Does Hypnosis work?

By Hypnotherapy

Does Hypnosis work?

Clients will sometimes ask does Hypnosis work. We felt it would be useful to include an article outlines some of the research that has been carried out on the effectiveness of hypnosis.

Does Hypnosis work

Research on the Effectiveness of Hypnosis.


The research literature on Hypnosis is extensive. The endorsements of Hypnosis for its healing effectiveness continue to mount. In a recent report, it was revealed that a panel of the National Institutes of Health has endorsed the wider use of Hypnosis for use in conjunction with conventional medical care.

 Numerous clinical studies have been conducted substantiating the effectiveness of the Hypnotic state in changing individuals’ lives. Some of these experimental studies have utilized poor controls for supporting generalization of results beyond the specific experimental trial reported. The research studies cited below are some of the thousands clinical trials that HAVE utilized solid experimental technique and report reliable, valid findings. These studies report a sample of the multitude of applications of Hypnosis in human living:


  1. Ernest Hilgard (1977) and coworkers: in extensive investigations, using experimental paradigms to induce pain (typically either a tourniquet cutting off the circulation to a limb or plunging the limb into cold water), they have demonstrated that various types of pain can be reduced by Hypnotically induced analgesia.

In these studies, 66% of the high susceptibility group, but only 13% of the lower and 17% of the medium susceptibility groups, were able to reduce their pain by 1/3 or more. Twenty-six percent of the high, 57% of the medium, and 31% of the low susceptibility groups were able to reduce their pain by 10-32% when compared to controls.

  1. Experimentally induced pain, while undeniably noxious, is different from the experience of patients in the clinical setting. Whereas experimental pain is brief, undergone voluntarily, and can be terminated at any time by the subject, in the clinical setting, pain is often longterm, comes against the wishes of the individual and is usually experienced as being outside of personal control. Moreover, it is a part of a disease process that directly alters both physical and mental functioning.
  2. In a neurochemical study of Hypnotic control of pain conducted by Domangue (1985), patients suffering arthritic pain showed a correlation among levels of pain, anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depression were inversely related to plasma norepinephrine levels. Depression was correlated with dopamine levels and negatively correlated with levels of serotonin and beta endorphin. Following Hypnotherapy, there were clinically and statistically significant decreases in depression, anxiety and pain, and increases in beta endorphin-like substances.
  3. The relationship between pain and endorphins is a complicated one. In his study, Guerra (1982) found that only particular forms of the beta endorphins found in peripheral blood during painful experience are associated with the Hypnotic response.
  4. Hilgard (1982) studied children with cancer. He found Hypnosis to be effective in reducing the pain and discomfort associated with repeated unpleasant medical inventions.
  5. Stam (1986) reports that patients with chronic facial pain show a greater responsiveness to suggestion as measured by the Carleton University Responsiveness to Suggestion Scale (CURSS) than do normal controls. These patients had higher Hypnotic susceptibility scores than did controls, showing a high susceptibility score to be a good predictor of response to Hypnotic treatment among such patients.
  6. Domangue (1985) conducted a study of 19 patients with a variety of musculoskeletal disorders. He reported significant reductions of pain and dysphoria following Hypnosis. The reductions were associated with significant increases in plasma beta endorphin.
  7. Barabasz and Barabasz (1989) studied sample of 20 patients with a variety of chronic pain syndromes. They utilized an Hypnotic technique known as Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST). All of the patients were initially rated as having low Hypnotic susceptibility on the Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale (SHSS). Following exposure to the training technique, the subjects demonstrated significant increases in both SHSS scores and in pain reduction when compared to controls.


