clinical hypnosis and therapyThis post is all about developing the kind of focus that can not only help you feel better, but be better. I have much more than a casual interest in the topic of how your focus influences your life experience: For more than three decades, I have focused on two primary domains of professional interest: Applying clinical hypnosis in short term psychotherapies, and treating depression strategically in individuals, couples and families.

I have written many times on depression already, but a blog on the merits of clinical hypnosis is long overdue.

The field of clinical hypnosis has undergone a quiet revolution from seemingly being little more than a party gimmick to an established and vital component of psychotherapy and behavioral medicine programs in the finest academic and clinical institutions you can name, including Harvard, Yale and Stanford.

Someone unfamiliar with clinical hypnosis might be surprised to discover that hypnosis has been subjected to a wide variety of empirical investigations, particularly clinical and neuroscientific ones, attempting to better understand how a clinician’s words can become the basis for seemingly remarkable shifts in the subjective experience of a focused client.

Hypnosis involves selective attention, a narrowing of focus and an increased absorption in suggested experiences. Contrary to popular mythology, people absorbed in the experience of hypnosis are fully aware of what’s going on and are fully in charge of themselves. But, they are deeply focused on listening to and absorbing the therapeutic ideas the clinician introduces, taking them in and using them at more profound levels than they otherwise might.

Hypnosis isn’t magic; Hypnosis simply amplifies what goes on in any good therapy when a skilled clinician introduces new possibilities to a client seeking positive changes. No treatment is successful with all people, of course, but the ability of hypnosis to enhance treatment results in most individuals is impressive.

It makes sense that it would, because what lies at the heart of peoples’ problems is the quality and direction of their focus: they focus on feelings when they’d do better to focus on rational thinking, they focus on explaining problems and finding blame rather than developing solutions, they focus on what can go wrong instead of what can go right, or they focus on the negative past when they’d do better to focus on building their positive future. Clinical hypnosis can help change both the quality and direction of your focus.

Hypnosis sessions are most effective when structured according to the unique profile of the client. This includes things like the client’s goals for the session, attentional capabilities, cognitive style, and personal interests.

Generally, hypnosis sessions are about 20-30 minutes in length, embedded within the larger therapy session. Hypnotic procedures typically involve directing the client to close his or her eyes, relax, focus intently on the clinician’s words, and actively engage in the internal process of adapting the ideas and perspectives the clinician offers into a meaningful approach to resolving or changing the specific problems or symptoms under consideration.

As a common example, a clinician might suggest to a client in hypnosis the idea that he or she be more deliberate about gathering objective information (“reality testing”) before jumping to an erroneous and self-damaging conclusion, an unfortunate but typical cognitive pattern often associated with depression. Of course, this is the same sensible idea a clinician might suggest without the benefit of hypnosis, but the client’s absorption of the message is considerably more rapid and intense when focused during hypnosis.

Anyone who practices clinical hypnosis does so with the firmly entrenched and therapeutically invaluable belief that people have many more abilities than they consciously realize. Hypnosis creates an amplified experience for people to explore, discover, and use more of their innate abilities. Hypnosis also makes it easier to learn new skills.

There are many ways to use hypnosis in treating depression including building positive expectations to counter hopelessness, reframing emotion-laden memories, enhancing perceptual flexibility, instilling better coping skills, and increasing self-efficacy. Hypnosis as a subject of serious study, both in clinical and neuroscientific domains, is already reaping great dividends, and as new applications emerge, hypnosis has great potential to help people in ways they may never have considered before.

One piece of advice: I’m obviously encouraging the use of hypnosis as an established means of helping people feel and be better. But, I am strongly advocating that you only seek hypnosis from a well trained clinician, someone with a formal academic degree who is state licensed to provide health care. If you want a local referral, a good place to start is by visiting the website of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis at and clicking on the “Public” tab.

There you’ll find a referral list of professionals for you to interview as possible therapists to consult. You can also call your local medical or psychological associations and ask for experienced clinicians who can help.

Photo by tacit requiem, available under a Creative Commons attribution non-commercial license.