The Use of Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy in OCD Treatment
Do you struggle with OCD? If so, you’re not alone. Guess what? Last year, approximately 1% of Americans struggled with this anxiety disorder. The truth is living with OCD can be incredibly lonely – and isolating – and crippling. And, if left untreated, this condition can quickly worsen, affecting almost every aspect of your life. Even though OCD can be exhausting and debilitating, it doesn’t have to be. There are a variety of treatments available that can help you effectively manage the symptoms. One such treatment is hypnotherapy. Although considered “holistic” or “alternative,” hypnosis has shown promise in the treatment of a variety of mental health conditions like OCD.
What is Hypnosis? What is Hypnotherapy? And, Are They The Same Thing?
While hypnosis and hypnotherapy are related, they are not the same thing.
Hypnosis, often mistaken for “hypnotherapy,” involves intense focus and increased impressionability. Although the two terms (hypnosis and hypnotherapy) are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. Hypnosis is a state-of-mind – a type of subconsciousness or a “trance-like” state. It is the ability to block out external stimuli and solely focus on the moment or memory. Hypnotherapy, on the other hand, is considered a “holistic/alternative” treatment that is utilized for a myriad of mental and physical health conditions, such as:
- Chronic pain
- Psychological distress
- Alcohol abuse/alcoholism/drug abuse/substance abuse disorders
- Mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder
- Anxiety and anxiety disorders like OCD, generalized anxiety, and panic attacks
- Self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth issues
Note: Contrary to popular belief, hypnosis is not synonymous with amnesia. There is a wide-spread belief that a person will not remember what happened during a hypnotherapy session, but that is not true. Surprisingly, most people remember what happened during hypnotherapy (i.e. while hypnotized). A person in a hypnotic state may feel like he or she has entered the “twilight zone.”
In other words, you are partially awake and partially asleep – at the same time. You are there, but not all there. It’s a strangely relaxing sensation. Hypnosis puts you in two different states-of-being, rendering you minimally conscious. Thus, the goal of hypnotherapy is to move you from a fully conscious state to a more trance-like state, so you can achieve a higher level of awareness.
Keep in mind, however, that it is against the law for a hypnotherapist to “hypnotize” you without your informed consent.
Many times, television shows and movies misrepresent hypnosis and hypnotherapy as “actions that can occur without your permission.” This is false. You can’t enter a hypnotic state if you are an unwilling participant. Lastly, it is important to understand that hypnotherapists cannot control your movement, actions, or behavior while you are hypnotized.
For instance, you will not involuntarily jump on one foot just because your therapist instructs you to. If you jump on one foot it is because you choose to do so. You remain in control of your body, even in the midst of a hypnotherapy session.
Can OCD Be Treated with Hypnotherapy?
In fact, studies suggest that genetics play an important role in its development and progression. Researchers also believe that OCD can stem from deficits or “disruptions” in information processing and/or previous experiences or human biases. Neuroimaging studies have indicated that there are neural pathway “disturbances” or “abnormalities” in people who struggle without OCD.
However, OCD is most commonly caused by a variety of emotional, developmental, and environmental factors. It is typically treated with a variety of pharmacology, traditional psychotherapies (i.e. CBT or exposure therapy), and/or psychodynamic psychotherapies (i.e. hypnotherapy). These therapies can help you better understand your OCD triggers and how to properly manage the condition. It’s important to understand, however, that simply knowing and understanding your triggers will not automatically change your behavior.
In other words, managing OCD involves more than just changing your mindset, it also involves changing your behavior. Because, the compulsions (i.e. rituals and routines) are so entrenched in your subconscious mind, some experts argue that hypnotherapy is the ideal alternative, “holistic,” or supplemental treatment for OCD.
Is Hypnotherapy Beneficial for People Who Struggle with OCD?
Yes, it is beneficial for many people with OCD.
