Hypnotherapy | Cancer Research UK
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What hypnotherapy is

Hypnotherapy is a therapy that uses hypnosis. You are in 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 daydreaming or concentrating deeply on something.

The therapy is led by a person called a hypnotherapist. They can use various methods to put you into a trance state. They may speak to you slowly and soothingly. Or they may askg you to look at a fixed object in front of you or at the edge of your field of vision.

You stay in control at all times. You may feel heavy or light but remain relaxed. When you are in this relaxed state your hypnotherapist suggests things that might help you to change your behaviour or relieve symptoms. No one is exactly sure how hypnotherapy works. One theory is that your conscious mind switches off while you are relaxed. Your unconscious mind is then open to the helpful suggestions of the therapist.

The therapist works with you to change your behaviour in a positive way or to reduce physical symptoms. But even if you are hypnotised, you don’t have to take on the therapist’s suggestions. No one can be hypnotised if they don’t want to be.


Why people with cancer use hypnotherapy

As with many types of complementary therapy, one of the main reasons people with cancer use hypnotherapy is to help them relax and cope better with symptoms and treatment. Hypnotherapy can help people to 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 training in hypnotherapy. They may use this alongside conventional treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

For more information, look in our section about why people with cancer use complementary therapies.


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 may want it to help you cope with anxiety or symptoms. Or you may just want to learn to relax more.

You will sit in a comfortable chair and when you are ready your hypnotherapist will begin. They may give suggestions of relaxation, or help you to imagine being in a comfortable place. Or they may 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 will be aware of your surroundings. If you want to, you will be able to come out of the hypnotic state very quickly.

Your hypnotherapist may 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 while they will lose control under hypnosis and do or say things that they don’t want to. But if you are not comfortable with any suggestions made by your hypnotherapist, you can choose not to answer.


Research into hypnotherapy in people with cancer

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

Research has looked at the following areas

Hypnosis and cancer pain

A report from the American National Institute for Health in 1996 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 to reduce the children's pain and distress, but it recommended more research. You can look at this cancer pain review on the Research Council for Complementary medicine website.

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. 

Hypnosis and sickness

A large review in 2006 looked at research into hypnotherapy for feeling or being sick from chemotherapy. Most of the studies in this area have been in children. Overall, the studies did show that hypnotherapy might be able to help with chemotherapy sickness in children. There has only been 1 study looking at hypnotherapy for sickness after chemotherapy in adults, so we need more research into this. You can look at this cancer and sickness review on the Research Council for Complementary medicine website.

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

Hypnosis and hot flushes

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.

Hypnosis and breast cancer surgery

A study in 2007 in America gave hypnotherapy to a group of women before breast surgery. The researchers found that hypnotherapy lowered the amount of pain, sickness, tiredness and upset that the women had after surgery. Another American study in 2006 found that hypnotherapy helped to lower anxiety and pain during a biopsy for suspected breast cancer.

Hypnotherapy for symptom control in advanced cancer

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

Hypnotherapy for stopping smoking

People commonly use hypnotherapy to help them give up smoking. In 1992 a review showed that hypnotherapy was the most effective way of giving up smoking. But in 1998 another review by the Cochrane Collaboration looked again at this. There were several trials of hypnotherapy but there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that it helps people to give up. You can read a summary of the smoking cessation review on the Cochrane website

There is information about how to give up smoking on our website.


Is hypnotherapy safe?

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. The important thing is to make sure your therapist is qualified. And you can read our information below on who shouldn’t use hypnotherapy. Ask your hypnotherapist about any possible side effects.


Who shouldn’t use hypnotherapy

You shouldn’t use hypnotherapy with some 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

If you have other types of mental health problems, or a serious illness such as cancer, you should always see a hypnotherapist who has experience of treating your condition.

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


The cost of hypnotherapy

Some cancer centres and hospitals in the UK offer patients different types of complementary therapies free of charge. So you can ask your nurse or doctor if hypnotherapy is available on the ward or centre where you have your treatment. If not, the staff may be able to direct you to a voluntary organisation that offers complementary therapy treatments free of charge, or at a reduced cost. Your GP may also be able to recommend a hypnotherapist who works within the NHS.

A session of hypnotherapy privately can cost anywhere between £50 and £90. These costs vary from place to place within the UK.


Finding a qualified hypnotherapist

Currently in the UK there is no single professional organisation that regulates hypnotherapists. Therapists can join several associations. But they don’t have to join one by law. 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 useful organisations listed below and ask for a list of hypnotherapists in your area
  • Ask the therapist how many years of training they've had, which exams they have taken, and how long they've been practicing
  • Ask them if they have treated cancer patients before
  • Ask if they have insurance against something going wrong (indemnity insurance)
  • Ask if they are registered with a hypnotherapy organisation

Useful organisations

There are a few UK organisations that hypnotherapists can join.

British Society of Clinical Hypnosis
Tel: 01262 403103
Email: sec@bsch.org.uk
Website: www.bsch.org.uk

A national professional body whose aim is to promote and assure high standards in the practice of hypnotherapy. On the website you can search for a hypnotherapist in your area, learn about the code of conduct expected from members of this society and learn more about hypnotherapy.

Clinical Register of Advanced Hypnotherapists (CRAH)
24 Milton Road
CB24 9NF
Tel: 01223 235127
Email: j.teague@ntlworld.com

This is a non profit making organisation that holds a public a register of competent 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.

British Society of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis (BSCAH)
Hollybush House
Lees Road
Tel: 07702 492867
Website: www.bscah.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.

The Federation of Holistic Therapists (FHT)
18 Shakespeare Business Centre
Hathaway Close
SO50 4SR
Website: findatherapist.fht.org.uk
Phone: 023 8062 4350
Email: info@fht.org.uk

The Federation of Holistic Therapists is the leading 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.

Hypnotherapy Directory
Riverside Way
GU15 3YL
Tel: 0844 8030 242
Website: www.hypnotherapy-directory.org.uk

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

National Council for Hypnotherapy
PO Box 4259
SL60 1HA
Tel: 0845 544 0788

Website: www.hypnotherapists.org.uk

The NCH holds one of the largest registers of independent hypnotherapists, as well as being the largest non profit hypnotherapy professional association in the UK.

Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC)
CNHC is the UK regulator for complementary healthcare practitioners and covers hypnotherapists. Its key function is to improve public protection by giving the general public access to a list of practitioners who meet national standards of competence and practice. Registered practitioners are able to use the CNHC quality mark on certificates and publicity materials.

Phone: 0203 7653 1971
Email: info@cnhc.org.uk
Website: www.cnhc.org.uk

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Updated: 5 February 2015