Clinical Hypnosis as an Intervention of CBT

By Cherie Scheurich, Ph.D., LPC, CHLC

Clinical Hypnosis is NOT a state of trance beyond consciousness or control. It is not a form of brainwashing; nor does it have the capacity to force one under the power of another. For the most part, those you may have seen or heard of whom comply with the hypnotic suggestions to “cluck like a chicken” or “bark like a dog” are already suggestive to do such things while in the “alert” state.

Clinical hypnosis is a state of trance that we all experience under normal circumstances quite naturally. The state of hypnotic trance is very similar to the state of relaxation that we all experience between falling asleep and being awake. Hypnotic trance is also similar to that state where one is able to drive the car while thinking of something else at the same time. Then upon arrival at the destination, the person does not remember the actual drive. That is exactly the same state of hypnosis. Any real distraction can re-alert the driver to the road at any time as with those under hypnosis.

Simply, hypnosis is a state of focused attention. The mind becomes so intensely focused on one topic – first the relaxation, then the hypnotic suggestion – that it fades out all other senses and awareness into the non-intrusive background. The patient still remains totally in control of his/her body and mind; however, the state of deep trance allows one to focus on the suggestions while “tuning out” all other thoughts, noises, or distractions. Hypnosis is likened to the meditative state of turning within for focused attention. In addition, many therapists who use hypnosis describe it as a deeper form of guided imagery.

Many therapists who are also well-trained in hypnosis use it in conjunction with Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy as an additional intervention. These therapists claim that using hypnosis as an intervention has the potential to reduce therapy sessions by as much as 2/3. The reduction of sessions required to reach one’s goals is largely beneficial to the client in numerous ways. The hypnosis client often experiences a reduction in negative symptomology much quicker helping his/her to achieve resolution to the root cause of the problem.

Experts recommend four general, primary uses for hypnosis: Symptom Management; Uncovering Levels of Awareness; Relearning/Reframing; and for Promoting Healthy Relationships. Under those four headings, hypnotic intervention has been proven successful for a wide variety of mental and emotional symptoms including, but not limited to those of: Depression & Anxiety Disorders; Post Trauma Stress Disorder; Eating Disorders; Smoking Cessation; Over-reactivity; Affect Regulation; Grief & Bereavement issues; Chronic Pain; Stress related issues; Habit/Behavioral Disorders; Neurotic symptoms; some OCD symptoms; and more. Moreover, therapists who tape their hypnosis sessions for home practice report that clients maintain the benefits of self-control, relaxation, and continued progress longer term. Clients can replay the tapes and practice hypnotic suggestions on-going, teaching the client to become his/her own therapist in times of need, which has been the goal of CBT all along.

In addition, many well-known burn and pain centers worldwide have begun to employ a resident doctor trained in hypnosis to help patients via suggestions for self-induced anesthetic during painful burn treatments. Hypnosis is also commonly used as an anesthetic for labor and delivery for child birth. The results for both have been amazing to say the least.

For the most part, most people have some level of hypnotize- ability. However, there are some people (estimated at about 5-15%) at either end of the bell curve that have extremely low hypnotic susceptibility or extremely high hypnotic susceptibility. In general, people who exhibit concrete thinking, low self-reflection, or are unable to identify words for their moods are mostly at the low end of the curve. Highly hypnotizable people are generally high in self-reflection, self-awareness, and are open to the powers of self-healing. The experts suggest that hypnosis can be used as a safe intervention for most people; although, it is not recommended for those with organic brain syndrome; severe OCD; severe mania or those in a manic phase of Bi-polar Disorder; or for those clients who “seek the magical cure” (unrealistic expectations). Hypnosis, like any other good intervention, requires the patient to persistently practice the techniques and skills over an extended period of time. The patient must desire the change and be willing to do the work consistently. No hypnotic suggestion or any other therapeutic intervention will work if the patient does not desire the change or is not willing to practice the skills for change. Children are often very highly hypnotizeable due to their natural tendencies toward imagination; however, the hypnotic trance state is much more active in children.

During hypnosis, the patient remains in control of his/her mind and body at all times. No suggestion will be carried out outside of one’s normal range of behaviors. Good hypnotic suggestions should incorporate this premise. A good therapist will get to know the client well first before using therapeutic hypnotic suggestions. General relaxation, energy balancing, “safe place” imagery, or stress relief hypnosis sessions are good interventions for new patients to help them get used to experiencing hypnosis and to improve their hypnotic susceptibility for future, more intensive clinical suggestions. Continued hypnosis sessions usually help to increase hypnotic susceptibility over time. Clinical hypnosis does not have the capacity to cause harm like it does in the movies. Hypnosis is a safe intervention and should not be feared. Of course, some therapists and doctors are better than others at their skill set and technique: hypnotic induction and hypnotic suggestions. Patients should exercise the same right to question training and credentials as they would for any other professional.

While searching for a good therapist or doctor who uses hypnosis as part of their normal practice interventions, those who belong to a National Hypnosis Organization will be your best bet. National organizations have strict rules and standards of practice and also require the therapist or doctor to be a licensed professional in good standing before acceptance into their training programs and organizational memberships. Two of the most prominent organizations in the USA are the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis (SCEH) and the Association for Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH).

The usual hypnotic experience incorporates four phases: the Induction (the initial step of tensing then relaxing the body or eyes); Deepening (increasing the relaxation often achieved by counting backwards or visualizing a safe place); Utilization (the hypnotic suggestion); and Re-alerting (the re-orientation to the “awake” state). Clients should not leave the site of the intervention until they are fully alert and re-oriented.

Hypnosis has been safely used as a natural form of relaxation and symptom relief since the seventeenth century. Now that society and managed care is heading toward a more holistic means of healing, hypnosis is becoming an even more popular intervention for a wide variety of ailments and self-growth. Many managed care organizations pay for hypnotic interventions as a viable treatment for clinical issues. Hypnosis has many benefits. In addition to its capacity to relieve physical symptoms, hypnosis can help clients to achieve some of the following skills: develop self-soothing; change cognitions; develop healthy ego-states; develop positive affect; rehearse desired behaviors and skills; focus internally; control impulses; stop unhealthy habits; reduce feelings of guilt, shame, and blame; reduce denial of trauma to prepare the client for real trauma symptoms release; control worrying; manage chronic pain; reduce issues of a wounded self; and progress developmentally toward higher levels of human development. Hypnosis is very similar to meditation, which also uses the concept of narrowed, focused attention to connect with the higher self and balanced living. In accordance with the benefits of meditation, hypnosis can afford the patient: focused and increased self-awareness; deep relaxation; feeling one with the self, others, and the universe; and an increased sense of serenity of being.

Therefore, don’t be afraid of hypnosis. It is a safe, harmless, and beneficial intervention to facilitate a wide variety of symptom relief and self-growth interventions. Try it! It can be a very interesting, relaxing, beneficial, and energizing intervention and personal skill.

Author's Bio: 

Cherie provides a wide variety of services to help her clients live the life they desire. She holds a Ph.D. in Holistic Ministries/Pastoral Counseling and an MA in Clinical Psychology. Cherie is also a Certified Holistic Life Coach and believes in the Universal connection between the Mind, Body, and Spirit. Cherie offers clinical hypnosis as an intervention in clinical therapy as well as life coaching. Cherie is a member of: American Psychological Association; American Association of Drugless Practitioners; Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis; & American Society for Clinical Hypnosis. Visit: www.LotusHolisticLife.com for more information.