Hypnosis can ease your anxiety by calming you down and helping you relax. Hypnotherapy can teach you how to be more aware of your OCD thoughts, urges, and unhealthy behaviors (i.e. “bad habits”), so you can change them. Thus, the ultimate goal of hypnotherapy is to lessen the power that these thoughts, images, urges, and behaviors have over you.
If you change your mindset (through hypnosis), your behavior will most likely change too. And, once you gain control of your thoughts, you’ll be less likely to engage in compulsive or ritualistic behaviors. You will have, in essence, “desensitized” your triggers (i.e. the intrusive, distressing, and annoying thoughts).
Inner conflicts can trigger obsessions, prompting an “unrelenting cycle” of stress and anxiety that only exacerbates OCD symptoms. For instance, OCD symptoms can arise or worsen if having sex with a new partner triggers your anxiety. To avoid the intrusive thoughts and images about sex that crop up when you contemplate having sex with him or her, you simply avoid all forms of intimacy.
Hypnotherapy can help you access those inner thoughts and feelings (the ones that have been hidden or suppressed) so you can better understand why you are afraid of being intimate with your partner or why you are afraid of having sex, in general. Hypnotherapy helps you enter into a hypnotic state, so untapped areas of your mind are free to experience and work through previous trauma.
Hypnotherapists believe that common OCD symptoms like checking to make sure the door is locked several times may actually stem from a childhood or previous trauma – one buried in the person’s subconscious mind. This memory or experience lingers right outside of his or her mind. Entering a hypnotic state helps him or her access this memory. Perhaps, this person experienced a traumatic home break-in when he or she was a toddler.
An adult probably wouldn’t consciously remember what he or she experienced at such an early age, but that doesn’t mean that the memory is not buried in his or her subconsciousness. This may be the initial trauma that has caused him or her to repeatedly double-check the door before leaving for work. In other words, the obsessions and compulsions stem from a subconscious childhood fear of being “preyed upon” or “left unprotected from predators or vandals.”
This subconscious memory could have triggered this OCD behavior, unbeknownst to the adult sufferer. Hypnotherapy can help this person access those memories (through a hypnotic state) so he or she can properly address and resolve them. Once the person has dealt with the initial trauma, the obsessions and compulsions lose their power over the person, hence, reducing or eliminating the OCD symptoms.
Thus, the goal of hypnotherapy is to help you heal your inner child, who has been injured, abused, harmed, or traumatized in some way. The hope is that once you emerge from a hypnotic state you will finally feel safe enough to tackle present and future issues head-on. The purpose of a hypnotherapist is to encourage you to love this inner child the same way you would love any child who has been hurt or betrayed by someone.
Once you have subconsciously healed from the initial trauma, your obsessions and compulsions lose their power. In other words, your triggers are “neutralized,” causing your OCD symptoms to decline. Because, the initial trauma is no longer supported or encouraged by your fear, doubt, and shame, your triggers no longer have the influence they once had over you and your life.
You can now live your best OCD-free life. Hypnotherapy provides you with a consistent way to effectively manage your ego states (i.e. your subconscious and fully conscious states). More specifically, it can help you confront repressed memories and experiences, so you can set firm boundaries and gain more control over your thoughts and behaviors.
How is Hypnotherapy Different from Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?
Hypnotherapy is similar to many other psychotherapies, but what distinguishes it from the others is that hypnotherapy does not focus on changing intrusive thoughts (obsessions). Hypnotherapists believe that changing one’s thought processes can be so mentally and physically challenging and exhausting that many abandon the process before achieving real success.
The truth is trying to alter one’s thinking patterns can cause the mind and body to rebel, leading to emotional distress and/or physical resistance. The result? Increased anxiety, which can trigger or exacerbate OCD symptoms. So, hypnotherapy helps a person with OCD “temper” his or her reaction to the intrusive thoughts, urges, and images, so he or she does not feel inclined to engage in compulsive/ritualistic behaviors like repetitive hand-washing or re-checking doors.
