Seeking a hypnotherapist.
It's important when seeking a hypnotherapist that you first seek the advice of a medical professional, including to establish a diagnosis and for the discussion of a treatment plan, prior to seeking treatment with hypnotherapy, for any condition which is related to your physical or mental health.
Hypnotherapy can enhance the well-being of individuals diagnosed with medical conditions, but should not take the place of medical treatment and advice. If you have been diagnosed with - or suspect you may have -any condition normally considered appropriate for medical treatment, please speak to your doctor before starting hypnotherapy.
What is hypnotherapy?
Hypnotherapy is the use of hypnosis in the treatment of a psychological disorder or concern, where hypnosis is defined as:
"A state of consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness characterised by an enhanced capacity for response"
(Advancing research and practice: The revised APA Division 30 definitions of hypnosis.Elkins,G.R.,Barbaraz,A.F.,Council,J.R.,& Speigel,D. 2015, International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 63(1), pp1-9)
What can hypnotherapy treat?
For a hypnotherapist to be able to claim that they can treat you - i.e. offer a treatment that has been shown to be effective for your condition, they are required to hold robust evidence that the treatment works, and to comply with the rulings of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP.)
It is accepted by the ASA & CAP that hypnotherapy can be used to:
- relieve anxiety
- aid sleep
- help with bed wetting
- help with confidence
- help with eating problems (but not eating disorders)
- help with minor skin conditions (e.g. conditions made worse by stress.)
- help with perceived pain control and perceived pain reduction (provided the hypnotherapist holds robust clinical evidence about this and provided that no claim is made to treat the underlying causes of pain)
- help with minor addictions and bad habits with commitment and determination from the client (hypnotherapists claiming they can treat addictions and bad habits without you making an effort must hold robust evidence about this claim)
- help with quitting smoking - (but there are specific rules about what hypnotherapists can claim about this- see below.)
Success stories by other clients can't be taken to mean that a hypnotherapist can claim that their treatment is effective at stopping smoking - it just seemed to work for that particular client or clients whose circumstances may be different to yours. Be aware that even if a hypnotherapist has many testimonials on their website from other clients, the therapy may not work for you.
Hypnotherapists also cannot use issues such as the number of clients who said they'd quit, clients who didn't take up a money back guarantee, or clients who didn't return for follow up sessions - to claim that their treatment for smoking works. Look out for any claims like this because they don’t prove that the treatment offered works.
In addition, you should be aware that if any hypnotherapist claims to be able to help you quit smoking without you making an effort, they would need to hold robust scientific evidence for this claim if challenged.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
There is some confusion currently about whether hypnotherapy can treat IBS. A hospital study in 2013 suggested that hypnotherapy was effective for IBS. On assessing this study, the ASA concluded that this evidence was not robust enough to say that hypnotherapy could treat IBS.
However, current NICE Guidelines, referring to the same study, state that hypnotherapy is an effective treatment for IBS. NICE guidelines can be used by GPs to prescribe treatment.
This is a confusing picture, and we are seeking clarification on this issue, but our interim advice is that hypnotherapists should follow the ASA Code and not claim that hypnotherapy is an effective treatment for IBS.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts and feel that you may harm yourself or want to take your own life it is important to tell someone and get help.
If your thoughts around suicide are consuming, there are a number of options for keeping safe:
- Talk to someone you trust and ask for help
- Call 999 and ask for an ambulance
- Go to your nearest A&E department
- Talk to an advisor at the Samaritans.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts but do not feel that you will take any action we advise that you contact your GP for further advice.
For further information and/or advice about immediate help please visit:
What shouldn't hypnotherapy claim to treat?
Mental Health Conditions
Claims to treat depression, addiction, eating disorders and other serious mental or psychological conditions are likely to be considered claims to treat serious medical conditions and practitioners should not refer to the treatment of these conditions unless that treatment is to be carried out by a suitably qualified health professional.
If you suffer from any of the above conditions you should seek advice from your GP or an appropriately qualified mental health professional.
Serious Medical Conditions
Claims to offer treatment on conditions for which medical supervision should be sought are likely to be considered to discourage essential treatment unless that treatment is carried out under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional.
The ASA and CAP do not consider that hypnotherapists who do not hold a general medical qualification are likely to be suitably qualified to treat serious medical conditions.
