Can Hypnotherapy Help With Depression?

Published Feb 21, 2022 5 min read

The simple answer is "Yes". There is a great deal hypnosis can contribute to the effective treatment of depression.

In this blog I will outline several ways it can help.

Firstly though, it is important we ensure that our understanding of the nature of hypnosis and of depression is up to date and in line with the latest science.

In the mid-nineties when I first started working as a hypnotherapist, there was very little combined research about hypnosis and depression. Many professional bodies, hypnosis schools, and hypnotherapy practitioners would warn against its use, suggesting, incorrectly, that hypnosis is a contraindicated treatment for depression. Contraindicated simply means its use is not advised in a particular case, or for a particular issue, as it may carry some risk.

However this view was based on out of date ideas about both hypnosis and depression. 

Hypnosis was either seen as simply being 'relaxation' and therefore ineffective, or that it involved a special state of heightened suggestibility that would strip away peoples’ defences and that this could be dangerous. Neither view is accurate or helpful.

These days hypnosis is understood to be a collaborative act of the imagination where you can change the way you think and feel. It is not a state you are put into. It is a process you engage in. You do not lose control. Quite the opposite - it teaches you how to run your own experience.

Just as hypnosis was wrongly characterised, depression was too. Depression then was commonly characterised as :
(1) A biological disease caused by a neurochemical or hormonal imbalance.

(2) Depression is a result of unfortunate experiences

(3) Anger turned inward, underlying guilt, unresolved grief, or some other hypothetical psychodynamic conflict.  

There is a growing backlash against the depiction of depression as a one-dimensional, biologically based disease. There is a strong body of evidence that depression has many different factors contributing to its onset and course, many of which are psychological, and social factors. In other words, changes in brain chemistry are likely a symptom of depression rather than a cause. Thinking styles and lifestyle factors are what actually allows depression to take hold. This actually points the way toward how we might help with hypnosis.

Hypnosis can encourage many things that are immediately relevant to helping depressed individuals.

What follows are a dozen compelling applications of hypnosis for treating depression. These were drawn from a paper by the world's leading expert in such things, Michael Yapko. The reference is at the bottom of this blog.

He points out they all have one common denominator. "They serve to empower the client. They strengthen the client to discover and develop new resources, and they empower the client to evolve a flexibility in living that encourages shifting directions when a path is temporarily blocked or adversity encountered. Contradicting the still widespread mythology of an imminent loss of control that makes uninformed people wary about hypnosis, these articles draw one’s attention to the opposite truth: Hypnosis strengthens people by showing them a path of self-discovery and self-growth, providing them with a comfortable context for developing the best and most adaptive parts of themselves."

(a) helps people build and better utilize a positive focus;

(b) facilitates the acquisition of new skills;

(c) encourages people to define themselves as more resourceful and resilient than previously realized (enhancing their self-image as a result);

(d) makes the transfer of useful information from one context to another easier and more efficient (helping acquired learning generalize more easily);

(e) establishes helpful subjective associations more automatically and intensively;

(f) provides opportunities for therapeutic learning (i.e., skills and insights) to be more experiential and multidimensional;

(g) defines people as active managers of their internal world (fostering greater emotional self-regulation);

(h) helps people sharpen key perceptual distinctions to counter overgeneral thinking;

(i) allows people a more comfortable distance from overwhelming feelings in order to face and resolve them;

(j) encourages people to rehearse new responses and actively incorporate new possibilities in a deliberate behavioral sequence deemed likely to succeed;

(k) helps people identify and develop underutilized personal resources and

(l) helps people detach from a sense of victimhood." (1)

As well as this hypnosis can be used to reduce the habit of emotionally-charged rumination. This is perhaps one of the most vital things to do to unlock the cycle of depression. This insight was provided in the pioneering work of Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell. (2)

To put it simply, when we engage in excessive thinking with strong emotions (worrying, catastrophising), but do not act upon those thoughts to resolve them; then those scenarios play out in our dreams. Dreaming is quite demanding. It is actually a state of arousal. 

For a variety of reasons this is quite taxing physically. Many people who are depressed wake up feeling like they haven't slept. This is made worse by the fact that if dreaming takes place during REM sleep, and if we spend more time in REM sleep, we inevitably spend less on deep sleep. 

Deep sleep is when we physically recuperate.

So, if we treat this thinking style as a 'ruminating habit' then we can utilise hypnosis to reduce it, we can often rapidly turn this lack of deep sleep around. In many cases this alone can unlock the cycle of depression.

This finding suggests that styles of talking therapy that encourage rumination, would indeed be contraindicated for depression. It would be professional rumination at best, and could make the problem worse at worst. So avoid that kind of approach. And avoid self-help books if they encourage you to do the same.

These ideas are expanded upon in the Depression Learning Path PDF, which is available for free online. The link can be found below. 

If you are experiencing depression, my first piece of advice is to read that document and see if the ideas resonate with you. It alone may begin to make you feel better, as you will better understand the nature of depression, and will learn a bunch of things you can do to lift it.

Then if you need assistance changing the thinking and lifestyle habits that allowed depression to cling, get in touch with me and we can get on a call and create a plan for your freedom from it.

(1) Yapko, M. D. (2010). Hypnosis in the Treatment of Depression:An Overdue Approach for Encouraging Skillful Mood Management. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 58(2), 137–146.

(2) Read The Depression Learning Path

The articles on this blog are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies, but they're not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you have any medical questions or concerns please talk to your healthcare provider.

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