What is clinical hypnosis?
Clinical hypnosis is a research-proven medical treatment used for many years. It relies on a deeply focused mental state, which helps open people’s minds to helpful ideas and suggestions. In other contexts, people often call this a state of flow or “being in the zone.” People are awake when using hypnosis and in control of which suggestions they accept.
How does clinical hypnosis work for gastrointestinal (GI) conditions?
Clinical hypnosis can help with GI symptoms in a variety of ways. Some of the most common include:
- Hypnosis can change the brain’s perception of sensations such as pain, nausea, or fullness, so that they fade away or become less bothersome. For example, a child might be taught to turn down pain signals, like turning down the volume on a radio.
- Hypnosis can improve the function of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS controls the body’s ability to relax or maintain its “rest and digest” state.
- Hypnosis can interrupt the feedback loop of pain and anxiety, which may develop when people start to worry about their GI symptoms.
What happens during a clinical hypnosis session?
A clinical hypnosis session usually begins with a provider reviewing your child’s recent symptoms and setting goals for the treatment. The provider will then coach the patient in entering the hypnotic/flow state, also called a trance. Once this state is achieved, ideas and suggestions are introduced to help your child reach their goals.
From the outside, this encounter may simply look like a playful or creative conversation. Sometimes it involves a more formal “hypnotic induction,” in which a person usually looks and feels very relaxed.
Your child will emerge from the hypnotic state before the appointment is over. Typically, afterward, there is a conversation with the hypnosis provider to review how the session went to help guide future sessions.
How long does clinical hypnosis treatment take?
Studies show that hypnosis is effective for chronic abdominal pain in children when delivered in 6 visits, spaced every 1–2 weeks. Depending on your child’s particular symptoms and situation, fewer or more visits may be needed. Each visit is typically 30–90 minutes, depending on the child, previous hypnosis experience, and the provider.
During appointments, children are also taught self-hypnosis or how to do hypnosis on their own. Self-hypnosis can further enhance the impact of hypnosis. Children can continue to use and customize self-hypnosis even after formal treatment is completed.
Who can benefit from hypnosis?
Almost everyone can benefit from hypnosis. However, since people are in control of which hypnotic suggestions they accept, it only works when they are engaged in the process. In other words, a provider cannot “hypnotize” a patient against their will.
Hypnosis can be effective in children as young as preschool age, but not every provider is experienced in working with such young patients.
Is clinical hypnosis safe?
Yes, research shows that clinical hypnosis is very safe. It is a myth that people can get “stuck” in hypnosis or be forced to do things they do not want to do. Most people actually find hypnosis to be relaxing and enjoyable.
How do you find a provider who practices clinical hypnosis?
Clinical hypnosis is not a regulated field, so it is important to find a well-trained provider who you can trust. If your GI team does not have a suggestion, you can look on the website of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH). Go to asch.net and click on “Find a Hypnosis Practitioner.” ASCH is one of the organizations at the forefront of training health professionals in hypnosis, along with the National Pediatric Hypnosis Training Institute (NPHTI.org).
Authors: Rebecca Cherry, MD and Rachel Borlack, MD
Editor: Christine Waasdorp Hurtado, MD, MSCS, FAAP