be treated, as well as any triggers. The emotional baggage created by such deeply-hidden traumas or unresolved business is a huge burden and takes a toll on the depressed patient--- hypnotherapy provides a release for them, as once they have been identified the patient can move forward. Then the power of suggestion can be utilized to create a more positive outlook and mindset-- in effect, hypnotherapy may help the patient redesign the way their brain looks at life and regulate their emotions and stress.

Even if the patient is unable to utilize hypnotherapy to such an extent, it can help the patient to regulate and relieve symptoms of depression that can interfere with other treatments and morale. These symptoms can include insomnia, or bad behaviors that exacerbate depression such as excessive drinking, smoking, or drugs. Let’s not forget other forms of escapism, such as binge eating or over-sleeping.

Hypnotherapy offers a relatively and usually side effect-free solution, however, it is most effective as a treatment when combined with another type of therapy. This is how hypnotherapy is most commonly used, and why it is called a complementary therapy or treatment.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Interpersonal Therapy are the most popular to use. These allow the patient to use hypnotherapy to discover the reason or “why” behind the depression or anxiety, and then use the techniques in CBT or IPT to examine and treat the issue.

There is a push to use hypnotherapy as a stand-alone treatment for depression. Arguments in favor of this usually include that it builds positive expectations, its flexibility in treating a wide range of depressive symptoms, and it helps the patient change behaviors and self-organization. The problem in gaining recognition and acceptance as a stand-alone treatment not the lack of research on its usefulness or effectiveness, but rather the traditional methods used in gathering and assessing the research may fall short in accurate identification and measurement of hypnotheraphy’s impact on depression.

Hypnotherapy is often used as a compliment to other depression treatments because it augments their effects. Image courtesy of Darwis Alwan via Pexels.

What other therapies combine well with hypnotherapy for depression?

Since hypnotherapy is typically used in conjunction with other therapies, it may well be an excellent add-on to a treatment plan already in action or about to start. The two most popular therapeutic methods that combine well with hypnotherapy are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Interpersonal Therapy.

Hypnotherapy + Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of talk psychotherapy that treats many of the same mental and emotional health issues that hypnotherapy addresses, such as anxiety and depression. CBT and hypnotherapy use similar skill sets, which makes them highly compatible and effective, such as mindfulness, relaxation, and identifying and reshaping negative or inaccurate thinking. Hypnotherapy can help to focus the CBT on the most troubling or active issues, and helps build a trusting relationship with the therapist. It also teaches the client one of the main components of CBT-- relaxation. Hypnotherapy can also create cues and triggers to help the client access that deep sense of relaxation experienced in hypnotherapy any time when confronted by stressors or negative triggers-- it assists the client in de-escalating. It also helps to teach the client how to step back, observe, and be objective about thoughts and experiences, a skill which the client can then also use to de-escalate, or even to prevent escalation, negative or inaccurate thinking. The client can recondition themselves through hypnotherapy and CBT to become better at emotional regulation, perspective-taking, and generally improving their emotional and mental health.

Hypnotherapy + Interpersonal Therapy for Depression

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) is a psychotherapy that uses your relationships with others to treat depression-- it recognizes that while a relationship (or the ending of one) may not be the actual cause of depression, it does, however, recognize that many problems with depression stem from personal relationships. IPT does not seek to understand the cause of depression, but rather it seeks to confront the reality of depression as it affects the ways in which you do and don’t interact with people, and how that in turn cycles back to feed into depressed feelings. It is often thought to be as effective as antidepressants, though it is often used in conjunction with them. Using IPT and hypnotherapy together can help teach the client to who is hyper-emotional to step back and detach, and the client who is emotionally dissociative to connect and feel. The combination can also help reshape how the client thinks about relationships, understand how their actions impact the relationship and other people, and how to navigate relationships in a healthy manner.

Hypnotherapy + TMS Therapy for Depression

There do not seem to be many studies that combine Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), but the goals of the two are very similar. TMS treats depression and other issues by literally stimulating the brain to rewire itself using painless electromagnetic pulses delivered to targeted areas of the brain. The result is that the patient’s brain creates new neurological pathways that lead to happier thoughts and better mental health. With hypnotherapy, the therapist uses deep trance-like states and the power of suggestion to reshape thinking processes, and thereby the thoughts themselves. Combining the two could prove to be a very powerful depression treatment.

However, TMS is also a valuable depression treatment on its own. If medication or hypnosis hasn’t worked for you yet, consider talking to your doctor and therapist about adding TMS to the treatment plan.

No matter what type of depression you have or where its source is located, you can combine methods for a successful treatment plan-- one that fits you, your lifestyle, and mental and emotional health goals. Image courtesy of Mayria Plashchynskaya via Pexels.

Depression is a tricky mental illness that requires a highly individualized treatment plan. When beginning treatment and therapy, consider adding hypnotherapy to the list of things to try. It may not treat the depression on its own, but combined with therapy or TMS, it could be the game-changer you’re looking for.

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