Can Hypnosis Help with Depression?

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Is there a place for hypnosis as a therapy for depression? Some practitioners think so.

Hypnosis

Hypnosis is a centuries' old technique that has alternately been explored as a treatment for a variety of disorders and used for entertainment purposes, as when individuals are placed in a trance and asked to perform comical feats for the amusement of an audience.

In hypnosis, a hypnotist uses intense concentration, guided relaxation and focused attention to put a person into a trance. A trance is simply a heightened and focused state of concentration. Once there, the patient might be more receptive to suggestion. The subject does not give up free will or self-control, however, so when this is played out in entertainment venues where the hypnotized subject is supposedly persuaded to cluck like a chicken or balance a ball on his nose, the subject is open to participating.

Cognitive Hypnotherapy

In cognitive hypnotherapy, a trained therapist puts a patient into this same kind of trance, with the intention of allowing the patient to explore, in a safe setting, the events, beliefs or memories that trigger depressed and anxious behavior. Exploration of these areas, which might have been hidden from the patient's conscious minds, can then occur during psychotherapy sessions.

The goal of hypnosis is to enter a tranquil state, where the body is relaxed and the mind is open and receptive to suggestions from the therapist. During a session, the therapist might suggest some methods of replacing unwanted thoughts or actions with desired ones. Because the barriers to acceptance are lowered, patients are generally more receptive to adoption of new beliefs or strategies for dealing with their problems.

Hypnosis can also be used to probe memories of trauma, but with some cautions. There have been issues with the recovery of repressed memories, because the risk of creating false memories (confabulations) is very high in the hands of a less-than-skilled therapist.

Studies have found that cognitive hypnotherapy by itself is not terribly effective at treating depression or anxiety. It is much more effective when used as one tool in the psychotherapeutic arsenal, in addition to cognitive or behavioral talk therapy and prescription therapy.

While hypnosis itself is not a dangerous procedure, it might not be appropriate for the patient who is suffering from psychotic symptoms, such as delusions or hallucinations, or from dissociative disorders.

Hypnosis should only be performed by a trained and certified mental health professional, with experience using this technique in a clinical setting.

Sources: Healthline, National Institutes of Health and WebMD

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