Hypnotherapy for social anxiety is a relatively new concept. Although the concept of hypnosis evolved from work on animal magnetism introduced in the 1700s by Austrian physician Franz Anton Mesmer, it wasn't until 1958 that the American Medical Association (AMA) recognized hypnotherapy as a valid medical procedure.
How Does Hypnotherapy Work?
The premise of hypnotherapy is that events in our lives become linked to physical and emotional reactions. When we experience the same events again, those physical and emotional reactions, whether they are healthy or unhealthy, are reactivated. For example, someone who had a traumatic first public speaking experience might associate shaking hands and intense anxiety with speaking in public.
The goal of hypnotherapy for social anxiety would be to separate the memory of the traumatic memory of the public speaking experience from the learned reactions to the event. In addition, someone in hypnotherapy for public speaking anxiety might be given the post-hypnotic suggestion that he will be able to relax whenever he wants.
What Happens During Hypnotherapy?
Before beginning hypnotherapy, your therapist should take your medical history, discuss the presenting problem with you, and provide a brief explanation of how hypnotherapy works.
The goal of hypnotherapy is to enter an altered state of consciousness, also known as a trance or hypnotic state. During a trance, most people experience relaxation, lowered blood pressure and heart rate, and changes in brain waves.
While in this altered state, you will be highly responsive to suggestion. Each hypnotherapy session will generally last between a half and hour and one hour. At the end of each session you will be brought back to alertness and reflect on the experience.
Hypnotherapy for Social Anxiety: Does it Work?
Although the impact of hypnotherapy on social anxiety has not been specifically studied, randomized controlled trials have shown that hypnotherapy can reduce anxiety in general and may enhance the effects of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety.
What to Consider Before Entering Hypnotherapy
Though rare, it is possible for hypnotherapy to make some psychological problems worse. If you suffer with borderline personality disorder (BPD), a dissociative disorder or have experienced severe abuse, your therapist should use caution in the hypnotherapy setting.
In addition, it is important to receive a diagnosis from a mental health professional before participating in hypnotherapy, so that you can be sure the right problem is being treated.
Most hypnotherapists are licensed medical doctors, registered nurses, social workers, psychologists or other professionals who have training in hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapists who are also health care professionals are governed by the regulations of their profession.
Although there are several professional organizations for hypnotherapy, such as the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis and the American Association of Professional Hypnotherapists, they do not certify or regulate hypnotherapists. If at all possible, you should seek a hypnotherapist who is also a health care professional.
University of Maryland Medical Center. Hypnotherapy. Accessed February 28, 2010.
Vickers A, Zollman C. Hypnosis and relaxation therapies. Western Journal of Medicine. 2001;175(4):269-272.