There are many different ways to use hypnosis in psychotherapy. Since hypnosis is not generally considered a therapy in its own right, hypnosis is typically integrated with other psychotherapeutic treatments, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or interpersonal therapy (IPT). Thus, how one applies hypnosis will be entirely consistent with however one thinks about the nature of peoples’ symptoms and the nature of therapeutic intervention. That’s why the way one practitioner uses hypnosis can be so markedly different from the way another one applies hypnosis.
Hypnosis essentially amplifies experience.
So, if one wants to focus the client on his or her cognitive dimension of experience, perhaps to teach a client to recognize and correct so-called cognitive distortions (errors in information processing), one might use hypnosis to help make such identification and correction a more natural and even more automatic process.
(Aaron Beck, the father of modern cognitive therapy, may not talk about “the unconscious” the way a hypnosis practitioner might, but he speaks readily of “automatic thoughts.” What about hypnosis to instill positive automatic thoughts?)
Hypnosis can be used to help manage symptoms
This is a more superficial, yet meaningful, application of hypnosis. Using hypnosis to reduce anxiety or rumination so an anxious or depressed client can enhance his or her sleep, for example, is not a “deep” intervention, yet clinically it is an enormously valuable one. Good sleep is essential to one’s health. Likewise, teaching someone to manage pain is not a psychologically “deep” intervention, but can literally save peoples’ lives.
Hypnosis can be used to foster skill acquisition
As alluded to above, teaching clients specific skills (e.g., social skills or problem-solving skills) is a standard part of almost any therapy. It is well established that experiential learning is the most powerful form of learning. Hypnosis is a vehicle of experiential learning. It’s not just something to consider or distantly imagine. It’s something to be absorbed in on many different levels. There is plenty of evidence as a result that hypnosis generally enhances psychotherapy for this very reason. Thus, when comparing CBT without hypnosis versus CBT with hypnosis, the addition of the hypnosis enhances therapeutic efficacy. (Note that the salient research question is not how hypnosis compares to CBT, but how CBT without compares to CBT with hypnosis.)
Hypnosis can be used to establish associations and dissociations
Developing a sound treatment plan means thinking about these two questions: what aspect(s) of experience do we want the client to be more connected or associated to? What aspect(s) of experience do we want the client to be disconnected or dissociated from? Someone who is lacking emotional awareness (what might be termed “affective dissociation” in hypnotic terms) can benefit from an emotionally focused (associative) intervention, while someone who is hyperemotional (emotionally associative) might benefit from a more cognitively based (emotionally dissociative) intervention. Hypnosis allows one to structure interventions according to whatever aspects of experience might best serve the client to associate to or dissociate from (or to amplify or de-amplify). And, if one thinks in these terms, it is easy to see how any therapy similarly focuses on or away from specific dimensions of experience, though predictably less effectively by not using the amplified experience of the hypnotic condition.
There are many other ways to use hypnosis:
- to build positive expectations
- amplify and work with emotion-laden memories
- enhance cognitive flexibility, instill better coping skills
- increase self-efficacy are just a few applications immediately relevant to a sophisticated therapy practice, regardless of one’s preferred theoretical orientation