Hypnosis For Anxiety

By Jeffrey Lazarus, MD, FAAP on May 18, 2020
Author, Controlling Your Gut Feelings Blog


Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting about 18.1% of the population. Forty million people aged 18 or older, suffer from an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders are a result of a complex group of risk factors, including genetics, a person’s brain chemistry, personality traits, and life events.

Children and adolescents suffering from undiagnosed anxiety are at risk for performing poorly at school, missing out on important social events, and engaging in substance abuse. Research shows that 25.1% of children between the ages of 13 and 18 are affected by anxiety.

Anxiety and depression appear interlinked as nearly 50% of people diagnosed with depression will also be diagnosed with anxiety.

Search terms for anxiety have been on a sharp upward trajectory since 2010.

For a long time mainstream treatment for anxiety has focused on prescription medications. The issue has been prescription drugs commonly prescribed to control anxiety have a sedative effect and can potentially become addictive.

As a result, many doctors and practitioners turn to alternative mind-body approaches, like Medical Hypnosis, for treatment in an attempt to limit the use of prescription medications.

The term hypnosis often brings to mind a person quacking like a duck after being lulled into a trance by a swinging pocket watch. However, such instances are just for show. Medical Hypnosis is NOT that.

Hypnotherapy, also known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Medical Hypnosis and Clinical Hypnosis, is a mind-body treatment approach that has grown in popularity over the years because of its effectiveness. It has been widely used in the past to help people stop smoking or to quit other unwanted habits such as fingernail biting and overeating. It is more commonly being used to treat anxiety and functional gastrointestinal issues.


What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that is used in the clinical field for treating individuals with negative or harmful thoughts that lead to destructive or negative behaviors and habits.

CBT focuses on transforming negative thought patterns that lead to anxiety and depression to more positive thoughts. Through CBT, these destructive thoughts are recognized, challenged, and replaced with thoughts that are more positive and realistic.

Patients have great success with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for anxiety.


TEAM-CBT was developed by David Burns, MD, author of Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, and pioneer in the field of cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.

Dr. Burns has developed TEAM-CBT, which is the newest version of CBT. His approach provides faster and longer-lasting results for patients, and Dr. Lazarus incorporates this approach with every patient he sees.


What is Clinical Hypnosis or Clinical Hypnotherapy?

Medical hypnosis is also known as:

  • Clinical hypnosis
  • Visualization
  • Mental imagery
  • Guided Imagery

It is a highly focused state during which patients are taught to create an experience, in their minds, that allows them to realize that they are able to do things that they previously were not aware that they could do. There are no medications, no side effects, and it is quite empowering!

It is a feeling similar to getting lost in a good book or movie. It’s a meditative state. You are completely aware of your surroundings; you are able to turn your attention inward, enabling you to tap into internal resources needed to regain control of certain areas of your life.


What Is the Difference Between a Hypnotist and a Hypnotherapist?

A clinical hypnotherapist is commonly confused with a hypnotist.

A hypnotist:

  • Is not a medical professional
  • Accepts virtually anyone for treatment
  • May get good results but, may engage in indiscriminate use of his or her skill, often with unfortunate or humiliating results.

A clinical hypnotherapist:

  • Is first a therapist
  • Uses mental imagery
  • Is trained in one of the health professions, such as pediatrics, internal medicine, surgery, dentistry, nursing, psychology, or social work
  • Is certified by a professional organization such as: American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, Society of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, European Society of Hypnosis, or International Society of Hypnosis


Myths About Hypnotherapy

The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis lists these top 3 myths about medical hypnosis:

  1. Lose control: People often fear that being hypnotized will make them lose control, surrender their will, and result in their being dominated, but a hypnotic state is not the same thing as gullibility or weakness. Many people base their assumptions about hypnosis on stage acts but fail to take into account that stage hypnotists screen their volunteers to select those who are cooperative, with possible exhibitionist tendencies, as well as responsive to hypnosis. Stage acts help create a myth about hypnosis which discourages people from seeking legitimate hypnotherapy.
  2. Lose consciousness: Another myth about hypnosis is that people lose consciousness and have amnesia. A very small percentage of subjects, who go into very deep levels of trance will fit this stereotype and have spontaneous amnesia. The majority of people remember everything that occurs in hypnosis. This is beneficial, because most of what we want to accomplish in hypnosis may be done in a medium depth trance, where people tend to remember everything.
  3. Controlled by hypnotist: In hypnosis, the patient is not under the control of the hypnotist. Hypnosis is not something imposed on people, but something they do for themselves. A hypnotherapist simply serves as a facilitator to guide them.


Who is a Candidate for Clinical Hypnotherapy?

People with open minds who are motivated and willing to use their imaginations do very well with medical hypnosis. Hypnotherapy works very well for children and adolescents. Dr. Lazarus works with all ages of clients, but specializes in children and adolescents, particularly ages 5 through early 20’s.

Some of the most common areas of treatment are:

  • Functional Pain – associated with functional gastrointestinal disorders, functional abdominal pain, irritable bowel syndrome, functional dyspepsia, cyclic vomiting syndrome
  • Headaches
  • Bedwetting
  • Performance anxiety (test anxiety, sports performance anxiety, stage fright, public speaking)
  • Tics, fibromyalgia, burns,
  • Behavior Change –  smoking, insomnia, overeating, addiction
  • Mental Health – anxiety, phobias, and post-traumatic stress
  • Cancer Treatment Side Effects – associated with chemotherapy and radiation


What is Self-Hypnosis for Anxiety?

Self-hypnosis is similar to guided imagery, it takes some practice, but it is an essential tool in controlling anxiety.

During self-hypnosis, when you are the patient working with the therapist, you may follow these simple steps:

  1. Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit – you can perform self-hypnosis anywhere, but the quieter your surroundings, the better the result.
  2. Become aware of your breathing – inhale to the count of four and exhale slowly or breathe in and hold then exhale slowly.
  3. Picture yourself in a peaceful place – it can be in the bathtub, working in your garden, any place that makes you feel peaceful and calm.
  4. Engage your senses – try to engage your sense of smell, trying to remember the smell of something that calms you, whether it be chocolate chip cookies in the oven or the smell of burning wood on an open fire.
  5. Choose a short but relevant affirmation – such as, “I am calm” if you are feeling anxious or “I am strong” if you are feeling scared. Repeat it and mean it.

By practicing these techniques several times a day, patients can help themselves get better.

No one can ever control anyone else’s mind.  Therefore, ultimately, all medical hypnosis is self-hypnosis.

However, hypnotherapy does not work for everyone. If a person is not open to being in a hypnotic state, does not believe in, or is afraid of hypnosis, the treatment will not be effective.


How Does Hypnosis for Anxiety Work?

For a person suffering from situational anxiety, such as a fear of elevators, suggestive therapy might be used. Under hypnosis, the mind becomes more open to suggestion. A psychotherapist might then suggest that the next time the patient is on an elevator, he or she will be completely relaxed and at ease.

Generalized anxiety sufferers will also benefit from CBT therapy.

Adults and adolescents may begin a medical hypnosis session by relaxing deeply, muscle group by muscle group. When the body is relaxed, in the state of hypnosis (also called a trance), the mind is more open to suggestions. From there, one visits one’s special place or safe spot – a place where one feels comfortable, happy, confident, relaxed and/or in control. Then, in that state of mind, one uses guided imagery or visualization to envision a state of health or improved performance.

The images are always positive, never negative. For example, one might picture oneself  “controlling those tics” or, “controlling that headache, or that stomach ache,” or some other positive suggestion.

A Final Word

Instead of simply taking a temporary pill, acquiring a permanent skill is very empowering for controlling anxiety. Hypnotherapy shows patients that they actually have the ability to gain control over their thoughts, emotions and bodies. This type of cognitive behavioral therapy raises self-esteem, builds confidence, and gives hope. And, there are no side effects!