This “holistic/alternative” approach helps an OCD-sufferer “distance” himself or herself from the thoughts, images, and urges, so he or she doesn’t feel ashamed of having them. Understand that your mind is not only complicated, but also easily influenced. So, it can teach itself to view intrusive thoughts, images, and urges as “mental noise,” so it doesn’t have to deal with or address them.
Keep in mind that a person with OCD does not want to have obsessions, nor do they seek out such thoughts, images, and urges. It is involuntary. Thus, hypnotherapists believe that your obsessive thoughts are not a true representation of who you are. In other words, these thoughts do not define you as a person. Another common OCD treatment involves cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
Hypnotherapy and CBT are not the same thing.
How are the two OCD treatments different? Well, hypnotherapy focuses on the subconscious mind, while CBT focuses on the conscious mind.
Like most traditional psychotherapies, CBT does not focus on the subconscious mind. Cognitive-behavioral therapists believe that if you change your thought processes (i.e. fully conscious mind), you can change your behavior. So, in the case of OCD, the belief is if you can change how you see or perceive the upsetting thoughts, images, and urges, you can reduce or eliminate your compulsions (i.e. rituals and routines).
CBT therapists assert that OCD symptoms stem from fear and anxiety, so if you can “desensitize” the trigger(s), you can effectively stop the unwanted behaviors (compulsions)
Why is that? Well, because approximately 95% of cognitive functions (i.e. decision-making, behaviors, emotions, and reactions) occur outside your consciousness.
Hypnotherapists, on the other hand, believe that a subconscious mind is more attainable and receptive when your body is in a trance-like, relaxed state. It is for this reason, that some experts believe hypnotherapy is one of the best treatments for OCD.
The good news is a hypnotherapist can help you enter a hypnotic state, so you can become more aware of the self-defeating verbal and non-verbal cues that are triggering and reinforcing your obsessions and compulsions.
Many experts (psychologists and hypnotherapists alike) believe that the subconscious mind is one of the most important and powerful parts of the brain. That is why, for some, hypnotherapy is a highly beneficial primary or supplemental treatment for anxiety disorders like OCD.
How Does Hypnosis Work in OCD Therapy?
Hypnosis occurs during hypnotherapy. Remember, hypnosis involves a state-of -mind of state-of-being, while hypnotherapy is the actual treatment. Hypnosis helps calm the mind and body, so you can remember and address hidden traumas or repressed memories. Hypnosis is achieved through a variety of relaxation techniques (i.e deep breathing exercises, images, progressive muscle relaxation, and hypnotic anchors). During hypnotherapy, a hypnotherapist instructs you to visualize or imagine situations that can provoke or trigger your anxiety and OCD symptoms.
Hypnosis reduces OCD symptoms by encouraging you to “picture” your OCD triggers and memories, while your body remains in a calm or trance-like state. The truth is many of us experience high levels of stress throughout the day – stress we may not be fully cognizant or aware of. This stress elevates our risk of experiencing angst. For a person with OCD, this angst can trigger or worsen OCD symptoms.
Because relaxation is a key component of hypnosis, it helps you counteract feelings of anxiety in a safe and “holistic” way. Studies on hypnotherapy and hypnosis for anxiety disorders like OCD are promising. The good news is this treatment approach tends to be more affordable than CBT and other traditional psychotherapies. Moreover, hypnotherapy requires fewer sessions than CBT, the most common treatment for OCD.
During a hypnotherapy session, hypnotic techniques are used to help you distinguish between your true inner thoughts and your “OCD-provoked thoughts.” Hypnotherapists also teach you healthy and effective coping techniques aimed at easing your stress, anxiety, obsessive/intrusive thoughts, urges, and images, and compulsions (i.e. rituals and routines).
Hypnosis, on the other hand, helps you “reprogram” the way you talk to and see yourself. It helps you get rid of your self-destructive, unhealthy, or psychologically-distressing inner voices (scripts) that are consuming your thoughts. The only way you can stop these “bad habits” (unhealthy scripts) is to confront them – and then work to change the way you talk to and see yourself.
