Now You See It? Does Hypnosis have Medical Benefits?


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Publish date

26th July 2022


Dr. Kate McCann

I love Keith Barry.  “Now You See Me” was a great movie.  And hypnosis is real.  But what I want to talk about it:  what are the medical benefits of hypnosis?

Since many of my patients are making changes to diet or quitting smoking, this question come up often enough.

Hypnosis has a long history and it’s use has been promoted for everything from child birth to dental work, from flying phobias to weight loss to smoking cessation.

Let’s do the science and sum up the current evidence:

What is hypnosis?  It is an altered brain state where you are calm, relaxed, focused and open to suggestions. (In deep hypnosis, your brain waves change – this is a fascinating area of ongoing research but still not completely understood.)

Can anyone be hypnotised?  No. Evidence suggests that fewer than 50% of people can achieve that deep trance-like state where they are suggestible and do not consciously remember the suggestion made during hypnosis. But other people still can benefit in other levels of trance where they remain fully conscious.

Is it safe?  Yes.  Despite how it looks like in television, you retain complete self-control during hyponotic states.   However, experts usually recommend that people with serious mental health conditions avoid it.

But does it work?   The short answer is:  maybe, for some people, for some reasons.  Let’s break this down.

Hypnosis for weight loss and smoking/addiction?  Evidence just isn’t there yet.  While small studies are often cited to show benefits, in the meta-analyses that were done, some patients had short-term results but follow-up at 6 to 12 months showed no benefits.  The patients who did benefit used hypnosis as part of other conventional therapies/treatments.

What about dental work or childbirth?  Studies found that it definitely reduced anxiety for the patients that were able to be hypnotised, and patient felt the benefit.  However, there evidence was less clear on its role in in pain relief (some researchers feel that pain relief in hypnosis requires patient to achieve certain type of brain waves). The current recommendations from experts is that there isn’t enough evidence in the studies that have done so far, and recommend more studies.

How about for phobias (fears)?  Hypnotherapy has a role (again, doesn’t work for everyone and the evidence is mixed)  It has best results as part of more comprehensive therapy sessions with a qualified counsellor/psychologist.

How do I leave it with those patients who ask about using hypnosis for losing weight or quitting smoking?  I practice evidence-based medicine so I classify this, like many doctors do, as complementary medicine.  For most patients, it does no harm if they want to try it.  It is always their choice.  But strongly recommend that they consider it only an addition to – not a replacement for – evidence-based approaches.

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