You should never let a hypnotherapist discourage you from seeking a medical diagnosis, and always seek medical supervision for serious conditions. Your hypnotherapist should always advise you to seek medical help when appropriate.
Can I still see a hypnotherapist for conditions not listed as recognised treatment?
Yes, but the hypnotherapist should not claim to be able to offer you an effective treatment without holding robust clinical evidence, and again for any mental or physical condition requiring medical treatment you should always seek medical advice first - and your hypnotherapist should advise you to do so.
Your hypnotherapist, for example, may state that they could help enhance your overall wellbeing with a particular condition. An example might be that you present to a hypnotherapist with a serious medical condition. They should not claim to treat the condition, but may be able to treat issues such as anxiety, sleep or pain perception that go along with the condition - provided that you are seeking medical help for the condition itself.
You may feel better overall from the issues which the hypnotherapist can treat, but this should not be taken to mean that your medical condition has been treated.
Many clients reporting being helped with hypnotherapy do so due to its complementary nature - for example, they report that hypnotherapy promotes a sense of wellbeing, aids relaxation, or improves their energy levels. While clients report these as valuable attributes of the hypnotherapy they are receiving, this should not be seen as an claim to be an effective medical treatment, such as "hypnotherapy could rid you of migraines."
It's important to understand that "evidence" for when a treatment works is likely to mean robust scientific study. It can't just mean that your hypnotherapist states that "it worked for other clients." The ASA does not allow hypnotherapists to say a treatment works based on what their clients have told them. So whereas it may be reassuring to be told that other clients have seen successful results, this could be down to their own personal circumstances and can't be taken to mean that the treatment would also work for you.
The golden rule is that claiming an individual (or many people) has been helped can't be taken to mean that it's proven the treatment works.
What if my hypnotherapist holds other qualifications - for example, they are a counsellor, psychotherapist or medical professional?
Your hypnotherapist may be able to legally offer to treat you for mental or physical health conditions if they hold additional qualifications.
However, it's really important that they explain to you, when offering treatment, which of their qualifications and training allow them to offer treatment. Often, practitioners will use a blend of different therapies when helping their clients, but they must be clear with you as to the basis on which they are offering to help.
An example might be where a practitioner, who is both a counsellor and hypnotherapist, offers you recognised CfD (Counselling for Depression) to treat your depression because they are qualified to do so as a counsellor, and also offers hypnotherapy to enhance your wellbeing or reduce anxiety levels as part of their overall approach.
Another example may be a surgeon who treats a broken limb surgically because they are qualified to do so, and then also uses hypnotherapy techniques for perceived pain reduction and post-operative relaxation.
As every person is different the best results will be obtained by utilising the methods that each person will respond to.
Your therapist may have studied and/or trained using a specific type of hypnotherapy or they may have studied a number of different models (or modalities). For example:
- In "Traditional Hypnosis" the therapist gives direct suggestions to the unconscious mind. This type of hypnosis works well with those who accept what they are told.
- In "Ericksonian Hypnosis," the therapist will use metaphors to give suggestions and ideas to your unconscious mind. This can be very effective because it helps to eliminate the resistance to change that may come from the conscious mind.
When you first meet with your therapist and discuss the issues you want to work on they will work out a plan of treatment with you and explain what will happen next. (If you want to find out more information about the different models of hypnotherapy then do ask your therapist).
Most hypnosis cassettes and DVDs use "Traditional Hypnosis" techniques. This is the reason why this method has only a partial success rate as it is not very effective for people who are critical or analytical in their thinking processes.
How to choose?
It is best to have an initial session and to focus on how comfortable you feel with a potential therapist before making up your mind. There are certain very important guidelines:
- Ensure that the therapist is on an Accredited Register. This means that their training has met recognized standards and there is a proper complaints procedure available should things go wrong.
- Ask about the Code of Ethics or ethical framework they have agreed to observe
- Make sure you understand how many sessions are available, how often and at what times they will be and how it will be decided when it is time to end.
- Make sure arrangements for payment and cancellations are made clear from the start
- Bear in mind that your therapist cannot ‘cure’ you and should not claim that they can.
Remember that you do not have to stay with a therapist to whom you cannot relate or feel safe, or whom you cannot trust. If at all possible, though, try to talk to your therapist first about anything you are uncomfortable with. This can often be very helpful.
Last reviewed September 2021
Next review date September 2022