Hypnosis For Anxiety
By Susan Lee Bady, LCSW, BCD
Of all the many ways people use hypnosis, one of the most frequent is to
help them overcome anxiety. And that is with good reason. Anxiety is, after
all, one of the most common of human problems. It may show up as a formal
diagnosis-such agoraphobia, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder or a
phobia. Or it may result from and be a part of the various challenges life
presents us-giving up smoking, taking a difficult exam, handling a serious
medical problem, going through a divorce, or realizing that we or a family
member has a serious mental illness.
Our body is hardwired to experience anxiety, as part of the fight-flight
mechanism that activates bodily functions to cope with stress. Sometimes,
this is a valuable attribute that can save our lives in a dangerous situation or
motivate us to perform at a high level. On other occasions, as we have all
experienced, our anxiety can overwhelm us and interfere with our
And this is where hypnosis comes in because: (1) the hypnotic induction is a
highly relaxing experience and (2) the hypnotist can add additional
suggestions (or imagery) to relax, to see things in perspective, or to
overcome the shame people often feel about being anxious. Or he/she may
use one or more of the valuable techniques within hypnotic work-finding a
safe place, seeing a protector, gaining an awareness of one's inner strength.
This work not only helps the person to calm down, but can also help him/her
gain new insights and grow from the experience. Here are a few examples:
"Mary" walked into my office last week badly congested due to a cold. She
told me how anxious she felt because she went to work despite her illness
and made many serious mistakes. I did a simple hypnotic induction and told
her there was a wise part of her that could help her out. Within a minute her
whole face relaxed, her congestion eased and her breathing became easier.
"I really didn't do so badly," she said, "I am too hard on myself. Like going to
work even though I'm sick."
Medical problems are very responsive to hypnotic work. Joseph came into
session anxious about next week's operation on his knee that he feared
would maim him for life, even though doctors had reassured him that he
would be all right. Rachel had to have an operation for cancer that she
wanted to put off because she was so afraid. In both instances I taught them
exercises to lessen their anxiety and manage pain to the point that both
reported it had been less frightening an experience than they had expected.
Rachel continued the hypnotic work to deal with the impact of the cancer,
making many changes in her life she would not have found the strength or
impetus for before, she said.
I practice self-hypnosis almost every day and pass this skill on to most of my
patients. Although the human species is hard-wired for anxiety, it's also
important to know that we simultaneously have within ourselves the capacity
for calm and strength and hypnosis can help access them.
New York City Voices, Jan-March 2001