Before I start, I will acknowledge that hypnotherapy has shown either sparse, insufficient evidence, or no evidence in most meta-analyses as well as systematic and literature reviews.iiiiiiivvviviiviii I immediately see multiple serious issues with these reviews. Multiple methods of hypnotherapy are studied with results combined. For instance, in the most extensive previously cited review, 70% of the studies used traditional hypnotherapy, relying on direct suggestion under a hypnotic state. One meta-analysis of strictly cognitive-behavioural hypnotherapy (the practice of incorporating hypnotherapy into cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT); i.e., using well-validated CBT methods while the participant is in a hypnotic state) saw an improvement of 70% above standard observed benefits in controls receiving just CBT.ix
While reviews have noted a correlation, but non-significant trend in “suggestibility” vs significance of hypnotherapy, I would contend that it is not the outcome that should be looked for. It is quite easy to resist hypnotherapy. I have personally found great benefit from it, however, if I am distracted, I cannot fall into a hypnotic state. Additionally, if the practicing hypnotherapist says something I do not like, I often snap out of hypnosis; sometimes intentionally and sometimes out of an emotion-based annoyance. Participants need to want to be hypnotized. They also need to want to obtain benefits from it. If they resist, the therapy will not work.
A main issue in conducting trials on hypnotherapy is they cannot be blinded. Additionally, if the control is another treatment, the results could be of low significance or no significance, when in “the real world” benefits may be utilized in an additive effect. On top of this, I’ve found the benefits of hypnotherapy do not last; unless you supplement them with further sessions, triggering new emotional discoveries. A recorded session may help in the beginning with the results having diminishing returns each session. Likewise, if the practicing hypnotherapist is not continually peeling back the onion so to speak, and working towards your intended goal from different angles, benefits may be short lived.
I have further concerns regarding the wide degree of capabilities from various practicing hypnotherapists. For instance, “hypnotherapist” and “clinical hypnotherapist” is not regulated in most jurisdictions and as such, there is no body overseeing the quality of those utilizing what could be a misleading title. One local school of hypnotherapy I have investigated offers a “Clinical Hypnotherapist Certification” in just four weeks of class and an additional 60 hours of further “at home” study, conducting “case studies”. I have serious doubts in allowing someone with 220 hours of learning to dive deep into my emotional hang ups to change my behaviour.
My concerns grow deeper every time I try to find a new hypnotherapist for myself or several friends who have asked me about it over the years. Finding a hypnotherapist through Google is a challenge. Most that have worked their SEO rankings to the top are Alt Med practitioners that combine hypnotherapy with a wide array of dubious and pseudoscientific practices. More are simply those who have obtained the short hypnotherapist certification and have no other education that could add insights, knowledge or competence to their foray. While trying to find a proper therapist, such as a psychiatrist who has included hypnotherapy into their practice, it is a considerable time investment to find an appropriate candidate.
Despite my above criticisms, I utilize hypnotherapy almost daily through recordings. I’ve also used a few different hypnotherapists over the years. That said, I’ve tried to use many more, but never went back after first sessions. These are individuals that I have felt confident in contacting after reviewing their site, and then had an initial phone call with. For the issues I use hypnotherapy for it is irrelevant whether it is placebo or effective through a precise mode of action as it works for me. These are mindset outcomes and hypnotherapy is not substituting for an effective treatment.
The outcomes I have personally used hypnotherapy for:
Running several companies, many days I find myself frustrated, agitated, and stressed out. The more the proverbial shit continues to be piled onto my plate, the more agitated I become. In “heavy load” days, I will eventually start lashing out at those I am communicating with. I know this isn’t healthy, and I make efforts to mitigate it. One of them is if I am finding myself being less than cordial, no matter how busy I am, I take 20-30 minutes to reset with a relaxation hypnotherapy session. While it does not always work, it does the majority of the time. This is sort of a guided meditation session, and I tend to emerge feeling far more content and at ease, and able to move through the rest of my day without the burdens of anger and stress. Do not get me wrong, I am still agitated at the errors and issues that previously put me into a foul mood. I am just more capable of putting them to the side and treating each individual with more courtesy and respect; no matter what their role in my actual stress was.
My “go to” recording is from Dr. Paul Ogilvie, a medical doctor from the UK. I previously mentioned him in part 4 of my series on sleep. A full page of his free recordings can be found here. For stress, I tend to use the recordings from the relaxation section.
As discussed in the sleep series, I have struggled with sleeping issues most of my adult life. I first found Dr. Paul Ogilvie’s recordings 7 or 8 years ago, the time I first embarked on searching for a hypnotherapist. Similar to relaxation, his recordings guide me into sleep most of the time, but do not always work. Interestingly, I have anecdotally needed to utilize the sleep recordings less frequently, as I have adopted the relaxation recordings into my days. Also, as I have become more cognizant of my sleep health by utilizing numerous other practices and strategies, my incidence of restlessness where I cannot fall asleep has dramatically declined. Still, I quietly utilize these recordings once a month or so and they almost always work for me.
