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Hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy uses hypnosis to put you into a trance like state where your body is deeply relaxed but your mind is active.

We all go into such states of mind naturally in daily life. For example, when we daydream or concentrate deeply on something.

A hypnotherapist can use various methods to help you into this state. They may speak to you slowly and soothingly. Or they may ask you to look at a fixed object in front of you or at the edge of your field of vision. You might feel heavy or light, but will remain relaxed and in control at all times.

No one is sure how hypnotherapy works. One theory is that your conscious mind switches off while you are relaxed. So your unconscious mind is open to suggestions. While you are in this state, your hypnotherapist will suggest things that might help you to change your behaviour in a positive way or to relieve physical symptoms.

Remember that even if you are hypnotised, you don’t have to take on the therapist’s suggestions. No one can hypnotise you if you don’t want them to.

Why people with cancer use hypnotherapy

As with many types of complementary therapy, some people with cancer use hypnotherapy to help them relax and cope with symptoms and treatment.

Hypnotherapy might help some people feel more comfortable and in control of their situation.

People with cancer most often use hypnotherapy for sickness or pain. There is some evidence that hypnotherapy helps with these symptoms. It can also help with depression, anxiety and stress.

Some doctors and dentists have hypnotherapy training. They might use this alongside conventional treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

What having hypnotherapy involves

At your first appointment, the hypnotherapist will ask some general questions about your health, lifestyle and medical history. This may include questions about diet, sleep patterns and how you feel emotionally.

Your hypnotherapist will then focus on why you want to have hypnotherapy. For example, you might want it to help you cope with anxiety or symptoms. Or you might just want to learn to relax more.

You sit in a comfortable chair and when you are ready your hypnotherapist will begin. They may give suggestions on relaxation or help you to imagine being in a comfortable place. They might count down from 10 to 1.

When you are relaxed, the therapist will give positive suggestions about changing your behaviour or managing symptoms. During the session you'll be aware of your surroundings. You can come out of the hypnotic state very quickly if you want to.

Your hypnotherapist might also teach you self hypnosis so that you can manage your own condition. It may take a few weeks of practice before you feel the benefits of using self hypnosis.

Many people worry that they will lose control under hypnosis and do or say things that they don’t want to. But you can choose not to answer if you are not comfortable with any of the suggestions made.

Research into hypnotherapy

Some reports show that hypnosis can help people to reduce their blood pressure, stress, anxiety, and pain. Hypnosis can create relaxing brainwave patterns. Some clinical trials have looked at how well hypnotherapy works for people with cancer.

A 1996 report from the American National Institute for Health stated that hypnosis can help to reduce some kinds of cancer pain.

A large review in 2006 looked at using hypnotherapy to control distress and pain from medical procedures in children with cancer. The review found that hypnotherapy did seem to help, but it recommended more research. 

In 2012, researchers in Spain again reviewed studies of children with cancer and found that hypnosis appeared to help reduce pain and distress from cancer or from medical procedures.

A large review in 2006 looked at hypnotherapy for feeling (nausea) or being sick (vomiting) from chemotherapy. Most of the studies in this area have been in children.

Overall, the studies showed that hypnotherapy might be able to help with chemotherapy sickness in children. There has only been 1 such study for adults, so we need more research into this.

One study found that hypnosis can help to reduce anticipatory nausea and vomiting. Anticipatory nausea or vomiting happens when people have have felt very sick or been very sick due to cancer drugs and they then feel or are sick just before their next dose.

A clinical trial in America in 2008 found that women having breast cancer treatment who had hypnosis had fewer hot flushes and the flushes were less severe.

The women also had less anxiety, depression, and interference with daily activities, and better sleep.

A US study in 2007 gave hypnotherapy to a group of women before they had breast surgery. The researchers found that hypnotherapy lowered the amount of pain, sickness, tiredness and upset that the women had afterwards.

Another US study in 2006 found that hypnotherapy helped to lower anxiety and pain during a biopsy for suspected breast cancer.

In 2005 researchers carried out a review of 27 studies into hypnotherapy for treating symptoms in people with advanced cancer.

But, they were all were small or of poor quality. So it is not possible to tell whether hypnotherapy can help people with advanced cancer. We need research to find this out.

People commonly use hypnotherapy to help them give up smoking. In 1992 a review showed that hypnotherapy was the most effective way to give up smoking. But in 1998 another review by the Cochrane Collaboration said there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that it was.

Who shouldn’t use it

Hypnotherapy is generally very safe. Most people say that they have a positive experience with it. But some people report negative side effects, such as increased anxiety.

