Hypnotherapy Can Help With Depression

Hi there and welcome to this post which is a brief summary of research recently published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis convincingly showing that hypnotherapy is effective in reducing symptoms of depression.

The findings feel very important given the number of people who suffer from depression, the strain on current mental health services and the potential for hypnotherapy to help many more people.

Please read on to find out more.

How Common is Depression?

We all feel a bit low or ‘down in the dumps’ sometimes but many people experience the much stronger and uncomfortable symptoms of depression. Depression is unfortunately a relatively common condition and an estimated 14% of people will suffer with depression at some point in their life. It is also estimated that around 5% of the adult population will suffer with it in any one year and that depression affects twice as many woman as men.

The symptoms of depression can range from mild and temporary to long term, serious and debilitating. They are characterised by varying degrees of low mood, loss of interest in activities, other people and ourselves, sadness, low motivation, sleep problems and changes in weight. People with depression can also experience anxiety, agitation, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, low self worth and difficulty in concentrating.

Hypnotherapy is Effective in Reducing Symptoms of Depression

In my hypnotherapy practice I have helped people with depression either as their main presenting problem or as part of other issues like grief, bereavement, coming to terms to significant life change and disappointment, post traumatic disorders, low confidence, relationship problems, habit and lifestyle problems.

Hypnotherapy has certainly helped my clients and this has been evident through their improved mood, optimism, more positive action and a regained sense of purpose. This has also been corroborated through the use of the outcome measures I use.

So, I was very interested to read this recently published research which is a Scoping Review and the aims of the research were to:

  1. Summarise the current body of research relating to the use of hypnotherapy in the treatment of depression.
  2. Report on various approaches used.
  3. Examine and report on the therapeutic effects of hypnotherapy when used to treat depression.

The research was carried out by members of the Clinical Psychology and Behavioural Health Programme at Universiti Kebangasaan in Malaysia. This was in collaboration with the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, and Bond University in Queensland Australia. The review seems to have been thoroughly and meticulously conducted.

A key finding from the research, as noted in the abstract was that the ‘majority of studies found hypnotherapy to be effective in reducing symptoms of depression, with some studies suggesting it has superior effects to antidepressant treatments in areas such as overall health and vitality’.

This seems like a very important finding given the number of people who suffer from depression, the current strain on statutory services and that hypnotherapy is not currently listed as a recommended therapy for depression by the American Psychological Society or the National Institute of Clinical Excellence in the UK.


Hypnotherapy is effective in reducing symptoms of depression


The researchers were open about limitations of the research, including that it wasn’t able to compare the specific, nuanced hypnotherapy techniques used within each of the studies. They also identify a potential publication bias in that research may not have been published which did not show a positive outcome.

Article Citation

The citation for the research is:

Jolene Wan Vun Pang, Ponnusamy Subramaniam, Noh Amit, Suzaily Wahab & Ahmed A. Moustafa (28 Feb 2024): Hypnotherapy as Treatment for Depression: A Scoping Review, International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, DOI: 10.1080/00207144.2024.2317193

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00207144.2024.2317193

Key Points

The Scoping Review initially identified 232 published articles relating to hypnotherapy and depression and following a rigorous screening process the researchers selected 14 which met the strict inclusion criteria. These 14 studies related to research carried out with over 600 people who were treated with hypnotherapy, either as a standalone intervention or provided in combination with other therapies like CBT.

The 14 studies had excluded people with comorbidities like bipolar disorder, psychotic disorder, personality disorder, eating disorders or drug and alcohol dependence. Keypoints from the studies were that the:

  • Age range of participants spanned from 18 to 70.
  • Duration of treatment ranged from 3 to 20 sessions.
  • Most common hypnotherapeutic techniques included relaxation training, hypnotic induction, ego strengthening, self-hypnosis and psychoeducation.

The researchers in the studies had used a variety of screening and outcome tools to measure changes in the participants’ depressive symptoms. This included The Beck Depression Inventory (see example here) or its revised versions (DBI-II), The Short-Form Quality of Life Questionnaire and The Patient Health Questionnaire. One study used Heart Rate Variability as a key measure.

The article sets out a summary of each of the 14 studies as tables and these include a short description, the specific cohort of participants, the interventions used, number of sessions and outcomes achieved.

Main Findings from the Research

The main findings from the Review found that the ‘majority of studies found that hypnotherapy was effective in reducing symptoms of depression, with some studies suggesting it has superior effects to antidepressants treatment in areas such as overall health and vitality’ (page 1).

The authors suggest that ‘despite the empirical support from various scholars……hypnotherapy remains underutilized in treating depression in clinical settings’ (page 2).

The article quotes from within the individual 14 studies (see page 26) which had shown for example that:

  • ‘Cognitive hypnotherapy yielded superior results in lessening depression, anxiety and feelings of hopelessness in comparison to CBT’.
  • Meditation combined with hypnotherapy had shown higher remission rates than with a control group.
  • hypnotherapy had impacted the balance of the autonomic nervous systems with patients with major depression as measured by heart rate variability.
  • hypnotherapy was found to surpass the effect of antidepressants.
  • hypnotherapy was as effective as CBT in treating depression.
  • positive change was observed in some participants after only a small number of sessions and this had been maintained at follow up.

