Can hypnotherapy work for obsessive thoughts?
September 9, 2013 1:49 PM   Subscribe

I have posted before about my overwhelming obsession about my use of tetracycline for a year and a half causing me chronic stomach issues (and joint pains now perhaps). It has become major obsession for me and I can barely even think of anything else. I feel as though my life is over. I have an appointment with a hypnotherapist in Toronto this Friday. They say that they can help me work through my obsessive negative thoughts. Do you think this method could have success because my obsessive thoughts are ruining my life. Impacting my school work, my relationship with my girlfriend and my family. I have been trying to alter my thoughts on my own but they are just too powerful. Thanks a lot.
posted by Jack V to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's one thing to try, but you need to be in mental health therapy as well. Have you discussed this with a medical doctor?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:52 PM on September 9, 2013

Response by poster: I am seeing a psychiatrist and a therapist as well and taking anti anxiety medication.

I haven't discussed this with them yet.
posted by Jack V at 1:54 PM on September 9, 2013

Correct. Hypnotherapy helped my husband with some stress relief and stage fright but nothing helped as much as taking medicine to deal with his diagnosis.

If you are feeling anxiety about making an appointment with a psychiatrist, perhaps you could tell the hypnotherapist to work on that with you as well.
posted by dawkins_7 at 1:55 PM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

oh, just saw your response. This anxiety you have is becoming debilitating. As hard as it is, you need to discuss it with them as soon as possible. They won't judge you or question you at all. They are there to help. good luck.
posted by dawkins_7 at 1:56 PM on September 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

I am seeing a psychiatrist and a therapist as well and taking anti anxiety medication. I haven't discussed this with them yet.

Do you mean you have not discussed the hypnotherapy with your therapist, or that you have not discussed your health obsession?
posted by DarlingBri at 1:58 PM on September 9, 2013

Response by poster: I haven't discussed the hypnotherapy. They are aware of my health obsession.
posted by Jack V at 1:59 PM on September 9, 2013

oh, sorry, I misunderstood.
posted by dawkins_7 at 2:01 PM on September 9, 2013

Try the hypnotherapy but also be clear with your doctors that the treatment isn't working and they need to keep trying.
posted by bleep at 2:02 PM on September 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

Hypnotherapy can work, but it's one of those things that is really only effective if you actually believe it can work. Not necessarily that it will, just that it can. If you go into the appointment full of doubt, your mind won't be open to suggestion and the hypnotherapist won't be able to guide you toward a healthier thought pattern.

As far as your psychiatrist and therapist go - you should absolutely inform them that you are trying this method of treatment in addition to their treatment. You don't need their permission, so if they seem skeptical you shouldn't let them talk you out of it. Likewise, don't let the hypnotherapist try to talk you out of your current treatments either. As opposed to some of your other ideas (from previous questions) this is a relatively harmless treatment option, and it won't interfere with the current treatment they are providing. This doesn't mean you should stop seeing them, or stop the treatment they are giving you. In fact, you should ask them to increase their efforts and perhaps change/increase your medication as well.

As an aside - from your last question, there were a number of suggestions to look into probiotic supplements (capsules, yogurt, etc.) to properly reintroduce healthy flora to your GI tract. Have you explored that option at all? I ask because if that can solve your actual medical issues, your anxiety may naturally decrease as well (although it's possible that you will end up fixating on something else, so it's important to not dismiss your psychiatrist and therapist prematurely).
posted by trivia genius at 2:09 PM on September 9, 2013

Response by poster: I have tried taking probiotics for 2 weeks. I found that it gave me major diahrea thought maybe I didn't take them for long enough.

Now I am thinking I have Crohn's Disease. My colonoscopy came back negative for Crohn's but I am thinking that it may be in my small intestine.

This is perhaps an irrational thought. But it equals up to: I gave myself Crohn's Disease for vanity's sake.

Hard for me to shake these thoughts. Or even to perform with my girlfriend sexually. Or do day to day tasks.
posted by Jack V at 2:14 PM on September 9, 2013

Hypnotherapy can work, but it's one of those things that is really only effective if you actually believe it can work.

