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Is Hypnotherapy An Effective Treatment For Addiction?


When thinking about hypnotherapy, we often picture a scene in which an older man, often looking untrustworthy, waves a shiny object in front of a young woman’s eyes, compelling her to fall asleep.  The main image of a hypnotherapist is someone who tries to controls others and perhaps gets them to behave in ways that would normally be against their nature.  The classic trick that we hear about is the participant clucking like a chicken or barking like a dog when they hear a certain phrase or word.

What is hypnotherapy?

This, of course, is not exactly how hypnotherapy works.  What actually happens in a hypnotherapist’s office is that the patient is put into a relaxed state of mind where the therapist can make certain suggestions about a particular behaviour or past experience.  The idea is that hypnotherapy can help the client work through different issues or problematic behaviour by turning their attention completely inward while in a meditative state.  The hypnotherapist is unable to actually control their patient’s behaviour, and unlike the common scenes in movies or TV shows, the client does not go to sleep but rather is put into a state of mental relaxation similar to that of meditation.

Though hypnotherapy has been around for hundreds of years, it is only relatively recently that it has begun to be recognized as a legitimate psychological tool.  In more recent years, hypnotherapy has become more popular at treating addiction.  In order to treat addiction, the hypnotherapist would steer the addict toward thinking of the substance as unappealing, and create imagery that would make the addict recoil at the thought of using their substance of choice.  For example, the hypnotherapist could work with a cigarette smoker by causing them to find the taste and smell of smoke disgusting rather than appealing.  In this way, the smoker is relieved of their addiction in a quick and easy manner.

Is hypnotherapy effective?

The quickness of this form of therapy seems to be the biggest draw.  People with addiction issues could potentially recover from their addiction in a matter of weeks, rather than taking years of therapy to work on the same issues.  The question now becomes: does it actually work?

There are mixed answers to this question, so it can be hard to know what is right.  There has been a lot of success in using hypnosis along with traditional forms of therapy in order to treat such things as addiction, as it can help train the brain to think differently.  By changing how the patient thinks about their substance of choice, the hypnotherapist can allow the addict to have a different reaction to seeing, smelling or tasting the substance they are trying to quit.  The addiction that seems to have the highest success rate with hypnotherapy is cigarette smoking: many studies show that hypnotherapy can cause this addiction to subside.  Why smoking is more successfully treated with hypnotherapy than other addictions is not clear, but it can be relatively easy for a smoker to find a hypnotherapist to treat their addiction with a simple Google search.

Getting the most out of hypnotherapy

If you are contemplating the use of hypnotherapy to treat an addiction, is is important to remember that this treatment method does not work for everyone.  People have different reactions to hypnotherapy, and you may not know what your reaction will be until you try.  Like all therapies, the effectiveness of treatment is based on the individual and their mentality going into the sessions.  Since hypnotherapy relies on the client to be in a relaxed state of mind, it can be difficult to conduct an effective treatment session on someone who is unable to focus.

To get the most of the treatment, it is advisable to only try it once you have built a trusting relationship with your therapist. Without this foundation of trust, it can be virtually impossible to create the relaxed state of mind that is needed.

It is also important to ensure that the therapist you choose has the proper training and credentials.  The therapist should be a licensed psychologist or counsellor who has extensive knowledge of how hypnotherapy can work, and who is a member of a professional association.  For example, the Canadian Federation of Clinical Hypnosis might be a great place to start when looking for a licensed hypnotherapist.

Final thoughts

When specifically looking at hypnotherapy and addiction, it is important to know that hypnosis is not a “fix all.”  Though the techniques in hypnotherapy may be effective at gaining control over one’s addictions, there are a lot contributing factors when looking at reasons why people use.  Therapy in general can be a great way for the addict to get help with their problem, but long-term sobriety is more likely when people have connections within the recovery community.  It can be vitally important to the addict to have others to talk to about their addictions, and though a therapist can be helpful, having fellow addicts to discuss their issues with can make recovery a bit easier.  Addiction is a multi-layered issue, and it would be unwise to assume that a one-pronged approach to recovery would be beneficial. But hypnotherapy can be very helpful for those who are open to it, and it could be a great accompaniment to any recovery program.

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