The usual response to the suggestion to one of my clients that hypnotherapy might be useful in the treatment of sexual addiction is typical of the general public’s misguided understanding of hypnotherapy:

“I’m afraid of going into trance – I might lose control”; “You’ll find out things about me that I don’t even know myself”, or, typically, “I’m just not the type to benefit from hypnosis”.

Hypnotic trance, however, is really nothing out of the ordinary; it is a naturalistic experience that occurs routinely in daily life: daydreaming, fantasizing, driving a car, or watching T.V., are all trance states.

Almost everyone can be hypnotized. The old debate about whether or not a subject is “hypnotizable” has become moot. Hypnosis happens when a person allows it to happen. A willingness to “think with” and imagine the things that are suggested are states amenable to achieving a hypnotic effect.

A willingness to learn, and an attitude of receptivity coupled with practice, enhances the hypnotic effect. Willingness is a critical word for it is your willingness to experience yourself differently that produces change.

What is Hypnosis?

Hypnosis is an inner, altered state of consciousness in which the critical, logical, conscious part of the mind is temporarily suspended so access to the subconscious is available to receive suggestions for new attitudes, beliefs and values. While you are in touch with the subconscious mind, new psychological connections can be made.

When you can let yourself go into a goal-directed daydream to the extent that you dissociate yourself from your surrounding environment and become completely engrossed in your inner reality, you are in an alternate state of awareness which is called hypnotic trance.

While in a trance state one is free to accept positive, healthy, constructive suggestions without the interference of thoughts, objections, excuses and rationalizations.

How can hypnosis help recovery from sex addiction?

Hypnosis can stop the purely cognitive functions the person is familiar with and engages him in new inner experiences which will produce new attitudes about sex and leads to a lessening of the toxic core beliefs about the self which is the foundation for the process of addiction. Trance induction is using the power of the unconscious mind to re-work the neurological wiring, born of childhood experiences, that creates unwanted, self-destructive impulses and behaviors that continually result in adverse consequences.

Hypnosis is used to re-train your neurology to increase the ability to tolerate unpleasant affects/feelings that are often triggers for sexual acting out.
The experience of the erotic haze is very intense and compelling. One reason for its hold on people is that it is a psychologically stimulated neuro-chemical state, induced by the release of adrenaline, dopamine, endorphins and serotonin that occurs when the sex addict engages in intense sexual fantasy, rituals and behaviors. In truth, maintaining the high of intense sexual cruising and fantasy is more sought than the sexual act itself. Like a gambler walking into the casino, sex addicts are high on their own neurochemistry long before actually acting out.

Besides the neuro-chemical high, what are the psychological factors that make this particular hypnotic, erotic trance state so compelling for the sex addict? What makes this state so irresistible that money, time, family, self-respect and sometimes sanity are sacrificed?

A Secure, Safe Place Within Yourself

A famous psychoanalyst once coined the term “holding environment”, which occurs when an infant and an emotionally adequate mother form a bond that nullifies the infant’s weakness and creates a sense of being “held” in the world as the child grows to be a man.

During adulthood, the ability to draw on the earlier functions of the holding environment helps maintains a stable sense of self. People who lacked an emotionally adequate mother who could not create this holding environment will more often find themselves feeling anxious, fragmented insecure, and emotionally isolated.

It is these chaotic, painful emotions that start the addict off in search of immediate gratification through sex. In the frenzied search for a sexual encounter you may to recreate a holding environment that compensates for the lack of a secure sense of self and to rid yourself of unwanted and uncomfortable feeling states.

The choice of a specific sexual behavior may be a compulsive attempt to find exactly the right way to be held – to be soothed, to be comforted – to be re-assured.

Hypnotic techniques are effective in treating sex addicts because the sexually compulsive state (the “erotic haze”) is nothing more than a trance state in which you feel “held” in a constructive way. You feel right at home in trance You’ve lived most of their lives in one.

Hypnotherapy enables you to experience a valuing, ego-enhancing, resourceful trance state that may enable you to find a way to be held that leads to constructive, rather than destructive consequences. Messages of self-worth, self-value, the ability to inhibit impulses and to bring to bear already existing resources are received at a deep, unconscious level and have significant potential to effect personality change at a profound level.

Effective hypnotherapy helps the client to find parts of the self that sustain or restore the sense of a true self so that aloneness is tolerated without the need to sexual acting out. Through self-hypnosis you can experience a calming and self-valuing experience that is generated from within. You can then be freed from the prison of the compulsion to get your needs met by external sources that seem to always disappointment.

Moreover, hypnotherapy also affords a process of age-regression and re-framing that allows for reparation of the original trauma of not being adequately held by an emotionally sustaining mother.

New Attitudes towards healthy, related sex.

John Money, a famous sexologist, termed the phrase “Love Map” that refers to the programming that each person has received from past experiences that give rise to your “arousal templates”.

Using hypnosis, mental models and arousal templates can be modified so that the urge for compulsive sex is replaced with knowledge and appreciation of related sex.

Hypnosis enriches sexuality through six important facts: First, cognitive control is achieved; second, relaxation from anxiety and stress is accomplished; third, consciousness of one’s own “thoughts” that may be negative about related sex can be recognized; fourth, positive imagery is used to enhance positive sex; fifth, natural physiological processes are freed to function normally, sixth, the person acquires a new mental skill of self-control over his thoughts, emotions and over his body.

Sex, as we know, starts in the mind and travels downward. Hypnosis also facilitates healthy sex by changing negative attitudes toward sexuality, increasing communication between the couple, and exploring new sexual techniques. Hypnosis can enhance the patient’s ability to focus attention and increases sensory awareness, thereby facilitating increased arousal and pleasure.

It seems fair to say that hypnosis, perhaps combined with sex therapy, is the most effective way to improve the human sexual experience. The recovering sex addict can be conditioned to want to experience and enjoy person-to-person, mutual sex that serves to bond two people who care for each other and know each other on all levels of intimacy.

Author's Bio: 

Dorothy Hayden, LCSW, has been treating sex addiction for 15 years. With 30 articles and one e-book, "Total Sex Addiction Recovery -- A Guide to Therapy", she is considered a "thought leader" in the field. She has been interviewed by HBO, CNN and "20/20" about cybersex and sex addiction.