Phobias are an intense and irrational fear of a particular object or situation that causes significant distress and can lead to avoidance behaviors. They affect a significant portion of the population with an estimated 12.5% of people experiencing at least one phobia in their lifetime (Kessler et al., 2005). Traditional treatment options such as exposure therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) have been effective in reducing phobia symptoms. However, hypnotherapy also shows promise in the management and treatment of phobias.
Hypnotherapy is a therapeutic approach focused on utilizing hypnotic suggestions to target a variety of problems and conditions, including phobias. Hypnotherapy aims to help clients identify and address the underlying and root causes of their phobias by accessing the unconscious mind, which is thought to be responsible for our emotional and behavioral responses. By altering negative beliefs and improving coping strategies, hypnotherapy can help reduce phobias’ severity and frequency and at times help a client recover from a phobia entirely.
Studies investigating the use of hypnotherapy in the treatment of phobias have shown promising results. For example, a study by Alladin and Alibhai (2007) compared hypnotherapy to CBT in treating specific phobias. A total of 71 participants were recruited for the study, and they were randomly assigned to either a hypnotherapy group or a CBT group. The results showed that both groups experienced significant improvement in their phobia symptoms. However, the hypnotherapy group showed greater improvement in phobia intensity, avoidance behavior, and overall clinical severity than the CBT group.
Another study by Kirsch, Montgomery, and Sapirstein (1995) found that hypnosis was more effective in reducing spider phobia symptoms than relaxation training. In the study, 35 participants who had a spider phobia were randomly assigned to a hypnosis group, a relaxation group, or a control group. The hypnosis group received hypnotic suggestions aimed at reducing their phobia symptoms, while the relaxation group received instructions on relaxing their bodies. The control group did not receive any intervention. The results showed that the hypnosis group reported a significant reduction in their spider phobia symptoms compared to the other two groups.
Additionally, a systematic review by Coelho, Canteras, and Fontenelle (2016) analyzed 12 studies investigating hypnotherapy’s effectiveness in treating various phobias. The review found that hypnotherapy was significantly effective in reducing phobia intensity, avoidance behavior, and overall clinical severity. The review also suggested that hypnotherapy was as effective as other evidence-based treatments like CBT.
It is important to seek hypnotherapy with a registered or licensed professional. As of this writing, hypnotherapy remains unregulated in Canada. This means that anyone can read a book or take a weekend online workshop and legally call themselves a hypnotherapist. ARCH Canada requires its registered members to have extensive training, ongoing continuing education and just as important, a submit a clean criminal background check that includes a vulnerable sector. There are no other associations of its kind with these requirements.
Alladin, A., & Alibhai, A. (2007). Cognitive hypnotherapy for anxiety disorders. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 50(4), 263-274.
Coelho, H. F., Canteras, N. S., & Fontenelle, L. F. (2016). Hypnosis for phobias: A systematic review. Journal of Behavioral Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 50, 313-321.
Kessler, R. C., Wang, P. S., Berglund, P., & Demler, O. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6), 593-602.
Kirsch, I., Montgomery, G., & Sapirstein, G. (1995). Hypnosis as an adjunct to cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy: A meta-analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 63(2), 214-220.