A new study shows that combining hypnotherapy with mindfulness training has a significant positive effect on stress levels.
Mindfulness is an ancient mental technique that is an acknowledged means of helping people manage stress and anxiety. It involves learning how to stop and become consciously aware of one’s present moment as a revitalizing respite from the ongoing rush of daily life.
A new study from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, finds that combining mindfulness with hypnotherapy may make its benefits more accessible.
The researchers concluded that hypnotherapy might allow people to achieve mindfulness goals more readily and quickly.
“Mindfulness is a type of meditation that involves focusing attention on present moment awareness. It can help people cope with stress but can require months of practice and training. Hypnosis also involves focusing attention, but it includes mental imagery, relaxation, and suggestions for symptom reduction.”
– study co-author Gary Elkins, Ph.D.
The new study features in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis.
The researchers call their new mind-body therapy “mindful hypnotherapy.”
It represents a novel use of hypnotherapy, which more commonly serves as a treatment for pain and symptom management. The study authors assert that applying hypnosis to the practice of mindfulness speeds up the acquisition of mindfulness skills.
They hope to address concerns that learning to manage stress and anxiety with mindfulness can be a prohibitively extended, expensive process involving more than 24 hours of training.
Corresponding author Elkins cites mindfulness curricula that involve eight weekly sessions of 2–2.5 hours, in addition to an all day retreat that can last more than 8 hours. Such training can involve a major investment of time and money in what Elkins says research has not unequivocally proven to be more effective than standard cognitive therapy.
According to the authors:
“Therefore, if a mindfulness treatment could be developed that obtains results equal to or better than existing treatments but with shorter or fewer sessions, it could have advantages and represent a valuable contribution to treatment options for anxiety and stress reduction.”
To ascertain the effectiveness of mindful hypnotherapy, the researchers analyzed its effect in a study of 42 participants of college age who self-reported high levels of stress. Half of the participants served as a control group, receiving no hypnosis and no mindfulness training.
The remaining half took part in eight weekly, 1-hour hypnosis interventions that incorporated hypnotic induction as well as mindfulness suggestions. Over the course of the 8 weeks, the interventions progressed through a series of topics:
- present moment awareness
- nonjudgmental awareness of the five senses
- nonjudgmental awareness of thoughts and feelings
- compassion for self and others
- awareness of personal values and meaning in life
- integrated mindfulness
- termination/transition to long-term practice.
The intervention group also received 20-minute self-hypnosis audio CDs designed to promote daily mindfulness and were required to log their practice.
Individuals in this group reported keeping up with their practice almost daily and rated their satisfaction with the process as 8.9 out of a possible 10.
The participants reported a significant reduction in perceived distress and an increase in mindfulness, supporting the value of mindful hypnotherapy. In comparison, the control group reported no such benefits.
Elkin summarizes: “Combining mindfulness and hypnotherapy in a single session is a novel intervention that may be equal to or better than existing treatments, with the advantage of being more time effective, less daunting, and easier to use. This could be a valuable option for treating anxiety and stress reduction.”
Elkins notes that one of the study’s limitations is its relatively small sample size, and he looks forward to studies with a larger cohort of participants.
He also suggests that there is a need for more targeted studies that examine the effectiveness of mindful therapy for providing relief from specific conditions, such as anxiety, depression, or chronic pain.