  1. Evidence accumulated to date suggests that a number of Hypnotherapeutic approaches are highly effective in the treatment of patients with chronic migraine headaches. Although no one Hypnotherapeutic technique has been demonstrated to be most effective, all the methods appear to be superior to a standard treatment relying on pharmacological approaches alone.10. In a study conducted by Anderson (1975), migraine patients treated with Hypnosis had a significant reduction in the number of attacks and in their severity compared to a control group who were treated with traditional medications. The difference did not become statistically significant until the second six-month follow-up period. In addition, at the end of one year, the number of patients in the Hypnosis group who had experienced no headaches for over three months was significantly higher.
  2. In a controlled trial conducted by Olness (1987), self-Hypnosis was shown to be significantly more effective than either propranolol or placebo in reducing the frequency of migraine headaches in children between the ages of six and twelve years of age.
  3. In a research conducted by Schlutter (1980), Hypnosis was also found to effective in dealing with the relief of tension headache.
  4. Alladin (1988) reviewed the literature on Hypnosis, identifying fully a dozen different Hypnotic techniques that have been used in the treatment of chronic migraine headaches. Of these, Hypnotic training emphasizing relaxation, hand warming (which, according to Anderson, 1975) seems the simplest method of establishing increased voluntary control of the sensitive vasomotor system) and direct Hypnotic suggestions of symptom removal have all been shown to be effective in reducing the duration, intensity and frequency of migraine attacks during a ten-week treatment course and at thirteen-month follow-up when compared to controls.
  5. A study (Gutfeld, G. and Rao, L., 1992) was conducted on 42 patients suffering from chronic headaches. These patients, all of whom had responded poorly to conventional treatments, were split into two groups. One received Hypnotherapy to relieve their daily headaches; the rest acted as a comparison group. The Hypnotherapy group experienced reduced frequency and duration of headaches, cutting the intensity by about 30%. “These results are impressive in such a difficult, hard-to-treat group of patients,” commented Egilius Spierings, M.D., Ph.D. director of the headache section, division of neurology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.


  1. Speigel and Bloom (1983b) reported that a study of women with metastatic breast cancer showed that patients who received group therapy with training in Hypnosis over a one-year period were able to reduce their pain experience by 50% when compared to a control group.
  2. In addition, at a 10-year follow-up of these same women, the Hypnosis treatment group had a mean survival rate of 36.6 months compared to 18.9 months for the controls. This suggests that the intervention may be both important quantitative and important qualitative effects (Spiegel 1989a).

17-18. Both adolescent and adult cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy were reported by Cotanch (1985) and by Zeltzer (1984), in separate research, to have fewer symptoms of anticipatory nausea and vomiting following Hypnotic interventions.


  1. In research by Bernardi (1982), hypertensive patients showed themselves to be significantly more effective at controlling cardiovascular responses to stressors in Hypnosis than they were in the normal waking state. This was particularly true for subjects with more marked Hypnotic ability.
  2. In a study by Sletvold (1986), normotensive subjects were shown able to either increase or decrease their blood pressure significantly with Hypnosis.
  3. In a 1979 research study by Jackson, subjects with Hypnotic ability were shown to improve their aerobic performance significantly in response to postHypnotic suggestion. In addition, subjects with high Hypnotic susceptibility significantly improved their performance in physical exercise using postHypnotic suggestion.


  1. Kuttner (1988) found that a Hypnotic approach emphasizing storytelling and imagery was significantly more effective than behavioral techniques or standard medical practice in alleviating distress during bone marrow aspirations in young children with leukemia.
  2. Hypertensive subjects were found to have characteristic patterns of increased cerebral blood flow that were most marked in the left hemisphere. During Hypnosis, they could reduce cerebral blood flow more dramatically than could normotensive controls. The changes noted in this research by Galeazzi (1982) were associated with decreases in vascular resistance and diastolic blood pressure in the rest of the body.

24-25. Friedman and Taub (1977, 1978) reported the results of a trial comparing Hypnosis with biofeedback or a combination of both in essential hypertension. At the end of four weeks of treatment, all groups showed a significant reduction in blood pressure. But at six-month follow-up only the patients receiving Hypnosis had maintained the reduction.

