Hypnotherapy is a type of complementary therapy that uses hypnosis, an altered state of consciousness.
Hypnosis is widely promoted as a treatment for various long-term conditions and for breaking certain habits. This is despite the fact there is no strong evidence to support these uses.
However, hypnosis does seem to have an effect, though scientists disagree about how it works. Some experts see it as a relaxation technique that uses the power of suggestion and relies on the placebo effect.
When might hypnotherapy be helpful?
Irritable bowel syndrome
Some research studies have suggested that hypnotherapy may help with the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), such as abdominal pain.
Losing weight and quitting smoking
There is only limited research evidence that hypnotherapy may help some people to lose weight and to quit smoking, so we cannot be certain of its benefit.
Read the 2010 Cochrane review on Hypnotherapy for Smoking Cessation and the 2009 Cochrane review on Psychological Interventions for Overweight or Obesity.
Some studies suggest that hypnotherapy can be beneficial for childhood eczema. It may also be useful for treating other minor skin conditions, especially those made worse by stress, if used alongside medicine.
Anxiety, pregnancy and childbirth
Hypnotherapy is widely promoted as a treatment for anxiety, although a systematic review of the effectiveness of hypnosis for the treatment of anxiety found there was not enough good evidence to support this.
Overall, the evidence supporting the use of hypnotherapy as a treatment in these situations is not strong enough to make any recommendations for clinical practice.
No firm conclusions can be made because the studies are generally only small and of poor quality, and we cannot be sure if the results are anything more than the placebo effect.
That is not to say hypnotherapy won't help you – but if you wish to try it, be aware of the following safety and regulation issues.
Safety and regulation issues
Hypnotherapy is practised by some doctors, dentists, psychologists and counsellors, but it is also offered by non-professionals with little training. This is because in the UK, hypnotherapists do not have to join any organisation or have any specific training by law.
Make sure you choose a qualified hypnotherapist with a solid healthcare background. Most health professionals who practise hypnotherapy belong to a professional organisation.
What to expect
You are fully in control when under hypnosis and don't have to take on the therapist's suggestions if you don't want to. If necessary, you can bring yourself out of the hypnotic state.
Hypnosis doesn't work if you don't want to be hypnotised.
According to Cancer Research UK, most cancer patients say they have had a positive experience with hypnotherapy, although it has made some feel vulnerable and anxious.
When you shouldn't use hypnotherapy
If you have any type of mental health problem or serious illness such as cancer, make sure the hypnotherapist is trained in working with your particular condition.
Similarly, children should not be hypnotised by anyone who is not trained to work with this age group.