What is Hypnotherapy What are its benefits

Modern hypnotherapy: In dialogue with the unconscious

Hypnotherapy is psychotherapy in altered states of consciousness, which are summarized under the term "trance". Diverse techniques of suggestion and imagination are used. In 2006 the Scientific Advisory Board on Psychotherapy recognized hypnotherapy as a method.

Hypnosis in psychotherapy - isn't that manipulation? Does this work for everyone? Are the symptoms just being suggested away? Can you do damage with it? These are some of the typical questions hypnotherapists are often asked.

Hypnotherapy is psychotherapy in altered states of consciousness, which are summarized under the term "trance". In hypnotherapy, various techniques of suggestion and imagination are used for dialogue with the unconscious. In a trance, the patient has options that are not available to his conscious will. For example, vegetative functions can be influenced, pain can be reduced or eliminated, moods can be changed relatively quickly, the patient can relive his childhood, put himself in a vision of his personal future or in other people. In trance, limiting aspects of the controlling waking consciousness are reduced so that latent and unconscious potentials can be activated and split-off parts can be integrated.

A trance process is to some extent directed by the hypnotherapist. Nevertheless, in modern hypnotherapy, the patient's self-motivation is strictly respected and his or her autonomous creativity is encouraged. The patient is never pushed in a direction that is alien to him or that is opposed to him.

A large number of controlled studies have empirically proven that hypnotherapy is therapeutically effective. In 2006 it was therefore scientifically recognized by the Scientific Advisory Board on Psychotherapy, initially only as a method for addictive disorders and psychosomatic disorders.

Classic hypnosis

Classical, directive hypnosis, as it was practiced until about 25 years ago, works with standard hypnotic procedures. Each patient is put into a trance in the same way. In it, he is given standard suggestions for specific indications (for example, "You will never smoke again"). The suggestions are formulated as an assertion (“You are completely relaxed”) or as a command (“Relax!”). In classical hypnosis it is assumed that hypnotizability is an invariant personality trait that can be measured with standardized suggestibility tests. The advantage of conventional, classic hypnosis is that it is relatively easy to learn and requires little individual preparation; its disadvantage is that it can only produce lasting effects in a relatively small percentage of patients.

Erickson's hypnotherapy

The techniques of the American hypnotherapist Milton Erickson have been known in Europe since the 1970s. Erickson led his patients so artfully into a trance that even qualified observers could hardly understand at first how Erickson had initiated and used the trance. He worked with indirect suggestions, deliberate confusion, and hypnotic metaphors and stories, tailored to the patient's individual needs and aversions. With the modern Erickson’s techniques one can lead practically every motivated patient into a trance today, which can be used for most therapeutic purposes.

Various uses

A relatively simple application of hypnosis in psychotherapy is to use it as a relaxation technique. For example, a hypnotherapist can suggest the formulas of autogenic training to the patient or immerse him in a relaxing beach scene. Hypnotic relaxation can be used, for example, to treat stress symptoms, cardiovascular diseases, sleep disorders, psychosomatic disorders or for burnout prophylaxis.

In hypnotic trauma therapy, the patient's ability to separate himself from intolerable feelings can be strengthened in order to protect him from acute flooding, and then, if necessary, to enable gradual integration of the trauma in a dissociative way.

In behavior therapy, hypnosis is used, for example, to relax fears as part of systematic desensitization, as well as to post-hypnotic promotion of desired changes in behavior, to correct dysfunctional thought patterns and self-images, to treat post-traumatic stress and phobias, to control habits or to cope with chronic ones Pain.

In psychodynamic hypnotherapy, age regression in trance can be used to uncover and integrate repressed memories and feelings. The catathymic picture life is a deep psychological imagination process in which given motifs (e.g. meadow, stream, edge of forest, cave) are fantasized by the patient in a state of immersion. The resulting inner images are then interpreted psychodynamically, similar to dreams.

In systemic hypnotherapy it is assumed that the patient's well-being is disturbed by “problem tones” that are generated self-hypnotically. The therapist helps the patient to transition into "solution trances" by focusing on his resources. For this one works with paradoxical post-hypnotic tasks, with cognitive reinterpretation or with questions about exceptions to the symptom, which are worked out suggestively in trance. In hypnosystemic family therapy, family members can also be treated indirectly hypnotically during the treatment of the symptom carrier.

In humanistic hypnotherapy, the therapeutic process is understood as an intersubjective, emancipatory dialogue between patient and therapist, including the unconscious of both. Humanistic hypnotherapy primarily serves to promote a constructive dialogue between the patient and his or her subconscious through a joint search process. During the trance, the therapist moderates the patient's internal dialogues with his personality, with resources or with imagined relevant people in his life.

The goals, course and duration of humanistic hypnotherapy are not fixed at the start of therapy. Rather, the joint development of goals in life and the paths that can lead to them is the central content of the therapeutic process itself. Not only does this work on coping with limited symptoms, but the patient also deals with the existential questions associated with them in a trance , for example about meaning and values, freedom and responsibility, dealing with finitude and absurdity.

In humanistic hypnotherapy, the patient can learn to understand his problems against the background of his biography and to orientate himself towards constructive future plans by deeply experiencing the here-and-now in a trance. A humanistic hypnotherapist guides the patient in a trance to explore and reflect on relationship and attitude patterns, unlived needs and abilities as well as limiting self-images. This can happen, for example, through empathically accompanied free association in trance or through guided hypnotic fantasizing and identification.

Humanistic hypnotherapy aims to provide the patient with significant emotional experiences through which the post-hypnotic effects of the trance experience can persist over a long period of time. In humanistic hypnotherapy it is assumed that every person has latent "inner wisdom" with which they can enter into dialogue in a trance. This can be particularly helpful when the patient has to make existential decisions that he cannot make on a rational level alone.

The central goal of the humanistic-hypnosuggestive work is to promote the patient's own activity and motivation as well as the self-design abilities in order to enable him to recognize and use possibilities of choice in the way of life that were not present to him before.

A case study

For illustration, a sequence from the 14th therapy session with a 23-year-old medical student. At the beginning of the session, he speaks about “exaggerated fears” of an upcoming exam. I lead him into a state of immersion, in which he oscillates between a fantasy of the exam situation and a situation from his childhood in which his father reprimanded him in a shameful way. First of all, we look together for an emotionally evident distinction for him between “exerting yourself” and “being under pressure to perform”. I suggestively reinforce his feeling of being rooted in his skills and at the same time invite him to distance himself from excessive perfection. More and more he experiences himself as safe and competent in the imagined exam situation, and then again in his childhood with his unfulfilled need to be accepted by his father. I act as a moderator of the process and at the same time as a representative of a "good father" who accepts the patient and his fears and takes them seriously. So it is a trance experience on several levels at the same time, of which only a few could be hinted at here.

  • How this article is cited:
    PP 2013; 12 (8): 356-7

Author's address
Werner Eberwein, Psychological Psychotherapist, Institute for Humanistic Psychotherapy,
Aachener Strasse 21, 10713 Berlin,