26-27. Generally speaking, literature review supports the value of Hypnosis in analgesia and stress reduction in a number of disorders, whether following the dissociative formulation (Miller, 1986) or a social psychology approach (Noland, 1987).


28-29. In studies by Maher-Loughnan (1962, 1970), Hypnosis was shown to alleviate the subjective distress of patients with asthma. This change was measured either by the number of attacks or the amount of medication that was needed when compared to supportive therapy.

  1. In further study by Maher-Loughnan (1970) asthmatic subjects were randomly assigned to either Hypnosis or relaxation therapy. The results showed both treatment modalities of benefit to the patients, but the improvement in the Hypnotherapy group was significantly greater. There was a peak of improvement between the seventh and twelfth weeks of treatment. In addition, only the Hypnotic subjects showed improvement in physiologic measures of respiration (forced expiratory volume).
  2. Ewer and Stewart (1986) reported a randomized control trial of Hypnosis in patients with moderate asthma. Patients with a high Hypnotic susceptibility showed a 74.9% improvement in bronchial hyper-responsiveness (to methacholine challenge), a 5.5% increase in peak expiratory flow rate, a 26.2% decrease in the use of bronchodilator and a 41% improvement in daily ratings outside of the clinic. Twelve patients with a high Hypnotic susceptibility score showed a 75% improvement. However, a control group of 17 patients and a second group of 10 patients with a low level of Hypnotic susceptibility showed no change in either objective or subjective measures.
  3. A study by Olness (1985) showed that children trained in self-Hypnosis could significantly alter their tissue levels of oxygen as measured by transcutaneous PO2 measures.


  1. Hypnosis strengthens the disease-fighting capacity of two types of immune cells, reports Patricia Ruzyla-Smith and her co-workers at Washington State University in Pullman. Thirty-three college students who achieved a Hypnotic trance easily and 32 students who had great difficulty doing so were recruited for the study. Students who underwent Hypnosis displayed larger jumps in two important classes of white blood cells than participants who received relaxation or no method. The greatest immune enhancement occurred among highly Hypnotizable students in the Hypnosis group.


34-35. Whorwell (1984) reported successful treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome using Hypnosis in a controlled study of a group of patients who had a severe chronic form of the disorder and had not responded to conventional therapies. Patients were randomly allocated to either psychotherapy or Hypnotherapy groups. The psychotherapy patients showed a significant improvement in measures of pain, distension and in general well-being despite a lack of change in bowel habit. In contrast, the Hypnotherapy patients showed a dramatic improvement in all measures which persisted at a two-year follow-up. (Whorwell, 1987). Hypnotherapy, including suggestions for improved gastrointestinal function and pain reduction, was significantly better than Hypnosis for simple deep muscle relaxation.

  1. Harvey (1989) reported a similar improvement following Hypnotherapy in 20 of the 33 patients with refractory Irritable Bowel Syndrome at three-month follow-up.
  2. Colgan (1988) reported a randomized trial of 30 patients with frequently relapsing duodenal ulcer disease. The subjects were treated for ten weeks with either Hypnotherapy or ranitidine or the drug alone. At a twelve-month follow-up, all of the drug-only patients, but only half of the drug-plus-Hypnotherapy patients, had relapsed.


  1. Swirsky-Saccetti (1986) reported on research with hemophiliacs. Over an eighteen-week follow-up, a group of hemophiliac patients who were taught self-Hypnosis significantly reduced both their level of self-reported distress and the amount of the factor concentrate they required to control bleeding when compared with a control group of patients who did not undergo Hypnosis.
  2. A 30-month follow-up by LaBaw (1975) with hemophiliac patients demonstrated the effectiveness of group procedures for self-Hypnosis in reducing distress and the amount of blood products required when compared to control groups in patients ranging from five to forty-eight years of age.


