Does Hypnosis Work for Depression?

Continuing to treat depression at home is a pretty big subject in my life. While my partner takes meds and goes to therapy, there are a few things that help her combat anxieties and alleviate symptoms of depression, especially on sleepless nights. Insomnia or restless sleep is a very common symptom among people with depression, because it tends to be that after the day’s all done and you’re lying in bed, your mind begins to wander, and you land on negative, critical thoughts. Not every night ends that way, but many do, making falling asleep exceptionally difficult. But one thing that helps is sleep hypnosis.

Hypnotherapy in general has seen a lot of use for people with depression outside of general therapy and medication, and it seems to work for quite a few people. Hypnosis or hypnotherapy takes advantage of the way the mind works, putting patients in a trance-like state where their subconscious more open to suggestion. This doesn’t quite work the way magic tricks do, but the concept is like mindfulness therapy and talk therapy. By using certain key phrases, hypnotherapists try to help patients think differently when they’re not aware of their thoughts, thus working to reduce the negative thinking many subject themselves to while depressed. Sleep hypnosis helps in alleviating negative thoughts while falling asleep.

What’s Hypnosis Like?

Think of sitting in your car, on a highway, driving past the exit you were supposed to take. While some might consider that to be simple absent-mindedness, it comes close to describing what hypnosis feels like – a state of daydreaming where you actually become hyperaware, but not in the sense you’d think. Rather than being acutely aware of the fact that you’re in a specific kind of mental state, hypnosis while awake generally sharpens the sense and reflexes, and allows you to react to things much faster than you normally would.

 

Hypnosis involves neither mind control nor sleep. It’s not something you can be put under without consent. A hypnotist might come up to you, slip you some bills in exchange for a quick con, and then would proceed to pretend to make you do a dance. A professional and licensed hypnotherapist works with you as any therapist would, relying on a bond of trust and understanding to engage in hypnosis, without putting you under.

Sleep hypnosis temporarily invokes a hypnotic auditory effect to help you fall asleep, useful in cases of insomnia. Outside of sleep hypnosis, sleep doesn’t have much to do with hypnotherapy.

Hypnotherapy is, technically, all on you. A hypnotherapist guides you to a different state of mind, but they’re not putting you under a spell or slipping something in your complementary tea. You’re hypnotizing yourself. It’s much like regular therapy where a therapist helps you figure out how to explore your thoughts and feelings, adjust your behavior, and be more aware of how a disorder or problem manifests in your day-to-day, so you can correct it and move on.

Figuring Out if Hypnotherapy Works for You

Here are two absolutely critical facts if you’re considering hypnotherapy – or any therapy in general:

  1. You’re applying the therapy to yourself. Therapists aren’t wizards, and while they do provide instructions and help you on your way, you’re basically doing it yourself. It’s like how a teacher can give you the information and tools you need to pass a test, but you’re still taking the test on your own merit.
  2. The success of talk therapy and hypnotherapy somewhat correlates with how much you believe in it. This is different from placebo medicine, because medication is supposed to work regardless of whether you think it will or not. Therapy, on the other hand, relies very much on your state of mind – so if you don’t think it’s worth your time, you’re not going to get much of an effect out of it.

This might sound a bit like a copout, like saying that if therapy doesn’t work for you, then you obviously didn’t want it enough. But that’s not necessarily true either. Believing in therapy and trusting a therapist can help make therapy more effective, but it’s not always going to help alleviate symptoms of depression. It’s important to remember that if your first instinct to treating depressive thoughts is to go to a therapist or hypnotherapist, you may be ignoring a host of physical and neurological conditions that include depressive and even suicidal thoughts among their many symptoms, including genetic conditions that affect hormone production, issues with gut flora, brain tumors, hypothyroidism, or hyperthyroidism, and more.

Many doctors can diagnose depression within a few sessions. But identifying the cause of a depression takes more time, and various tests. If your depression has a physical origin, then therapy can possibly alleviate certain thoughts and symptoms, but you’re still basically fighting physical symptoms with a psychological treatment. Treating the underlying cause will usually make depressive symptoms go away.

More Than Depression

Hypnotherapy can help alleviate depression, but that’s not its sole feat. Hypnotherapy has been successfully used in the treatment of fibromyalgia (a chronic fatigue illness that causes pain and weakness) 1 and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) 2, with controlled trials showing promise that hypnotherapy may be an effective treatment for these conditions, given patient cooperation.

If it’s a psychological symptom, chances are that hypnotherapy can help. But the degree to which symptoms are alleviated depends on a variety of factors. You’re going to get more out of hypnotherapy when coupled with other treatments, especially if these tackle the underlying cause of your depression. If your depression is caused by life events, then remember that “treatment” is only a part of the equation towards a happier life. You will have to tackle the problems that got you into depressive thinking to begin with and go from there.

What About ASMR?

ASMR has grown in popularity in recent years, ostensibly due to an absolute truckload of online content claiming to trigger the experience. But few people understand what it is, how it works, or what its therapeutic potential might be.

ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response, does not refer to a specific type of audio recording, but rather refers to a physical and sensory response to certain stimuli. Triggering stimuli will produce a low-grade euphoric effect, due to a tingling response on the skin, often on the neck. It can be triggered both visually and through certain auditory triggers, like whispering, crackling, rustling, and so on. Some respond better to certain auditory triggers than others, so feel free to shop around.

The idea behind ASMR is that the videos you’re watching – usually relying on auditory triggers – involve “ASMR artists” doing something or saying something that makes you essentially feel better automatically. Good ASMR relieves anxiety and can make you feel calmer, even helping with sleep. It’s not sexual (although it can be, like anything) and relies on “brain tingles” to elicit a positive response. There’s a lot of research on ASMR and brain tingling, and how it produces a slight euphoric effect. Keep in mind that ASMR is completely separate from hypnotherapy.

Lots of Alternatives

Hypnotherapy is not a usual treatment for depression, but it can be effective, and you don’t necessarily need a hypnotherapist to continue applying its benefits at home. However, not everyone can make much use of hypnosis. It’s also hard to get a feel for whether hypnosis would work for you early on, as it takes a little time to get used to it and become proficient at using it for therapeutic purposes. Like mindfulness training and meditation, hypnotherapy may take a little practice.

There are other alternatives with a reasonable amount of documented success – meaning there are several cases of improved symptoms that cannot be explained by placebo – including acupuncture and transcranial magnetic stimulation.

While talk therapy (also known as psychotherapy) and medication are the two most common approaches to treating depression in a clinical or professional setting, there’s more to fighting against depression than therapy and antidepressants. Take some time to consider a lot of different safe and effective alternatives, no matter how unlikely they might seem. And give each some time before giving up – sometimes, it takes practice to really see how effective a treatment might be. Eating the shavings of a rhino’s horn or praying to the wind gods isn’t going to help your depression, but visiting a certified acupuncturist, trying a change in diet to help you gut flora, or visiting a TMS clinic can all help alleviate depressive symptoms.

Coming from someone who has seen people speak highly of both hypnosis and meditation, I personally know that these can be effective in alleviating symptoms of depression. Some people can better manage their depression by combining regular therapy with meditation sessions. Others like sleep hypnosis or ASMR as a way to avoid insomnia. The key lies in knowing what these things can and cannot accomplish. I sincerely hope that by giving this a read, you might find another way to feel a bit better.

 

  1. https://europepmc.org/abstract/med/2023202
  2. http://empresa.rediris.es/pub/bscw.cgi/d4453356/Whorwell-Controlled_trial_hypnotherapy_irritable_bowel_syndrome.pdf