Hypnosis for stress?

"Doctor, I suffer from stress. Can hypnosis help me?" ...  I hear this more and more often when I answer the phone in my practise.

Stress and burnout as problems

Stress and burnout are becoming serious problems in the 21st century. More and more often, people call me to ask if hypnosis can heal them. This made me decide to shortly explain when hypnosis in the form of therapy can be useful, and when it is not.

What is hypnosis?

Hypnosis is when a person is guided by a doctor or psychologist to enter a natural trance or self-hypnosis. Under a natural trance, a person is more susceptible to useful suggestions, and to store them in their memory. Any type of hypnosis is therefore self-hypnosis. The person is helped to enter a trance, but the person themself is the one who stays in control of the process. Show-hypnotists make us believe that the hypnotist takes away the power of the individual, but this is not true. Scientifically speaking, this is untrue. The person stays conscious while in trance at any time, no matter what is claimed.

What is hypnotherapy?

hypnotherapy is a type of therapy where the doctor makes use of the increased sensitivity for suggestions. The doctor or therapist can, for example, suggest rest and relaxation to the stressed patient, or suggest confidence and increased energy levels of a patient with burnout symptoms. All of this is done with consent of the patient, while the patient is conscious. The patient is and stays conscious of every moment of a professional medical hypnotherapy. it is important that this hypnotherapy is done by a doctor or psychologist with a degree in medical hypnosis. This makes sure that the suggestions given are in accordance with what it is that you need.

What is self-hypnosis?

Any hypnosis is a type of self-hypnosis. The patient decides themselves to enter a trance, even if they consciously choose to be guided by the suggestions of a doctor with a degree in hypnotherapy. Often, the doctor will teach you, after one or more hypnosis sessions, how to treat yourself with this therapy through self-hypnosis. This way you become more independent in learning to help yourself. You then learn how to focus your attention to your inner experiences and how you can give yourself suggestions in order to decrease your stress or to treat your burnout. It is also possible to learn self-hypnosis exercises with the help of an online self-help program. In that case, the program helps you to find out what type of self-hypnosis suits you best, and then teaches you techniques in the shape of a short video film. Online help offers new opportunities when it comes to therapy of stress and burnout.

When is hypnosis useful as therapy of stress or burnout?

Hypnosis is an interesting type of therapy in acute situations. For example, for exam anxiety, performance anxiety or fear of public speaking: if you have an exam in the morning, you do not have the time for long-term therapy in the evening before. No - what you want instead is to relax with the help of suggestion. And then, after your exam period, you can speak to your doctor about how to deal with stress in the future, so that you do not need to call a hypno-therapist every time you have a difficult exam. Furthermore, hypnosis is useful to quickly and more easily learn self-hypnosis.

When is self-hypnosis useful as therapy for stress or burnout?

Self-hypnosis is the ideal tool for building up self-control, even in difficult times. In case of stress, you can learn to reduce tension and stress with the help of a short self-hypnosis exercise which takes a few minutes at most. To deal with a lack of energy or confidence, like in burnout, you can learn to use energy-increasing suggestions during self-hypnosis. Of course you need to practise to properly learn to do this. When you practise, handling stress becomes more and more easy to handle in difficult situations.

When is hypnotherapy not useful?

The most important indication not to choose hypnosis, is when the patient has unrealistic expectations of hypnosis: if the patient things that hypnosis will solve all problems while they are 'asleep', then they will be disappointed, because nothing is less true. You are the only person that can solve your own problem, nobody else can do this, not even when you are under hypnosis. Your doctor can, however, help you with proper (self-)hypnosis. Your doctor is also the one who can discuss with you whether hypnosis is useful for you or not. If your doctor has not followed a course in hypnosis themselves, they can refer you to a psychologist or colleague with a specialized education. Most often, hypnotherapy is combined with other types of therapy, such as cognitive solution focused therapy, or cognitive behavioral therapy. The reason for this is simple: hypnosis alone does not heal. It simply makes it so that suggestions are more easily accepted by the subconscious. To know which suggestions are useful for you, your doctor or therapist will most often make use of insights found in other types of therapy. That is why it is important to know what education your psychologist or doctor has had.

Which other problems can be treated with hypnotherapy?

Except for the classic uses such as decreasing anxiety, tension, stress, burnout, or depression, hypnotherapy also has a unique place in the treatment of inexplicable physical complaints. These are sometimes called psychosomatic complaints. Psychosomatic complaints are real physical symptoms of illness, such as migraine, headache, rheumatism, epilepsy, eczema, allergies, asthma, irritable bowel, and many others. These are actual bodily issues, of which the physical cause is accompanied by stress. By reducing stress, the bodily issues are often also decreased, and sometimes they even disappear completely. In this type of issue, you sometimes come across somebody who has been lost for years while looking for a solution, only to find that several hypnosis sessions lead to spectacular improvement or even complete healing. But here, too, it is important to note: unrealistic expectations are odious. If you try hypnosis with the mental notice that you only use it as a tool in your journey to dealing with your stress, understanding that you need to make use of your common sense, too, then hypnotherapy can be a useful means of help, sometimes with unexpected results. However, if you try hypnosis while expecting that someone will take care of your problems for you, then it is better not to try it at all. You can see it like this: the less you expect a miracle, the larger the chance that you experience a mini-miracle. Another useful use of hypnosis is 'problem solving'. Under hypnosis, suggestions of creativity can help you to look at problems from a different perspective. That is what is good about hypnosis: you can stimulate wonderful feelings, and while you feel good you can then look at your problems again. This has as a results that the anxiety, tension, or insecurity caused by stress and burnout might disappear. That is what makes it easier to look for new solutions which are suddenly obvious, even though you have missed them for years.

Self-test for stress and burnout

Would you like to know to what extent stress, tension, anxiety, or even depressed feelings play a role in your life? Then test this by filling out a simple test with 21 short questions.

Paul Koeck, MD