  1. Patients undergoing head and neck surgery who were trained with preoperative Hypnosis had significantly shorter postoperative hospitalizations than did matched controls (Rapkin, 1988).
  2. Swedish researchers studied 50 women prior to surgery. Twenty-five of the women were assigned to the experimental group who were briefly Hypnotized each day for several days before their scheduled operations. Twenty-five were assigned to a control groups who were not Hypnotized. While in a Hypnotic state, the women in the experimental group heard suggestions to relax and feel hungry. After surgery only 10 had nausea (15 experienced no nausea), compared to 17 in the no-Hypnosis control group (8 experienced no nausea).


  1. In 1963, Schwartz reported on a study in which Hypnotherapy was used successfully to prolong pregnancy and prevent premature delivery.

43-45. Omer (1986a, 1986b, 1987a) found that frequency of physical complaints and the general level of anxiety were correlated with premature labor and premature contractions. A brief technique emphasizing the use of self-Hypnosis was employed as an adjunct to pharmacological treatment. The prolongation of pregnancy was significantly higher for this group than for the medication-along control group, and infant weight was also significantly greater.


  1. In a careful single-case controlled study of a patient with Raynaud’s disease, Conn (1984) showed a rapid and dramatic vasodilatation in response to Hypnotic suggestion.
  2. In research reported by Spanos (1988), a pair of randomized, carefully designed studies were conducted with a group of people who had warts. Subjects who were given Hypnotic or nonHypnotic suggestions were significantly more likely to achieve wart regression than placebo or no-treatment groups.

48-49. In a report by David Spiegel in the Harvard Mental Health Letter, the following research was cited: a) Several controlled experiments have shown that Hypnosis can be effectively used to eliminate warts; and b) Studies have been done on persons suffering from pseudoseizures, in which they lose consciousness or motor control and make jerking movements typical of epilepsy (but without the associated brain damage). Such patients have been taught to limit or eliminate these symptoms by using Hypnosis.



  1. In a report by David Spiegel in the Harvard Mental Health Letter, the research was cited that Hypnosis methods have been used successfully for anxiety associated with medical procedures.
  2. Two hundred forty-one patients who were undergoing percutaneous vascular and renal procedures were randomly tested on three testing regimens, one of which was Hypnosis. Patients rated their pain and anxiety on 1-10 scales before, every 15 minutes during, and after the procedures. Pain remained flat over the duration of procedure time in the Hypnosis group; pain increased linearly with procedure time in both other groups. Anxiety decreased over time in all three groups; the sharpest decrease was in the group that was hypnotized. Procedure times were significantly shorter in the Hypnosis group. In addition, Hypnosis showed itself to be superior in improving hemodynamic stability.


  1. In a report by David Spiegel in the Harvard Mental Health Letter, the following research was cited: One seven-year study showed that 50% of patients afraid of flying were improved of cured after Hypnosis treatment for a fear of flying.


  1. In a neurochemical study of Hypnotic control of pain conducted by Domangue (1985), patients suffering arthritic pain showed a correlation among levels of pain, anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depression were inversely related to plasma norepinephrine levels. Depression was correlated with dopamine levels and negatively correlated with levels of serotonin and beta endorphin. Following Hypnotherapy, there were clinically and statistically significant decreases in depression, anxiety and pain, and increases in beta endorphin-like substances.


Alladin, A. (1988). “Hypnosis in the Treatment of Severe Chronic Migraine. In M. Heap (ed.), Hypnosis: Current clinical, Experimental and Forensic Practices. London: Croom Helm. pp. 159-166.

Anderson, J.A., Basker, M.A. & Dalton, R. (1975). “Migraine and Hypnotherapy.” International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 23, 48-58.

Barabasz, A.J. & Barabasz, M. (1989). “Effects of Restricted Environmental Stimulation: Enhancement of Hypnotizability for Experimental and Chronic Pain Control.” International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 37, 217- 231.

Bernardi, L. Galezaai, L. & Bardelli, R. (1982). ” Hypnotic Responsivity of Cold Pressor Test in Normal and Hypertensive Subjects,” Paper presented at the International Society of Hypnosis, 9th International Congress of Hypnosis and Psychosomatic Medicine, Glasgow, Scotland.

Colgan, S.M., Faragher, E.B. & Whorwell, P.J. (1988). “Controlled Trial of Hypnotherapy in Relapse Prevention of Duodenal Ulceration.” Lancet, 1299-1300.

Conn, L. & Mott,k T. (1984). “Plethysmographic Demonstration of Rapid Vasodilation by Direct Suggestion: A Case of Raynaud’s Disease Treated by Hypnosis.” American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 26, 166-170.

Cotanch, P., Hockenberry, M. & Herman, S. (1985). “Self-Hypnosis Antiemetic Therapy in Children Receiving Chemotherapy.” Oncology Nursing Forum, 12, 41- 46.

Domangue, B.B., Margolis, C.G., Lieberman, D. & Kaji, H. (1985). “Biochemical Correlates of Hypnoanalgesia in Arthritic Pain Patients.” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 46, 235-238.

Ewer, T.C. & Stewart, D.E. (1986). “Improvement in Bronchial Hyper-responsiveness in Patients with Moderate Asthma after Treatment with a Hypnotic Technique: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” British Medical Journal, 293, 1129-1132.

Friedman, H. & Taub, H. (1977). “The Use of Hypnosis and Biofeedback Procedures for Essential Hypertension.” International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 25, 335-347.

Friedman, H. & Taub, H. (1978). “A Six Month Follow-up of the Use of Hypnosis and Biofeedback Procedures in Essential Hypertension.” American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 20, 184-188.

Galeazzi, L. & Bernardi, L. (1982). “Cerebral Rheographic Variations by Hypnosis,” Paper presented at the International Society of Hypnosis, 9th International Congress of Hypnosis and Psychosomatic Medicine, Glasgow, Scotland.

Guerra, G. & Guantieri, G. (1982). “Hypnosis and Plasmatic B-Endorphins,” Paper presented at the International Society of Hypnosis, 9th International Congress of Hypnosis and Psychosomatic Medicine, Glasgow, Scotland.

Gutfeld, G. and Rao, L. (1992). “Use of Hypnosis with Patients Suffering from Chronic Headaches, Seriously Resistant to Other Treatment,” As reported in Prevention, 44, 24-25.

Harvey, R.F., Hinton, R.A., Gunary, R.M. & Barry, R.E. (1989). “Individual and Group Hypnotherapy in Treatment of Refractory Irritable Bowel Syndrome.” Lancet,
pp. 424-425.

Hilgard, E.R. (1977). Divided Consciousness: Multiple Controls in Human Thought and Action. NY: John Wiley. 1977.

Hilgard, E.R. (1982). “Hypnotic Susceptibility and Implications for Measurement.” International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 30, 394-403.

Jackson, J.A., Gass, G.C. & Camp, E.M. (1979). “The Relationship Between PostHypnotic Suggestion and Endurance in Physically Trained Subjects.” International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 27, 278-293.

Kuttner, L. (1988). “Favorite Stories: A Hypnotic Pain-Reduction Technique for Children in acute Pain.” American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 30, 289-295.

LaBaw, W.L. (1975). “Auto-Hypnosis in Haemophilia.” Printed in the Journal Haematologia, 9, 103-110.

Lang, E.V.; Benotsch, Eric; Fick. L.J.; Lutgendorf, Susan; Berbaum, M.L.; Berbaum, K.S.; Logan, Henrietta; and Spiegel, David (2000). “Surgery: Complications and Treatment.” Lancet, 355, 1486.

Maher-Loughnan, G.P., MacDonald, N., Mason, A.A. & Fry, L. (1962). “Controlled Trial of Hypnosis in the Symptomatic Treatment of Asthma.” British Medical Journal, 2, 371-376.

Maher-Loughnan, G.P. (1970). “Hypnosis and AutoHypnosis for the Treatment of Asthma.” International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 18, 1- 14.

