Hypnotism is a popular tool for many people looking to improve their mental health in a variety of ways. Hypnotism as a form of therapy claims to be beneficial for treating phobias, general anxiety, low confidence and addictions. Alternatively, you could see a therapist and hope to come away with a renewed sense of self confidence and purpose.
There are only a few problems. The first is that it’s uncertain just how effective hypnotism really is for treating things like phobias (1). The second is that seeing a hypnotherapist is just expensive and for many will be completely cost-prohibitive – especially as it’s uncertain whether it will even work!
And that’s where self-hypnosis comes in…
What Is Self-Hypnosis?
As the name might suggest, the idea behind self-hypnosis is that you are hypnotizing yourself in order to get the same therapeutic benefits that you might by going to see a hypnotherapist. Of course this means there are immediately going to have to be some differences and these include both theoretical advantages and disadvantages.
On the plus side, hypnotizing yourself means that you’re going to be able to feel whether or not what you’re doing is working and to thus adapt accordingly. Over time, you can feel yourself being successful or not and you can adjust the ‘treatment’ on the fly. At the same time, you’ll be starting out with a lot more information about the patient which you’ll be able to use to create a more tailored and thus hopefully more effective treatment.
On the downside, it’s obviously going to be challenging to talk yourself into a relaxed state and to concentrate both on giving and receiving the therapy.
With that in mind then, how do you go about using hypnosis on yourself? There are a few options but two of the ones you’ll see most often are:
- To use a pre-recorded script
- To use visualization
With regards to the pre-recorded script, this will essentially be a script that mimics whatever the professional hypnotist would normally say. This will either be something that you have downloaded yourself from the web that has been recorded by a professional, or it will be something that you have created yourself and recorded prior to your relaxation.
Either way, this has the disadvantage of removing the ability of the therapist to respond to you as they proceed. Normally they would look for cues that you were responding or not and then alter their approach accordingly but with a set script there is no dynamic element and thus the effect might be lessened. An advantage of this method though is that it can also be used in other contexts – for instance while you are falling asleep (at which point you will often be more suggestible). This also allows you to listen to the exact same script repeatedly which can potential help to cement it in your mind in the same way that using positive affirmations (repeating the same few phrases over and over) can be effective. You can even listen to a hypnotic script while cooking or doing other things that distract your conscious thought.
The other option is to use visualization instead of a script. Here you might imagine yourself in certain circumstances or as possessing certain traits and this could then in theory help you to ‘believe’ what you’re experiencing. For instance, if you visualize yourself being incredibly influential and successful at work and you make this very vivid while in a suggestible state, you can hopefully convince your brain to believe it’s actually real and thus enjoy the effects of the ‘law of attraction’ as this influences your behavior and the way others react to you.
In reality though, at this point the definition of ‘hypnotism’ is only very loosely applied – essentially this is just a form of meditation combined with visualization.
How Does Hypnotism Work?
The real question though is whether self-hypnosis actually works. Can it really help you to change your beliefs and to overcome mental health problems?
The idea behind hypnosis is seemingly sound. Essentially, self-hypnosis boils down to ‘suggestion’ meaning that you are suggesting truths to yourself that you will hopefully then take on board. The problem is that usually when we tell ourselves something, we simply reject it out of hand. If someone says to you, ‘you aren’t afraid of heights’, then the natural reaction is to say: ‘yes I am’.
With hypnosis, what you’re trying to do is bypass that rational part of your psyche in order to speak directly with the unconscious and to convince yourself therefore on a deeper level that you really aren’t afraid of heights.
To accomplish this, you must first get the conscious mind to take a lunch break, which is why it can be effective to put yourself in a ‘suggestible’ state first. By convincing yourself to completely relax and to stop questioning things you can thus be more persuasive when you use your ‘suggestions’.
At the same time, a hypnotic script should be written in such a way as to be very subtle with these ‘suggestions’. One way to do this is to use presuppositions. In other words, your statements don’t tell you that something is the case or should be the case, but rather they act as though it’s a given that this is true. For example, rather than telling someone:
‘You are starting to get sleepy’
The hypnotist will say:
‘Listen to the gentle sound of my voice as you begin to sink into a sleepy state’
By saying ‘as you begin to’, they are acting as though that is already the case.
Something similar can be created by using visualization – here you are not telling your brain what to believe but rather getting yourself to experience it.
Is Self-Hypnosis Effective?
That’s the principle and in theory it is sound. It’s worth noting though that the quality of hypnotic scripts can vary greatly depending on where you find them. Moreover, different people have varying levels of ‘suggestibility’ meaning that some people are much harder to convince. When a hypnotist uses hypnotism for a performance, the most important part of their act is quickly assessing the audience and choosing the most suggestible members to call up as participants.
Your experience with self-hypnosis then is going to depend on multiple different factors, ranging from the quality of the script that you find, to your own suggestibility.
With any hope, you would then be able to experience a kind of ‘placebo’ effect to the point where you’d create physical or emotional changes as a result of your newfound ‘belief’. It may be useful to this end for applications such as treating headaches but then again there isn’t much real ‘evidence’ to suggest that it is as effective as other treatments (2).
To answer the question posed in the heading directly: self-hypnotism can be effective but different people will have vastly differing experiences. The evidence for it is mixed, so you’ll have to make up your own mind!
Should You Use Self-Hypnosis?
So should you use self-hypnosis? Seeing as it is free to try, there is no reason why not.
Then again though, it’s also useful to note that there are many other ways you can ‘reprogram’ your own thoughts to treat mental health conditions or to generally improve wellbeing. Perhaps the best option for many people will be to use ‘cognitive behavioral therapy’ which is a very effective approach, recommended by many health professionals and shown to be effective in numerous studies. Like self-hypnosis, CBT can also be practiced alone from the comfort of your home and completely for free – though it helps to see a professional at the start of your treatment.