Try proven methods
to break free from OCD
Can Hypnosis “Cure” OCD?
Well, the jury is still out on whether or not hypnosis can “cure” or “fix” OCD, however, researchers suggest that it may help keep your obsessions and compulsions “in-check.” Hypnosis is not a “magic pill.” Rather, it is simply a natural or holistic “connector” or tool that can transform and heal the inner depths of your ego (i.e. state-of-being or identity). The truth is researchers are still unsure who can and will benefit from hypnosis and hypnotherapy.
While some people with OCD have experienced success through hypnosis, others have not. And, to top it off, there appears to be no rhyme-or-reason as to why it works for some and not others. Still, it is promoted by many holistic practitioners and even some psychotherapists as an “effective primary or supplemental treatment for a variety of situations and conditions, such as anxiety disorders like OCD.”
For some, the assumption that hypnosis as a “miracle cure” for OCD only sets them and their families up for failure and disappointment. However, for others, it has been called a “blessing.” So, really, it depends on who you ask when it comes to its effectiveness for OCD and other anxiety disorders.
So, to sum it up, there are a lot of claims that tout hypnosis as a “miracle cure” for OCD, and although some are credible, these claims must be taken with a grain of salt. We just don’t know if that claim is 100% true for most people with OCD – at least not at this current time. Hypnosis may help ease your OCD symptoms or it may not. It just depends on the individual – i.e. specific symptoms (obsessions and compulsions), previous experiences or traumas, vulnerability to anxiety, family history, the presence of other mental health conditions like depression, age, etc.).
The biggest determinants of OCD treatment success involve courage, determination, persistence, commitment, support, and a customized treatment plan. Finding the right therapy approach for you can be challenging, but it is possible to achieve success with treatment and hard work. Although hypnosis may not work for everyone, studies still indicate that some people may experience a reduction in OCD symptoms after attending hypnotherapy sessions.
More specifically, researchers have found that hypnotherapy can help you manage your OCD symptoms by teaching you how to cope with and react to your stress and anxiety in healthier and more productive ways. It can also help you establish new behavioral patterns, so you do not feel compelled to engage in ritualistic behaviors (compulsions).
How Does Hypnosis Help with OCD?
As stated above, because OCD is a complex condition, it requires more than simply knowing and understanding your triggers, it also demands a behavioral change. And, acknowledging your triggers is not enough to make this change on its own. Understand that the obsessions and compulsion are so deeply entrenched in your subconsciousness that hypnosis “just makes sense.” How? Well, at its core, hypnosis can calm and relax you, and as a result, reduce or eliminate your stress and anxiety (common triggers of OCD).
Because OCD is an anxiety disorder, hypnotherapy can help you effectively manage your stress and angst, stop, reduce, or prevent obsessive thoughts, and develop healthier patterns of behavior. But, as with any treatment or therapy, the level of change and recovery is dependent on the individual.
However, the key to success is to choose a hypnotherapist who has effectively treated OCD with hypnosis. Some medical professionals believe that hypnotherapy is highly beneficial for those struggling with OCD, while others theorize that it is not an effective or long-term treatment solution for the condition. But, just like more traditional OCD treatments (like exposure therapy and CBT), the aim should always be to find the right treatment for you and your symptoms.
OCD is a chronic disease that currently has no cure. And, the general consensus is that there is no “magic pill” or “cure-all” that will magically make your OCD symptoms disappear in thin air. Managing this anxiety disorder requires grit and determination. It also requires patience; which hypnotherapy can help you with.
Keep in mind that once you have a firm grasp on your OCD symptoms, you still have to “put in the work” to stay healthy and symptom-free. Why? Because it is always lurking looking for its next trigger to restart the vicious cycle of obsessions and compulsions, so you must always be on the lookout for any potential pitfalls (i.e. biological, mental, emotional, or environmental agitators).
