Hypnotherapy just hype?

Forget those movie images of Svengali-like hypnotists waving pocket watches.

Today's hypnotherapy is practiced by qualified physicians and has long been recognized by leading medical organisations - including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and the US National Institutes of Health - as an adjunct therapy useful in easing a range of ailments.

"It's a tool we use in our clinical work - regardless of whether you're a dentist or psychologist or physician," said Marc Oster, a clinical psychologist and hypnotherapist based in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

Dr David Spiegel, an expert on hypnotherapy and a professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Stanford University in California, agreed.

Highly focussed attention
"Hypnotherapy is just a form of highly focused attention, and there are therapeutic strategies that you employ using that highly focused attention," he explained.

For that reason, both experts stressed that patients who want to try hypnosis as a treatment tool should consult a practitioner licensed in some other form of medicine - an M.D., a psychologist or a dentist, for example.

Their reasoning: "If you don't have clinical training, how can you work with clinical problems?" Oster said. While hypnosis can help people stop smoking, for example, a mere hypnotist may not be able to spot and treat underlying problems.

"Maybe the person is using smoking to help manage their anxiety," Oster said. "So then you're not treating the problem, just a symptom." In the case of psychiatric woes, especially, poorly guided hypnotherapy may even worsen the situation, experts say.

What is hypnotherapy?
What is hypnotherapy? According to Oster, patients are usually "talked" into a state of highly focused, suggestible attentiveness where they are able to clear away mental "clutter" and focus on whatever problem it is that concerns them. In most cases, practitioners teach patients self-hypnosis techniques they can use at home.

Patients do not relinquish self-control, Oster said.

"Actually, from a clinical perspective, that's the opposite of what we do with people," he explained. "People come to see us to develop greater willpower and have more self-control, more confidence in themselves. You don't help that by taking it away."

Using electroencephalograms [EEG] and other methods, science is beginning to determine what happens to the hypnotised brain. "We're getting to the point where we can see that the hypnotic brain looks different from the resting or sleeping brain," Oster said. Hypnotised individuals are usually physically at ease, with lowered blood pressure and heart rates, while feeling fully awake and mentally attentive.

What it helps for
Studies have shown hypnosis can be a useful adjunct therapy against many ills, including:

  • Gastrointestinal problems. "For irritable bowel syndrome, especially, hypnosis has been demonstrated to be about 80 percent effective in reducing or eliminating symptoms. Medicine cannot do that," Oster said.
  • Pain. "It's been clearly helpful there for hundreds of years," Spiegel said. In many cases, patients with chronic pain use self-hypnosis techniques to "turn down" pain, like lowering the volume on a radio. Spiegel said patients can also use the technique to help get through invasive or painful medical procedures, such as dentistry or even cardiac catheterisation.
  • Smoking and other addictions. "Half of people will typically stop smoking after a single [hypnosis] session, and half of those won't have a cigarette for two years," Spiegel said. In the world of smoking-cessation, a 25 percent long-term success rate is considered impressive, he said.
  • Weight loss. "There's some pretty good research that says hypnosis is helpful," Oster said. "It seems to help people stay focused on their goals."
Don't be fooled
Oster said consumers should be wary of claims that seem exaggerated or too good to be true. "If someone says their success rate with smoking is 90 to 95 percent, for example, I'd stay away," he said.

Both experts stressed that hypnotherapy is really directed by the patient, anyway, not the practitioner.

"It's a collaborative relationship between two people," Oster said, "you and I. It's something I do with you, not to you." A good hypnotherapist simply teaches techniques that allows a patient to fulfil his or her goals, he said.

"Patients look at it as, 'I'm doing this - I'm learning to help myself,' " he said. – (HealthDayNews)

Read more:
Hypnosis offers pain relief
Hypnosis for chest pain

January 2007

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
32% - 9467 votes
68% - 20213 votes