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Hypnosis for Depression: Does It Work?

Katelyn Hagerty FNP

Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 2/2/2022

The origin of the word “hypnosis” comes from the Greek word “hypno,” which means sleep. Also referred to as hypnotherapy, it involves being put in a trance-like state in order to resolve certain issues or ways of thinking.

Hypnosis has been used to treat stress, addiction issues, phobias and even as a pain control tool. Some people also believe it can be a helpful tool in treating depression — and there’s even some research to support this. 

To learn more about whether or not hypnosis works to treat depression, keep reading. And first,  here’s a bit more on what hypnosis even is.

Hypnosis: The Basics

It is thought that hypnosis can treat various issues because while hypnotized, you have more focused attention and high receptivity for suggestions.

Before we dive into how one gets hypnotized, it’s helpful to know there are a few different types of hypnosis. Traditional hypnosis is the most common; it involves direct instructions and suggestions to influence a person’s thoughts and actions while under hypnosis. 

Modern hypnosis, created by renowned psychologist Dr. Milton Erikson, is centered on the idea that everyone’s situation is unique and their hypnosis should be tailored to them. Rather than suggestions, in-depth metaphors are often used.

And then there is self-hypnosis. With this, you can hypnotize yourself — often through guided audio sessions. Then, you can either make suggestions to yourself or listen to the ones in the guided audio.  

Various techniques are used during a hypnosis session to get people to this more receptive state, including: 

  • Relaxation Techniques: To get people into a trance-like state some therapists may encourage laying down, counting back from a certain number or controlled breathing.

  • The Handshake Technique: When shaking hands, a therapist may grab your wrist instead of your hand — or grab your hand and gently pull you forward. It’s thought that the unusual and unexpected action opens the subconscious mind.

  • Visualization: You may be asked to recall something familiar — a memory or place you know well. Then, you’ll be asked to recall something less familiar. When you are trying to remember things you’re less familiar with, your mind may be more open to suggestions. 

  • Eye Fixation: In movies, you may have seen someone swinging a pocket watch back and forth to hypnotize them. That technique is actually used in real life, too. Think about when you zone out: Your eyes are often fixed on a certain point. By asking you to focus on a specific item (like a swinging watch), a therapist is hoping to induce that same zoned-out feeling.

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Can Hypnosis Treat Depression? 

The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that more than 19 million adults in the U.S. dealt with at least one major depressive episode during the previous year, making depression fairly common. 

There are a variety of treatments for depression — including lifestyle tweaks, medication and therapy. Some believe that hypnotherapy for depression can also help. So, can it? 

Truthfully, there isn’t enough proof to say. However, there is some preliminary research to suggest it could be a useful tool. 

In one study, 84 people with depression were treated with either cognitive hypnosis or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for 16 weeks. Afterward, the group that did the hypnosis had between five percent and eight percent greater deduction in depression than those who did CBT. To reiterate, this was a very small study. 

Another study looked at the autonomic nervous system by way of heart rate variability. This system regulates involuntary physiologic processes such as your heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, digestion, and sexual arousal. The study’s researcher found that hypnosis may bring some improvement to the autonomic nervous system.

Some experts also believe that hypnosis can help make people who are depressed more receptive to other forms of treatment. It’s also thought that it can help with the development of coping skills that may be helpful to depressives. 

As you can see, there is some interesting and promising information out there that supports that hypnotherapy may be helpful in the treatment of depression. However, there is far from enough research to fully confirm that it is an effective treatment option for depression. 

Other Ways to Treat Depression

If you are struggling with depression in your daily life, that is no way to live. It’s important to speak with a mental health professional to determine what treatment for depression should look like for you. 

Two commonly suggested ways to eradicate or at least lesson depression are therapy or medication — or both. Each one has been found to be very helpful in treating depression. 

Research supports the idea that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of therapy, can be a good way to treat depressed patients. 

If you go the route of CBT you will work with a trained professional to identify negative patterns and behaviors in your life and come up with ways to address those things. 

Antidepressants are another option. Experts believe that depression is the result of low levels of certain types of neurotransmitters in your brain. Neurotransmitters transmit information between neurons). Serotonin and dopamine are two such neurotransmitters.

Antidepressants can raise the levels of these neurotransmitters to ease depression. There are a few different types of antidepressants available. They include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and more. 

Bupropion (also known by the brand name Wellbutrin®) is another commonly used antidepressant.

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Hypnosis for Depression  

Dealing with depression is no joke. It can have a serious impact on your health and happiness — making it very important to address if you are depressed.

Some believe that hypnosis can help with depression — and there is some preliminary research that suggests this may be true. In a small study, it was found that people with depression were helped by hypnosis. Another study found that it can soothe the nervous system. 

However, a lot more research needs to be done before any conclusions about a hypnotherapy session and depression can be made. More proven ways to treat depression are through cognitive behavioral therapy and medications — specifically antidepressants. 

To find out if you are depressed or to discover which treatment plan may work for you — or if you’d like to talk about any other mental health issues you may have, you can schedule time with an online mental health professional at Hims. 

11 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Garba, M., Mamman, M., (2020). Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy: The Role of Traditional Versus Alternative Approach. Retrieved from https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/71429
  2. Major Depression. (2019, February). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml
  3. Alladin, A., Alibhai, A., (2007). Cognitive hypnotherapy for depression: an empirical investigation. Int J Clin Exp Hyp. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17365072/
  4. Waxenbaum, J., Reddy, V., Varacallo, M.. (2021). Anatomy, Autonomic Nervous System. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539845/
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  7. Gautam, M., Tripathi, A., Deshmukh, D., Gaur, M., (2020). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression. Indian Journal of Psychiatry. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7001356/
  8. Hyman, S.E. (2005, March 8). Neurotransmitters. Current Biology. 15 (5), PR154-R158. Retrieved from https://www.cell.com/current-biology/comments/S0960-9822(05)00208-3
  9. What causes depression? (2019, June 24). Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/what-causes-depression
  10. What Meds Treat Depression? Mental Health America. Retrieved from https://screening.mhanational.org/content/what-meds-treat-depression/
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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.