It is important, however, that you not try to manage your condition on your own. Ask for help if you find that your obsessions are consuming your mind and controlling your life. You don’t have to suffer alone. There is help available and people who really understand what you are going through. Asking for help is not a sign of “weakness,” rather, it is a sign of “strength.” It takes courage to seek help – any type of help from any mental health or holistic practitioner.
Just like traditional psychotherapies, receiving results from hypnosis can take time, so be patient with yourself and the process. Remember, the timing and effectiveness depends on the individual. Regardless of the required effort and time, however, your recovery is paramount. Even if hypnotherapy does not “cure” or eliminate your OCD symptoms, being hypnotized can still ease your stress and anxiety, so you can address past hurts and learn new ways of coping and reacting to overwhelming and challenging situations.
Hypnosis can literally provide you with the piece-of-mind you’ve been craving.
- National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd.shtml
- Dr.Samanka. (2011). Difference between hypnosis and hypnotherapy. Retrieved from https://www.differencebetween.com/difference-between-hypnosis-and-vs-hypnotherapy/
- Cherry, K. (2020). What is hypnosis? Verywellmind. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-hypnosis-2795921
- Singer, J. (2016). OCD and hypnosis. Psych Central. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/ocd-and-hypnosis#1
- Psychology Today. (2021). Hypnotherapy. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/hypnotherapy
- Grados, M. & Wilcox, H. C. (2007). Genetics of obsessive-compulsive disorder: a research update. Expert Rev Neurother, 7(8), 967-80. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17678492/
- Yazdi-Ravandi, S., Shamsaei, F., Matinnia, N., Moghimbeigi, A., Shams, J., Ahmadpanah, M., &Ghaleiha, A. (2018). Executive functions, selective attention and information processing in patients with obsessive compulsive disorder: A study from west of Iran. Asian J Psychiatry, 37, 140-145. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30223238/
- Trumm, A. (2018). Effectiveness of hypnotherapy in anxiety disorders: A systematic review. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/340279921_Effectiveness_of_Hypnotherapy_in_Anxiety_Disorders_A_Systematic_Review
- Zimberoff, D. (2016).Treating OCD with hypnotherapy. Wellness Institute Blog. Retrieved from https://web.wellness-institute.org/blog/treating-ocd-with-hypnotherapy
- Van Rymenant, M. (2008). 95 Percent of Brain Activity is Beyond Our Conscious Awareness. Simplifying Interfaces. Retrieved from http://www.simplifyinginterfaces.com/2008/08/01/95-percent-of-brain-activity-is-beyond-our-conscious-awareness/#:~:text=95%20percent%20of%20brain%20activity%20is%20beyond%20our,remaining%2095%25%20is%20generated%20in%20a%20non-conscious%20manner
- Białkowska, J., Juranek, J., & Wojtkiewicz, J. (2020). Behavioral medicine methods in treatment of somatic conditions. BioMed Research International, 1–12. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1155/2020/5076516
- Livingston, K. (2020). Anchoring and post-hypnotic suggestions. Hypnosis 101. Retrieved from https://www.hypnosis101.com/nlp/anchoring/anchoring-suggestions/
- Minnis, G. (2020). The benefits of progressive muscle relaxation and how to do it. Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/progressive-muscle-relaxation
- Soon, C. S., Brass, M., Heinze, H. J., & Haynes, J. D. (2008). Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain. Nat Neuroscience, 11(5), 543-5. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18408715/
- Hazari, N., Narayanaswamy, J. C., & Venkatasubramanian, G. (2019). Neuroimaging findings in obsessive-compulsive disorder: A narrative review to elucidate neurobiological underpinnings. Indian J Psychiatry, 61(1), S9-S29. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30745673/
- Psychology Today. (2021). Psychodynamic therapies. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/psychodynamic-therapy
- Pagliaccio, D., Middleton, R., Hezel, D., Steinman, S., Snorrason, I., Gershkovich, M., Campeas, R., Pinto, A., Van Meter, P., Simpson, H. B., & Marsh, R. (2019). Task-based fMRI predicts response and remission to exposure therapy in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 116(41), 20346–20353. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1909199116