Weight Loss & Eating Habits
Throughout my twenties I struggled with dietary habits, often yo-yoing 60-80 pounds in just a few months, sometimes gaining or losing in excess of 30 pounds in a single month. I can be quite an obsessive person, and if I had a goal, whether it be athletic performance or otherwise, I had no issues adhering to a dietary and training regimen. Once the goal was achieved, or if I was, for example, injured, I would fall into extreme gluttony. I didn’t think much of this, or particularly cared, until my late 20s. In my late 20s, my goals were not entirely specific other than high performance in several aspects. My goals also had no actual dates and therefore, my previously strict regimes were not sustainable. Further adding issues, my workouts were social with friends, and we would engage in “cheat nights” together one evening a week after training.
During “cheat days”, I experienced a sense of panic. When I say panic, I mean it. Unthinking, racing heart, unable to formulate sentences panic that I wouldn’t get enough or get what I actually wanted. I couldn’t decide what I actually wanted. I had to get all of my favourite cheat meals in at once, often consuming 8,000-10,000 calories in a few hours. This often led to nausea and when it didn’t, it seriously disrupted my sleep and how I felt the next day. This next-day lethargy often extended my “cheat meals” into “cheat 24 hours” and then at “low points” “cheat weekends”. As I was training for hours a day at high intensity, my fluctuations were less (+/- 20 lbs). That said, my weight to “goal” differential for what I was training for was leaving me fluctuation from 15-35lbs heavier than I intended to be.
My first foray into hypnotherapy started when I was at a “low” in my cheat meal anxiety. I was about 35 lbs above my target weight, and every weekend was a cheat weekend. I was also travelling a lot, so my training regimes were lower than they had been previously. I called numerous potential hypnotherapists and read dozens of sites and settled on a hypnotherapist with a bachelor’s in psychology who had nothing I deemed “offensive” in her write up. She also seemed reasonable on the phone. I quickly dove in, booking a first session; followed by five more in the next month. I supplemented my sessions with nightly recordings from Dr. Paul Ogilvie’s weight loss section, and the results were startling. Within three months I was at my target weight. I had lost all cravings and stopped cheat meals almost completely; that is to say, the definition I had of “cheat meals” after these sessions were what many would consider a “normal meal”.
These results lasted about a year, with once a week “touch ups” from recorded sessions supplementing my stronghold over temptations. They fell apart when my shoulder did. The stress of coming to terms with the likelihood I would never again be the same athletically and never again be able to exercise to the level I had come to expect is unlike anything I had ever dealt with at that time. My only two self-cares throughout the several years preceding this were physical exercise and reading. I had lost exercise, and I was at a crossroads for what intellectual topic I wanted to pursue. While I was still reading and learning, it wasn’t able to carry the heavy load that the loss exercise dumped on it (for context I was still, and am still, exercising. Before my shoulder fell apart, I exercised hours a day).
Recordings didn’t work, and I was unable to find a new hypnotherapist. I was also travelling for upwards of two-three weeks a month, making finding one quite difficult. Finally, three years later I did find a new hypnotherapist and managed to get in six sessions, over eight months. I can say without a doubt that while every session “felt” impactful, stretching it out over eight months instead of one month was much less effective. Each session worked and my food panic decreased, but not in the same way that my first experience helped. It was no longer a “stand-alone”, and it took concerted effort. Despite this, I actually started losing weight, until I began exercising harder. As I developed a routine where I was again training cumulatively a couple of hours a day, up to three hours, with 10 minute workouts each hour (mostly legs), and longer workouts in the evenings and weekends, I found myself justifying food choices I hadn’t craved in a long time. Over four months, my weight shot up by 25 lbs, mixed between muscle building and fat gain. This was when I made the concerted effort to completely change my diet. While the hypnotherapist I utilized over the eight-month period was no longer in business (and neither was the original hypnotherapist I mentioned), I began listening to recordings every day. I also started going to mental places in where I had been able to resist temptations in the past, as well as practicing self-hypnosis, where I would slow my breathing and mentally follow myself through protocols to go into a shallow hypnotic state and then focus on my goals to achieve better dietary habits. Combined with fasting, this strategy has been quite effective. I’ve lost 42 lbs in 6.5 months at the time of this writing, and my food choices outside of my fasting window have been dramatically altered.
I cannot guarantee hypnotherapy will work for you. I know that I have seen some success, although personally to mixed degrees. Since it tackles issues regarding mental health as stress, poor dietary decisions and even insomnia can be associated strongly with your mental health, even if it is working by “placebo”, it is still working. For those interested, I hope you find benefits as I have.
join us next week for some thoughts from a practicing hypnotist