We are Not Witches! Hypnotherapy is Supported by Scientific Evidence

Promoting an evidence-based approach to Hypnotherapy

Whilst I am happy that hypnotherapy has got a positive write-up in an article from the Guardian no less, I am decidedly less happy about the whole light that hypnotherapy as a branch of therapy was painted in. It chose to portray hypnosis and hypnotherapy as something akin to ‘magic and ‘other-worldly’ – a position that many hypnotherapists have been working for years to dispel. I want to make it clear that we are not magicians and nor do we just put people into trance or “suspended animation” and “whisper commands in your ear”.

There is a growing number of us that adhere to an evidence-based ideology, whereby we look to scientific rigorous studies to inform our treatment plans and techniques. There is a lot of scientific research behind hypnotherapy to substantiate what we do, and I feel that this should be highlighted rather than blindly adhere to the outdated notion that we use a sort of ‘voodoo’ to create effective change in people.  

Lots of clinical trials have set out to determine exactly what hypnosis is, if there is a neuro-signature of someone under hypnosis, what evidence there is to substantiate that hypnosis occurs, what evidence there is for the efficacy of hypnotherapy as a treatment, and what issues it can successfully be used to treat.

The evidence clearly shows that whilst they have been unable to pinpoint a particular neuro-signature for a person being under hypnosis (Oakley 2012), that in fact hypnosis and hypnotic effect is actually very real, proven by hypnosis successfully eliminating the Stroop Effect.

The Stroop phenomenon demonstrates that it is difficult to name the ink color of a color word if there is a mismatch between ink color and word. As it is more difficult to name the ink color when the word does not match, it takes longer for the brain to process this and say the correct word – this delay is called The Stroop Effect.

Now what is interesting about this is that Amir Raz and his colleagues (2002) used hypnosis to create a ‘Word Blindness’ – where participants could ONLY see the color and could not read the word. This basically eliminated any Stroop Effect and participants would be to say the color of the word equally quickly no matter what the word said!

Now, this is something that you cannot pretend to be good at and therefore provides scientific evidence that hypnosis does have an effect! These experiments have been replicated many times and therefore provides good quality neuroscientific evidence that hypnosis is something very real!

Much other research has been done to test the efficacy of hypnotherapy for different issues, including Anxiety (Bryant 2012, Mellinger 2014), pain relief (Jenson and Patterson 2012), depression (Yapko 2012), and PTSD (Speigel 2014).

Just a quick trawl of the internet and scholarly journals will show that hypnosis and hypnotherapy actually are long-standing (albeit small) research subjects in scientific and evidence-based practice. We have peer-reviewed journals such as the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis and an Oxford Handbook collating the most notable articles and arguments over the recent years. We have research that can stand up to scientific rigor, although undoubtedly we could benefit from more research. But I think I have made my point that we are more than just modern-day witches from Salem, as this article would have you believe! We offer a viable and valuable therapeutic service to help with a wide range of issues, both physical and mental.

And whilst I would love to rant on more and to discuss so much other besides, I will save for another time my thoughts on the common myths and misconceptions we as hypnotherapists face on a regular basis, on the problems of framing hypnosis and the mind as conscious and unconscious, and the fallacy that the hypnotherapeutic client should just be a passive participant who relaxes whilst hypnotherapy is done to them! These are all fascinating topics with so much to be explored, but alas, that is for another day!

I will end by extending an invitation out to other writers to consider looking into what modern-day hypnotherapy actually can be and what it can do for us. I think you will find that it is far more exciting than likening us to witches!

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