Is self-hypnosis a valid therapeutic technique?
January 24, 2012 7:13 PM   Subscribe

My potential new therapist uses self-hypnosis as one of her go to techniques. Am I dismissing this idea too quickly?

I had been seeing a therapist for the past 3 years for issues around body image, anxiety/depression, and binge eating. While I gained a lot of insight about my issues, after 3 years I felt like I was all talked out and needed an approach that was more mind-body. I tried a Dialectic Behavioral Therapy group about a year ago and found that to be really helpful. Unfortunately, the therapist who ran the group moved out of state and it's been really difficult to find a therapist who specifically uses that technique.

I did find a therapist who came as a recommendation from a national Eating Disorders association. She does not use DBT, and describes her approach as mind-body oriented and uses self-hypnosis, meditation, relaxation, as well as CBT and talk therapy. I had my first appointment today and it was fine, but I'm a little hesitant about self-hypnosis. I guess I don't really know what it is -- she describes it as a deep meditative or relaxed state, and I worry that it's going to be too new-agey for me.

Have any of you have any experience with self-hypnosis? If so, what was it like, and was it beneficial to you? Thanks!
posted by Piglet to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I've used autogenic training, which is quite a bit like self-hypnosis, to deal with nighttime tooth-grinding, and it helped and didn't feel at all "New Age" to me. It's basically the same thing as a progressive relaxation exercise, you just have a script that you use where you're "telling yourself" internally to relax your body parts as well as focusing on the areas themselves.
posted by infinitywaltz at 7:27 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd compare "self-hypnosis" to meditation, actually (disclaimer: I've only got a layman's understanding of either). I've dabbled in both, and what was similar about the both of them was that it was just "here is something specific for you to think about in order to distract you from thinking about something else" -- with meditation, the idea is that you sort of just observe what you're thinking rather than getting all caught up in it, and with self-hypnosis, you've just got a more specific....script. I got shown a self-hypnosis thing once at some school stress-busting seminar and it was all just "imagine you're on a beach...imagine the waves are gently lapping the sounds imagine how warm the sun feels on your skin...."and all that kind of stuff. It was just a way to give us all something nice to think about when we were getting all wrapped up in stress and needed to snap out of it, was the point.

Give it a shot. If it doesn't do anything for you after a few tries, you can always ask for a different approach.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:42 PM on January 24, 2012

While there's a lot of new agey woowoo about meditation, that kind of mindfulness really does help create more calm in your life and help lower your internal resistance to thinking and talking about difficult things. self-hypnosis like this is creating a focused calm state.

Try it out. I'm pretty resistant to woo-woo, and I'm a big fan of meditation, self-hypnosis, and guided meditation.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:53 PM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Actually, being in a meditative state is very scientific and entirely measurable by medical scanning equipment. Additionally, your subconscious mind (yes, it's a real thing, it's acts like a super computer sponge that doesn't miss all the things your conscious mind must filter out to keep you sane) has the ability to nuance the input it receives on a very simplistic level, only. There's a lot to be said about going deep and "reprogramming" the poor messages your subconscious picked up in early childhood, etc., and changing those messages to support your well-being NOW.

No woo woo involved in hypnosis or meditation. Sorry.
posted by jbenben at 8:09 PM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Via what EmpressCallipygos wrote, when a meditator is imagining being on a beach or whatever, your body responds (heart rate, release of chemicals and hormones, etc.) just as if the meditator were actually in that place. There are LOTS of scientific studies about this and you might really get a lot out of googling for scientific facts!
posted by jbenben at 8:13 PM on January 24, 2012

There's a lot of scientific study done on the benefits of meditation and the like. It's not "new agey."
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:20 PM on January 24, 2012

seconding that Hypnosis (self- or otherwise) is definitely NOT's an incredibly powerful medical tool and is even being tested to replace anaesthesia (!)

something to keep in mind that most people don't realize: we spend a LOT of our time in a trance state (IIRC, something like 80% of our waking hours!)...eating, reading, driving, shopping (some of the deepest states are achieved while grocery's the only way our brain can cope with the information), watching tv, typing, walking...basically, anything repetitive that you've done before causes the majority your brain to slip away for a bit, allowing your higher functions free to wander and, I dunno, think about sex or whatever.

I imagine that a large part of self-hypnosis has to do with shifting the 'favored' (by the brain) trance state (like eating, for example) to something healthier (like walking). I say give it a shot. At the very least, you have very few side-effects to worry about with hypnosis.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:24 PM on January 24, 2012

There really isn't proof that a "hypnotic state" exists. As far as anyone who has studied it scientifically goes, it's no different than the power of suggestion. It only works if you think it will. That may be enough for you.
posted by vash at 11:46 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

No woo woo or I wouldn't do it.

After years of medical phobia (so bad that I actually screamed, struggled and took 2 x 20 minute appointments to have a blood test), I had 4 hypnotherapy sessions. Claimed I couldn't be hypnotised. Took partner in with me to observe / check I was ok. Woop - hypnotised. Given a CD of the session. I use that to send myself off when I need to. Now I go in to the test, maybe a tear squeaks out, that's it.

So: go for it. But if you're nervous about hypnosis the first time, get someone in with you.

Good luck!
posted by LyzzyBee at 12:55 AM on January 25, 2012

Self-hypnosis can be very powerful. There's the old story about the hypnosis practitioner who used self-hypnosis to get through surgery to remove his gallbladder without any anesthesia. (That said, it looks like he himself has gotten into the woo-woo, but I don't think that should discount the possibilities of self-hypnosis.
posted by greatgefilte at 6:55 AM on January 25, 2012

So I started doing this thing. To relax I would lie or sit comfortably, close my eyes in a dark room and count backwards from 100, and say to myself the number slowly with every breath: Inhale(one)exhale(hundred) while picturing the number (softly lit, white-yellow on a black background.). It seemed to help me relax. I told a friend who works in healthcare about this and she said, "Oh, that's a self-hypnosis technique".

Really helpful, no woo-woo. And no "watch this pendulum wing, eyes getting heavy, etc etc" stuff. I say try it out!
posted by pointystick at 7:43 AM on January 25, 2012

I too am skeptical about a lot of new-agey stuff, but self-hypnosis is not at all in that category. Actually, you could call it old-agey, since it was written about in 1850.
posted by exphysicist345 at 9:43 AM on January 25, 2012

If you'd like to learn more about the scientific understanding of hypnosis, there are a number of articles on hypnosis at Scientific American. (Argh ... looks like a lot of them are just teasers for the now-paywalled archive ... but your local library may offer access to a database with back issues of Scientific American if you're interested.)
posted by kristi at 9:54 AM on January 26, 2012

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