Seconding this, and also that it works best if you are also working with a regular therapist -hypnotherapy is meant to be short cycles of treatment only (3-6 sessions-ish?), and it does sound like you need a regular (weekly) therapist and possibly medication.

In my experience with a regular therapist I can just go in and spill my guts on a range of topics, but with hypnotherapy I've had to be more focused on what I wanted to work on (1-3 topics at most) so he could use that in the hypnosis. Hopefully the hypnotherapist will spend a good amount of time talking about this with you, but I'd bring a list of topics you want to work on (obsessive thoughts and how they are related to anxiety seems like a strong one) and discuss those with the therapist prior to hypnosis.
posted by sweetkid at 2:16 PM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might benefit from CBT...
posted by stenseng at 2:31 PM on September 9, 2013

I have tried taking probiotics for 2 weeks. I found that it gave me major diahrea thought maybe I didn't take them for long enough.

Yes, it's very possible that you didn't take them long enough. It is a major adjustment to your digestive system whenever the balance of bacteria changes. I would say try again, but perhaps reduce the frequency that you take them if it's causing major bathroom issues.

Now I am thinking I have Crohn's Disease

I realize this is part of why you are taking anxiety meds and seeing a therapist - but please stop trying to self-diagnose, especially when an established medical professional has already ruled something out. It's fine to get a second opinion, or ask for an alternative diagnostic test/procedure. But self-diagnosis, especially in the age of the internet with its legions of uninformed armchair physicians hiding behind message boards, will lead you down the path to insanity.

It's perfectly OK to just be upset with the fact that your digestive system isn't working properly. Putting a label on it won't necessarily fix it, especially with the knowledge that a lot of digestive issues are still poorly understood, and that most diagnoses are based on symptoms and not root causes - so treatments can vary wildly and are not absolute. While I know this situation is causing lots of anxiety, you need to realize that a proper solution will take time to find.
posted by trivia genius at 2:31 PM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Hypnotherapy (with a well-trained and educated clinical talk therapist) indeed helped me with many intrusive and unhelpful thought patterns. I was highly dubious, but it was startlingly effective. I'm happy to talk about the specifics in memail if you'd like to know more. I was doing it in conjunction with regular talk therapy and, eventually, medication.
posted by KathrynT at 2:32 PM on September 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think that hypnotherapy sounds like a perfectly reasonable option to try in addition to the things you are already doing. It definitely helps some people some of the time. It doesn't help all people all of the time, but with anxiety nothing does unfortunately. I hope it helps you, because it sounds like you're having a really rough time. I think it's very good that you seem to have separated your physical health problem from your mental health problem -- while obviously interrelated, they are separate issues and each is probably best dealt with on its own. Good luck.

You might also talk to your psychiatrist about changing/adjusting your anxiety medication, as well. Perhaps you are already doing/planning to do that, but in any case it sure sounds like your meds could be working better than they are doing. Anti-anxiety drugs, like so many psychiatric medications, are a bit of a crap shoot. It sucks, but that's the way it is. If you're not satisfied with the relief your current medication regime is giving you, you and your psych should keep working on it to find something that works better.
posted by Scientist at 2:47 PM on September 9, 2013

My hypnotherapist recorded a cd specifically for me and my anxiety problems. I keep it with me whenever I am feeling very anxious or I can't sleep. Its very helpful. Just hearing his soothing voice reduces my stress level instantly.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 4:29 PM on September 9, 2013

First, I know how debilitating coping with a digestive problem can be. It's tough, and I'm sorry you have to go through this.

I don't know if the hypnotherapy will help. What may help you (and ended up helping me) was trying to incorporate mindfulness into my everyday life. It's not so much about making the thoughts stop, but recognizing that they are just thoughts – and not necessarily even true. As soon as I started recognizing that I was not my thoughts (and not my pain), it was easier to move on with my day.

There are a lot of threads about mindfulness on metafilter. I'd take a look at those. I've also found Jack Kornfield's Dharma Talks to be incredibly helpful and soothing. Right now, it sounds like you're trying to blame yourself for this happening – and not only is it not true, it's just not helpful tfor keeping you calm.