The authors conclude that ‘this review indicates that hypnotherapy can be effectively reduce depressive symptoms’ and that ‘hypnotherapy can contribute substantially to depression treatment’ (page 27).

Several of the studies suggested that participants benefited from using self-hypnosis outside of the therapeutic sessions.

Some of the studies showed that hypnotherapy achieved superior outcomes to CBT when provided alone in managing Major Depressive Disorder (page 3).

Bibliography

Here is a partial list of the bibliography from the research article listing only the 14 studies included in the Scoping Review:

Alladin, A., & Alibhai, A. (2007). Cognitive hypnotherapy for depression: An empirical investigation. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 55(2), 147–166. https://doi.org/10. 1080/00207140601177897  

Beevi, Z., Low, W. Y., & Hassan, J. (2019). The effectiveness of hypnosis intervention in alleviating postpartum psychological symptoms. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 61(4), 409–425. https://doi.org/10.1080/00029157.2018.1538870  

Butler, L. D., Waelde, L. C., Hastings, T. A., Chen, X.-H., Symons, B., Marshall, J., Kaufman, A., Nagy, T. F., Blasey, C. M., Seibert, E. O., & Spiegel, D. (2008). Meditation with yoga, group therapy with hypnosis, and psychoeducation for long-term depressed mood: A randomized pilot trial. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 64(7), 806–820. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.20496  

Chen, X., Yang, R., Ge, L., Luo, J., & Lv, R. (2017). Hypnosis in the treatment of major depression: An analysis of heart rate variability. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 65(1), 52–63. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207144.2017.1246873  

Dobbin, A., Maxwell, M., & Elton, R. (2009). A benchmarked feasibility study of a self-hypnosis treatment for depression in primary care. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 57(3), 293–318. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207140902881221  

Fuhr, K., Meisner, C., & Batra, A. (2023). Long-term outcomes of depression treatment with hypnotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 211(7), 519–524. https://doi.org/10.1097/NMD.0000000000001647  

Fuhr, K., Meisner, C., Broch, A., Cyrny, B., Hinkel, J., Jaberg, J., Petrasch, M., Schweizer, C., Stiegler, A., Zeep, C., & Batra, A. (2021). Efficacy of hypnotherapy compared to cognitive behavioral therapy for mild to moderate depression – results of a randomized controlled rater-blind clinical trial. Journal of Affective Disorders, 286, 166–173. https://doi.org/10.1016/j. jad.2021.02.069

González-Ramírez, E., Carrillo-Montoya, T., García-Vega, M. L., Hart, C. E., Zavala-Norzagaray, A. A., & Ley-Quiñónez, C. P. (2017). Effectiveness of hypnosis therapy and gestalt therapy as depression treatments. Clínica Y Salud, 28(1), 33–37. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clysa.2016.11.001

Greene, R. J. (1973). Combining rational-emotive and hypnotic techniques: Treating depression. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 10(1), 71–73. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0087548

Khazraee, H., Bakhtiari, M., Kianimoghadam, A. S., & Ghorbanikhah, E. (2023). The effectiveness of mindful hypnotherapy on depression, self-compassion, and psychological inflexibility in females with major depressive disorder: A single-blind, randomized clinical trial. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 71(1), 63–78. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207144.2022.2160257

Matheson, G. (1979). Modification of depressive symptoms through posthypnotic suggestion. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 22(1), 61–64. https://doi.org/10.1080/00029157.1979. 10404004

Shi, H. L., Du, Y. Y., Sun, Y. J., Wang, Y., Guo, A. N., & Ma, R. (2022). Study on the improvement of sleep quality and emotional status of patients with depression by hypnosis and cognitive behavioral therapy. Panminerva Medica, 64(4), 583–584. https://doi.org/10.23736/S0031-0808.20.04250-0

Yexley, M. J. (2007). Treating postpartum depression with hypnosis: Addressing specific symptoms presented by the client. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 49(3), 219–223. https://doi.org/10. 1080/00029157.2007.10401584

Thanks

I would like to thank the researchers Jolene Wan Vun Pang, Ponnusamy Subramaniam, Noh Amit, Suzaily Wahab & Ahmed A. Moustafa for this thorough work. It feels like a very important contribution to recognising the value and untapped potential of hypnotherapy in helping people with depression.

On a personal level the research has boosted my confidence and commitment to continue helping people with depression in my hypnotherapy practice.

I also hope that it helps move towards greater acceptance of hypnotherapy and a future where hypnotherapy becomes known and available to many more people.

At the beginning of the research the paper quotes World Health Organisation figures suggesting that right now, 280 million people across the world will be suffering with depression. It’s common, disabling but can be treated through conventional means like CBT and through hypnotherapy.

Thank you for reading this.

Take good care.

Andy Hill.

Hypnotherapist (Solution Focused) UK.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *