At the mention of the word hypnosis, most people imagine a cloaked man with a swinging golden medallion. At best, he repeatedly insists that you’re getting sleepy. At worst, he has the potential to make you cluck like a chicken. In reality, hypnosis is a form of guided meditation intended to bring you into a state of relaxation. Hypnotherapists are trained to use this relaxed consciousness to increase motivation or alter behavior patterns. It’s a holistic approach that claims to bridge the gap between the ailments of the body and the will of the brain.
Hypnosis has been clinically proven to decrease stress and help with chronic pain. Most recently, a study out of Baylor University found that hypnotherapy treatment significantly decreased the number and severity of hot flashes in menopausal women, supporting an earlier finding about the power of hypnosis and menopausal symptoms.
In the Baylor study, 187 post-menopausal women who experienced at least 7 hot flashes a day received 5 weekly sessions of clinical hypnosis for 12 weeks. Participants recorded the frequency in which they experienced a hot flash as well as their hot flash score. The hot flash score was determined by multiplying the severity of the hot flash (based on a 1 to 4 scale with 1 being mild, 2 moderate, 3 severe and 4 very severe) by the number of hot flashes experienced in a day. When comparing baseline to week 12, participants reported experiencing a reduction in hot flashes and a significant improvement in sleep quality. Hot flash scores were also reduced by 80% over the 12-week period for participants who received hypnosis compared to the control group.
How Hypnotherapy Eases Menopause Symptoms
The goal of hypnotherapy is to relax the mind by relaxing the body. It’s in this state of ease that change can occur. Terry Biener, a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist in Long Island, New York uses a technique called Neuro-Linguistic Programming. It’s a method which influences brain behavior through the use of language. The intention is to enable a person to re-code the way their brain responds to stimuli in an effort to exhibit new behaviors.
The physiological symptoms of menopause (hot flashes, interrupted sleep, sweaty palms, increased heart rate) are similar to the symptoms of panic attacks and can be treated in a similar fashion. For example, a woman struggling with hot flashes may be experiencing anxiety over aging. Hot flashes are then not only uncomfortable physically, but mentally as well. Under hypnosis, Biener helps clients re-associate the idea of growing older with something more positive, such as having the freedom to travel or having less burdensome responsibilities.
Robin Zarel, a psychotherapist in New York City with training in clinical hypnosis, suggests that some of the physical symptoms of menopause can be treated using the same techniques used to treat chronic pain. Zarel guides her clients through progressive muscle relaxation by instructing them to alternately tense and relax each individual muscle group. When a meditative or hypnotic state is achieved, the client is asked to imagine the undesirable symptom.
Someone who is struggling from hot flashes would then be asked to imagine splashing cool water on her face or stepping outside on a cold winter day. When a hot flash occurs, the tools learned in session are used in real life as the individual “imagines” away the negative thoughts and feelings.
On average, a session with a hypnotherapist costs between $100-200. Some insurance companies may reimburse part of this expense depending on your coverage and the provider’s credentials. The length of treatment can vary greatly. For example, treatment for smoking cessation lasts three to six sessions on average, while treatment for phobias, anxiety, and chronic pain last slightly longer. Studies on menopause and hypnosis reported significant improvements after five sessions.
Editor’s note: Find a hypnotherapist by visiting The National Hypnosis Association, National Board for Certified Clinical Hypnotherapists, and The National Hypnotherapy Society in the U.S. In Canada, visit The Professional Board of Hypnotherapy and The Canadian Association of Counselling Hypnotherapists and Educators. Rules and regulations for hypnotists and hypnotherapists vary regionally, so inquire about credentials before making an appointment.