I'd consult a good gastro doc ASAP. They generally will have you try a number of different things: diet, probiotics, digestive enzymes, etc., as well as additional tests. They may also recommend medications, hypnotherapy for IBS or even acupuncture. You really need to see a professional for this instead of self-diagnosing.
posted by purple24 at 4:33 PM on September 9, 2013

Anecdotally, I quit smoking using self-hypnosis CDs, and once went to a dentist who used hypnosis instead of Novocaine before he filled my tooth. So I think it can be a very useful modality.

Hypnosis can be very good for anxiety. I think some of the same tendencies which make a person able to whip themselves into an anxious lather (i.e. powerful imagination and ability to hyperfocus) are similar to the capacities that make a person really able to utilize hypnosis (using that same imagination and focus for a different aim).

Here is a Stanford study on the use of hypnosis for people with PTSD (one element of which is intrusive thoughts about the trauma).

Another thing you might look into is that hypnosis is very effective with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It doesn't sound like you've been diagnosed with IBS, but to whatever extent your gut troubles are affected by stress, hypnosis might help to make your gut feel better too.

All that said, not all hypnotherapists are created equal. It's a fairly unmoderated field, with some great, evidence-based practitioners in it, and also some pretty flaky individuals. (I know a bit about the field and would be happy to look at your practitioner's web page if you want to Memail me.) Of course, similar to other kinds of therapy, a lot is going to be dependent on your individual "fit" with the practitioner too.

Finally, I believe that it helps a lot to get a tape or recording of some kind that you can listen to once a day. It's great to go in and see the practitioner in person, but it can really reinforce things to have a recording that reinforces the whole process of relaxation and suggestion each day. You might ask your practitioner if they will make you a recording, or if they can point you towards a good source to get one. (The folks at, Dr. Martin Rossman, and Stephen Gurgevich PhD all put out good recordings, if they have something that fits your needs.)
posted by feets at 5:29 PM on September 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Hypnotherapy can definitely help with this kind of thing. In my experience it can help in two ways

1) The hypnotherapy sessions themselves, they will focus on drawing away from these destructive thoughts etc.

2) 'triggers' from the sessions can often be used outside the sessions when these feelings arise. Once you start thinking of a phrase or thing from the session, it will bring back the calming, positive thoughts you have during the session. In some ways, I found this more powerful than the session.

Remember, also, that hypnosis is something you have to practice at, to develop its potential fully - it's really like another form of meditation. Ensure that your hypnotherapist gives you a cd or MP3 you can use outside of sessions, and try to use it it frequently. If you make the committment it will be helpful. Feets' comment is spot-on.
posted by smoke at 5:32 PM on September 9, 2013

I just wanted to say that I've read your questions before and thought, GOD, this guy needs to stop worrying about his gut and start dealing with the fact that he's obsessive. So I'm happy to see that you're going in that direction.

That said, it seems like you have a tendency to want to go outside of traditional western medical practices. Hypnosis might help you. Weirdly, I was searching for contact information for a former teacher and found her listed on a page with testimonials for a hypnotist who helped her lose weight. But why not exhaust the more mainstream resources at your disposal?

Your doctors work for you. If you're not getting the help you need from them, you should see another doctor. If you see several doctors who agree on a course of action, that's one thing, but it sounds like you haven't. I have no doubt that you're struggling and suffering but you need to be your own advocate here and it doesn't sound like you're thinking is entirely straight. If a friend told me that she thinks she has a disease even though she took a test for it and the test came back negative, I would be concerned that something was going on besides trouble in her gut.

Rather than focusing on self-diagnosis, I think it would be more productive to try to keep track of your symptoms and potential triggers. Don't try to put a name on it - just notice it, make a note of it, and try to focus on something else. Given what I've seen you write before, it's certainly possible that some of your trouble may be stress-induced. Again, I have no doubt that you're really suffering but I know that when I feel sick, it gets compounded when I'm stressed out. Perhaps that sounds impossible - being sick is stressful! - but learning techniques to deal with stress in this situation will pay dividends in the future the next time that you are faced with a stressful situation.
posted by kat518 at 7:18 PM on September 9, 2013

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