Miller, M.E. & Bowers, K.S. (1986). “Hypnotic Analgesia and Stress Inoculation in the Reduction of Pain.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 95, 6-14.

Nolan, R.P. & Spanos, N.P. (1987). “Hypnotic Analgesia and Stress Inoculation: A Critical Reexamination of Miller and Bowers.” Psychological Reports, 61, 95- 102.

Olness, K. & Conroy, M. (1985). “A Pilot Study of Voluntary Control of Transcutaneous PO2 by Children.” International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 33, 1-5.

Olness, K., MacDonald, J.T. & Uden, D.L. (1987). “Comparison of Self-Hypnosis and Propranolol in the Treatment of Juvenile Classic Migraine.” Pediatrics, 79, 593- 597.

Omer, H., Elizur Y., Barnea, T., Friedlander, D. & Palti, Z. (1986a). “Psychological Variables and Premature Labour: A Possible Solution for Some Methodological Problems.” Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 30, 559-565.

Omer, H., Friedlander, D. & Palti, Z. (1986b). “Hypnotic Relaxation in the Treatment of Premature Labor.” Psychosomatic Medicine, 48, 351-361.

Omer, H. (1987). “A Hypnotic Relaxation Technique for the Treatment of Premature Labor.” American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 29, 206-213.

Rapkin, D.A., Straubing, M., Singh, A. & Holroyd, J.C. (1988). “Guided Imagery and Hypnosis: Effect on Acute Recovery from Head and Neck Cancer Surgery,” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, Asheville, N.C.

Ruzyla-Smith, Patricia et al. (1993). As reported at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

Schlutter, L.C., Golden, C.J. & Blume, H.G. (1980). “A Comparison of Treatments for Prefrontal Muscle Contraction Headache.” British Journal of Medical Psychology, 53, 47-52.

Schwartz, M. (1963). “The Cessation of Labor Using Hypnotic Techniques.” American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 5, 211-213.

Sletvold, H., Jensen, G.M. & Gotestam, K.G. (1986). “Blood Pressure Responses to Hypnotic and NonHypnotic Suggestions in Normotensive Subjects.” Pavlovian Journal of Biological Science, 21, 32-35.

Spanos, N.P., Stenstrom, R.j. & Johnston, J.C. (1988). “Hypnosis, Placebo and Suggestion in the Treatment of Warts.” Psychosomatic Medicine, 50, 245- 260.

Spiegel, D. & Bloom, J.R. (1983b). “Group therapy and Hypnosis Reduce Metastatic Breast Carcinoma Pain.” Psychosomatic Medicine, 45, 333-339.

Spiegel, D., Bloom, J.R., Kraemer, H.,C. & Gottheil, E. (1989a). “Effect of Psychosocial Treatment on Survival of Patients with Metatastic Breast Cancer.” Lancet pp. 888-891.

Spiegel, David, author. Report in the Harvard Mental Health Letter, September 1998, vol. 15, p. 5-6.

Stam, H.J., McGrath, P.A., Brooke, R.I. & Cosier, F. (1986). “Hypnotizability and the Treatment of Chronic Facial Pain.” International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 34, 182-191.

Swirsky-Saccetti, T. & Margolis, C.G. (1986). “The Effects of a Comprehensive Self- Hypnosis Training Program on the Use of Factor VIII in Severe Hemophilia.” International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 34, 71-83.

Whorwell, P.J., Prior, A. & Faragher, E.B. (1984). “Controlled Trial of Hypnotherapy in the Treatment of Severe Refractory Irritable-Bowel Syndrome.” Lancet, pp. 1232-1234.

Whorwell, P.J., Prior, A. & Colgan, S.M. (1987). “Hypnotherapy in Severe Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Further Experience.” Gut, 28, 423-425.

Zeltzer, L., LeBaron, S. & Zeltzer, P.M. (1984). “The Effectiveness of Behavioral Intervention for Reduction of Nausea and Vomiting in Children and Adolescents Receiving Chemotherapy.” Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2, 683-690.

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