Hypnosis is an altered state of awareness in which you are relaxed but have focused attention. Clinical hypnosis by qualified hypnotherapists is a medically recognized therapy used to treat emotional or physical problems. It is very different from hypnosis shows that are done for entertainment.

During hypnosis, your hypnotherapist leads you into a deeply relaxed state. You feel separate from, but still aware of, what’s going on around you. Your therapist will use suggestion to help you in different ways, such as to gain control over certain symptoms or change some behaviours that you want to change.

Your hypnotherapist may also teach you self-hypnosis so that you can use images and suggestions to help you cope when you are not with your therapist.

Some people may be more easily hypnotized than others. Many people worry that they will lose control or do things against their will, but you cannot be hypnotized if you don’t want to be. For hypnosis to be helpful you need to be comfortable with the idea of being hypnotized and you have to trust your hypnotherapist.

Hypnosis as a complementary therapy

There is no evidence at this time that hypnosis can treat cancer itself. As with all types of psychological therapy, some people may find hypnosis helpful, while others may not.

Research has shown that hypnosis can help people with cancer cope better with anxiety and depression. Hypnosis can be helpful in easing cancer pain in some people. People who have participated in hypnotherapy report feeling calmer and more in control. They also report having fewer problems sleeping.

In studies of children with cancer, hypnosis helped children reduce their fears of medical procedures.

Self-hypnosis may also help reduce anticipatory nausea, or nausea that starts before chemotherapy when the person expects to be ill after treatment.

Side effects and risks of hypnosis

Talk to your healthcare team if you’re thinking about trying hypnosis. When offered by a qualified clinical hypnotherapist, hypnotherapy is generally safe.

Some people may feel anxious or confused during hypnosis. Other side effects that have been reported are fatigue, headache, fainting and dizziness. Serious reactions may include seizures, lasting psychological problems and bringing back memories of earlier trauma.

Hypnosis may not be recommended for people with certain types of mental illness, such as personality disorders.

Finding a qualified practitioner

It’s important to have hypnosis done by a qualified practitioner with advanced training. In Canada, the Association of Registered Clinical Hypnotherapists (ARCH), the Canadian Hypnotherapy Association and the Canadian Federation of Clinical Hypnosis provide information on hypnosis and qualified practitioners.

Expert review and references

  • Elkins G, Marcus J, Stearns V, Perfect M, Rajab MH, Rund C, Palamara L, Keith K . Randomized trial of a hypnosis intervention for treatment of hot flashes among breast cancer survivors. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2008: http://jco.ascopubs.org/content/26/31/5022.full.pdf+html.
  • Gamus D, Kedar A, & Kleinhauz M . Hypnosis in palliative care. Progress in Palliative Care. Maney Publishing; 2012.
  • Jensen MP, Gralow JR, Braden A, et al . Hypnosis for symptom management in women with breast cancer: a pilot study. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. Taylor & Francis; 2012.
  • Montgomery GH, Schnur JB, & Kravits K. . Hypnosis for cancer care: over 200 years young. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. American Cancer Society; 2012.
  • National Comprehensive Cancer Network . Antiemesis. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology. National Comprehensive Cancer Network; 2014: http://www.nccn.org/.
  • Schnur JB, Kafer I, Marcus C, et al . Hypnosis to manage distress related medical procedures: a meta-analysis. Contemporary Hypnosis. 2008.