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Does Hypnosis Work? Weight Loss, Smoking, and Anxiety Aids

Updated on August 23, 2011

You are getting sleepy…your eyelids feel like heavy weights, pulling down, down, down…you can’t resist…

This is not happening because you are reading this hub. (I hope!) It could be happening because you are being hypnotized!

Many people have seen a stage hypnotist perform, turning otherwise normal audience members into quacking ducks. Besides its performative uses, however, some people claim hypnosis has a therapeutic function. Hypnotherapy is the use of hypnosis to change behavior or to deal with medical or emotional issues. While some seek out hypnotherapists to find out the “truth” behind their past lives, UFO abduction encounters, or their past sexual or Satanic abuses (all very controversial claims), many seek out hypnotherapists for help with weight loss, quitting smoking, or controlling anxiety or phobias. This hub seeks to explore the latter, though certainly there is an interesting discussion about the truth and the lies behind the former. This hub will ask and try to answer this question: does hypnosis really work?

What is Hypnosis?

Hypnosis has a long and checkered history. In the nineteenth century it was associated with the practices of Franz Mesmer (the origin of the word “mesmerize”), a practitioner of “animal magnetism” who was eventually found to be a fraud. Despite these questionable associations, hypnosis slowly regained authority through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Today, hypnosis is considered to be a valid object of scientific scrutiny.

Hypnosis is a state of mind, initiated by the techniques of a trained professional (or, in some cases, by patients themselves) through a method called hypnotic induction. Though it may look like sleep, as the “you are getting sleepy” cliché seems to suggest, those who are hypnotized are actually in a heightened state of awareness and suggestibility, according to current research. In 2005, the American Psychological Association provided the following definition for hypnosis: “Hypnosis typically involves an introduction to the procedure during which the subject is told that suggestions for imaginative experiences will be presented. The hypnotic induction is an extended initial suggestion for using one's imagination, and may contain further elaborations of the introduction…When using hypnosis, one person (the subject) is guided by another (the hypnotist) to respond to suggestions for changes in subjective experience, alterations in perception, sensation, emotion, thought or behavior….Details of hypnotic procedures and suggestions will differ depending on the goals of the practitioner and the purposes of the clinical or research endeavor.”

To be hypnotized, you need to be willing and ready for it – if you are nervous, worried, or skeptical about the procedure, it may not work. A hypnotist will then use verbal phrases and mental images to put you in the trance. Once you are in the state, your subconscious mind more readily accepts suggestions, both from yourself and from others. These suggestions are purported to help both with fixing problematic behaviors and for dealing with pain and anxiety.

Hypnosis for Weight Loss

Does hypnosis work for weight loss? Some people seek hypnotherapy in order to help them lose weight. Many scientific studies have been done on this topic. Some have shown moderate weight loss (around 6 pounds on average) with a hypnosis program. However, these studies have been called into question for methodological problems. Recent studies (2001 and 2003) have suggested that hypnosis can help people lose weight when coupled with another diet and exercise program. However, hypnosis by itself, without the support of a weight loss program, does not produce any significant effects.

Thus, the jury is still out. Hypnosis can’t hurt an ongoing weight loss program, but it doesn’t necessarily help. All one may conclude is that more traditional methods – calorie reduction, smart food choices, and regular exercise – still reign supreme. Hypnosis is not a magic bullet in this case.

Hypnosis for Anxiety and Pain

Hypnotherapy has seen great success in cases dealing with anxiety and pain Most studies agree that hypnosis has its greatest potential to manage anxiety and pain. Because many of these afflictions are directly related to the workings of the subconscious mind (they are psychosomatic), actively working with the mind may indeed help manage these conditions. A 2003 meta-study showed that 74% of patients treated with hypnotherapy found their conditions to improve versus the 27% who improved with no hypnotherapy. These successes included treatments for addictions, medical problems, and (most effective of all) anxiety.

Hypnosis for Smoking

The evidence for the use of hypnosis to quit smoking or to reduce the hold of other addictions is mixed. While some studies have shown some efficacy of these methods, recent reviews (2005 and 2007) have shown that hypnosis does not successfully treat an addiction to smoking.

Overall, though some studies suggest hypnosis is effective for weight loss, smoking, or anxiety, the debate still rages on. The best course of action is to combine hypnosis with a cocktail of other methods to fix our problem. There is never a magic bullet.


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    • beccas90 profile image

      beccas90 6 years ago from New York

      Hypnosis can help many make following a weight loss diet easier. I prefer to say a diet on its own won't work but with hypnosis can help as it tackles the reason why people gain weight. Most people who lose weight on a diet program on its own rarely stick to it and gain it all back eventually. Weight loss is rarely about eating less calories than you consume but about why we eat what we do when we do.