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  » Alternative Medicine  »  Hypnotherapy

What is hypnotherapy?

The term "hypnosis" is derived from the Greek word hypnos, meaning "sleep." Some of the hypnosis techniques used today were developed in the 1700s by a physician named Franz Anton Mesmer. Mesmer used magnets and other hypnotic techniques (hence the word, mesmerized) to treat people. While Mesmer's techniques achieved a number of dramatic "cures" for blindness, paralysis, headache, and joint pain, the medical community was not convinced. They accused Mesmer of fraud and called his techniques unscientific. Since then, hypnosis has had a mixed reputation. With today's growing interest in mind-body healing, however, hypotherapy is again becoming a popular treatment, most often for addictions, pain, anxiety disorders, and phobias.

How does it work?

During hypnosis, a person's body relaxes while his or her thoughts become more focused and attentive. Like other relaxation techniques, hypnosis decreases blood pressure and heart rate, and alters certain types of brain wave activity. In this relaxed state, a person will feel very at ease physically yet fully awake mentally. In this state of deep concentration people are highly responsive to suggestion. This is where the therapy part of hypnotherapy enters in—for example, if you're trying to quit smoking, a therapist's suggestion may successfully convince you that in the future you will have a strong dislike for the taste of cigarettes.

There are three layers of hypnosis: the first is absorption (becoming deeply engaged in the words or images presented by a hypnotherapist); the second is dissociation (letting go of critical thoughts); and the third is responsiveness (complying whole-heartedly to a hypnotherapist's suggestions).

What happens during a visit to the hypnotherapist?

Your first visit to a hypnotherapist will last about 1˝ hours. The hypnotherapist will ask you questions about your medical history and will explain to you what hypnosis is and how it works. The hypnotherapist will direct you through relaxation techniques with a series of mental images and suggestions. He or she may also teach you the basics of self-hypnosis and give you an audio tape to help you practice hypnotherapy at home.

How many treatments will I need?

Each session lasts about an hour, and most people begin to improve within 4 to 10 sessions. Together, you and your hypnotherapist will monitor and evaluate your progress over time. Children, because they are easily hypnotized, tend to respond after only one or two visits.

What illnesses or conditions respond well?

Hypnotherapy can be quite effective for managing chronic illness. It reduces anxiety and fear and enhances your sense of control, which is often eroded by chronic illness. Hypnotherapy is also effective in reducing the fear and anxiety that accompany pain. In a study of chronically ill people, researchers found that people who were easily hypnotized were 113 percent better able to tolerate pain than those who did not succeed in being hypnotized at all. Sleep problems, addictions, warts, and bedwetting are just a few other conditions that respond well to hypnotherapy.

How much does a treatment cost?

The average visit lasts just under an hour and ranges from $50 to $150 per visit. Some hypnotherapists offer self-hypnosis audio tapes for $5 to $10.

How can I find a hypnotherapist?

Most hypnotherapists are licensed medical doctors, registered nurses, social workers, or family counselors that have received additional training in hypnotherapy. For example, members of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) must hold a doctorate in medicine, dentistry, podiatry, or psychology, or a master's level degree in nursing, social work, psychology, or marital/family therapy with at least 20 hours of ASCH-approved training in hypnotherapy. To receive a directory of professionals practicing hypnotherapy near you, contact either the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (visit them on the Web at http://www.asch.net/ or call 312-645-9810) or the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis (on the Web at http://sunsite.utk.edu/IJCEH/scehframe.htm or by phone at 509-332-7555).

Will my medical insurance cover hypnotherapy?

Insurance companies are more likely to cover hypnotherapy when the person rendering the service is a licensed health professional. Check with your insurance company to see what your policy offers.

Supporting Research

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Houghton LA, Larder S, Lee R, et al. Gut focused hypnotherapy normalises rectal hypersensitivity in patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Paper presented at: Annual Meeting of the American Gastroenterological Association; May 16-19, 1999; Orlando, FL.

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