You shouldn’t use hypnotherapy if you have certain medical conditions, as it could make them worse.

These are:

  • psychosis (a type of mental illness where people have a distorted view of what’s real and may see or hear things)
  • a personality disorder
  • epilepsy

The important thing is to make sure your therapist is qualified. Only see a hypnotherapist who has experience of treating your condition if you have other types of mental health problems, or a serious illness such as cancer.

Children under the age of 7 should only be hypnotised by a therapist who is trained to work with this age group.

The cost of hypnotherapy

Some cancer centres and hospitals in the UK offer different types of complementary therapies free of charge. Ask your nurse or doctor if hypnotherapy is available on the ward or centre where you have your treatment.

If it isn’t, the staff might be able to direct you to a voluntary organisation that does, or at a reduced cost. Your GP might also be able to recommend a hypnotherapist who works within the NHS.

A session with a private hypnotherapist can cost between £50 and £90. This will vary from place to place.

Finding a qualified hypnotherapist

There is currently no single professional organisation that regulates hypnotherapists in the UK.

Therapists can join several associations. But the law doesn’t make them do so and they don’t have to have any specific training.

Most doctors, dentists, psychologists and other health care professionals who are also hypnotherapists belong to The British Society of Clinical Hypnosis.

Being put into a hypnotic state can make you feel very vulnerable. So it is very important that the person who treats you is properly trained and that you trust them.

The best way to find a reliable therapist is to contact one of the organisations listed below and ask for a list of hypnotherapists in your area.

Questions you might ask

  • How many years of training have you had?
  • How long have you been practising?
  • Have you had training for treating and supporting people with cancer?
  • Do you have indemnity insurance? (in case of negligence)

Useful organisations

There are a few UK organisations that hypnotherapists can join.

A national professional body that aims to promote and assure high standards in the practice of hypnotherapy.

Search for a hypnotherapist in your area, learn about the expected code of conduct and more about hypnotherapy on the website.

Tel: 01262 403103
Email: sec@bsch.org.uk

This is a non profit organisation that holds a public register of practitioners who have undergone full training by the National School of Hypnosis and Psychotherapy.

They have a booklet giving information on the register, qualifications of members, code of practice, and a section on hypnosis as a treatment.

24 Milton Road
Impington
Cambridge
CB24 9NF

Tel: 01223 235127
Email: j.teague@ntlworld.com

This is a national organisation of doctors dentists, psychologists and other health professionals who are also trained in hypnosis to treat a wide range of disorders.

Hollybush House
Lees Road
Mossley
Ashton-upon-Lyne
OL5 0PL

Tel: 07702 492867

This website is a support network of UK hypnotherapists. There is information on their training and experience, areas of hypnotherapy, fees and contact details. The service is free and confidential.

Coliseum
Riverside Way
Camberley
Surrey
GU15 3YL

Tel: 0844 8030 242

The NCH is the largest non profit hypnotherapy professional association in the UK. It holds one of the largest registers of independent hypnotherapists.

NCH Ltd
PO Box 4259
Maidenhead
SL60 1HA

Tel: 0845 544 0788

The Federation of Holistic Therapists is the largest professional association for complementary therapists. They have a register of therapists who are qualified, insured, and who follow the FHT strict Code of Conduct and Professional Practice.

Phone: 023 8062 4350
Email: info@fht.org.uk

CNHC is the UK regulator for complementary healthcare practitioners. It protects the public by giving them access to a list of practitioners who have met national standards of competence and practice. Registered practitioners can use the CNHC quality mark on certificates and publicity materials. Most NHS services only use CNHC registered practitioners.

46-48 East Smithfield
London
E1W 1AW

Phone: 0203 668 0406
Email: info@cnhc.org.uk

Last reviewed: 
05 Feb 2015
  • Hypnosis for procedure-related pain and distress in pediatric cancer patients: a systematic review of effectiveness and methodology related to hypnosis interventions.
    J Richardson and others, 2006
    Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, Volume 31, Issue 1

  • A randomized clinical trial of a brief hypnosis intervention to control side effects in breast surgery patients.
    GH Montgomery and others, 2007
    Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Volume 99, Issue 17

  • Hypnosis for the management of chronic and cancer procedure-related pain in children.
    C Tomé-Pires and J Miró, 2012
    The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, Volume 60, Issue 4

  • Does hypnotherapy help people who are trying to stop smoking
    J Barnes and others, 2010
    Cochrane Database Systematic Reviews

  • International Handbook of Clinical Hypnosis
    D. Burrows and others, 2001
    Wiley

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. If you need additional references for this information please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular issue you are interested in.

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