How Hypnosis Can Help Ease Panic Disorder Symptoms

Therapist performing hypnotherapy on a woman lying down

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Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a term used to describe a wide variety of practices that are not yet part of standard medical care. These techniques have expanded and are now being used to treat a variety of both medical and mental health conditions. CAM techniques are considered either “complementary,” or "alternatives" to the more mainstream treatment options, such as medication or psychotherapy.

There are several types of CAM, such as aromatherapy and acupuncture. Some CAM practices involve the area of mind and body medicine, including progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, yoga, and mindfulness meditation.

Although hypnotherapy has been around a long time, it is sometimes considered a CAM therapy and has grown in popularity for the treatment of mood and anxiety disorders. The following describes more about this approach to treating panic disorder.

What Is Hypnotherapy?

Hypnotherapy is a technique that helps assist getting a person in an altered state of consciousness known as a trance. While in a hypnotic state, a person is deeply relaxed, keenly focused, and highly open to suggestion. Hypnotherapy is used to help manage a variety of health issues, including stress, skin conditions, weight loss, addiction, ​sleep disorders, and smoking cessation.​

During a typical hypnotherapy session, the hypnotist guides the client into a relaxed state. Once the client is feeling calm, yet alert, the hypnotist brings their attention to behaviors they would like to change. The hypnotist then offers words of encouragement, such as “You no longer feel stressed” or suggestions, like “Any time you feel stressed, you will pause, breathe, and feel energized.”

After offering affirmations and suggestions of positive behavior, the hypnotist will guide the client gradually back to their regular state. Before ending the session, the hypnotist and the client will discuss the experience, including reactions, progress, and insights. The sessions may vary in duration but often lasts for about one to one and a half hours.

How Can Hypnotherapy Help With Panic and Anxiety Symptoms?

Research has shown that hypnotherapy can help relieve stress, fear, and anxiety. It can also be used to help in coping with the symptoms of panic disorder. While under hypnosis, a person with panic disorder may be guided to bring attention to coping with specific symptoms and overcoming limiting behaviors.

For example, once the hypnotist has helped the client become relaxed, he may ask the person to focus on their panic attacks. The person will bring awareness to the physical sensations, emotions, and cognitions associated with their attacks, such as chest pain, shaking, and fear. The hypnotist will use calming words of encouragement, like “You feel safe despite your discomfort” or “You are in control of your anxiety.” The hypnotist may also suggest ways to cope with these feelings, such as “Taking deep breaths during your panic attacks makes you feel calmer.”

Hypnotherapy can also be used in the treatment of agoraphobia, a common condition for people with panic disorder. Agoraphobia involves a fear of having panic attacks under restrictive circumstances, including crowds or while driving. Hypnotherapy can allow a person to learn how to remain relaxed while facing these fears. The hypnotist can help the person focus on getting past their phobias and suggest ways to remain relaxed when in feared environments.

Hypnotherapy can help a person with panic disorder improve negative thinking, and manage troublesome symptoms. Additionally, hypnotherapy may be able to assist in treating common co-occurring conditions, including depression, headaches and migraines, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Getting Treated With Hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy can be performed by a certified hypnotist or qualified mental health professional who has trained in this approach. Qualified hypnotists can be located through online resources, such as the National Board for Certified Clinical Hypnotherapists (NBCCH), the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH), and the American Association of Professional Hypnotherapists (AAPH).

The overall hypnotherapy experience can vary from person to person. Many people have reservations about hypnotherapy, fearing that they will lose control of their thoughts and actions. These concerns are understandable considering how often hypnotherapy has been shown in the media as a way to make people behave in wild and silly ways. Despite these negative connotations, hypnotherapy cannot make you act against your will. Rather, hypnotherapy helps build self-awareness and overcome unwanted behaviors.

In fact, often treatment will involve helping the patient learn self-hypnosis, which allows the patient to use these techniques on his or her own in an ongoing way.

When considering treatment for panic disorder, it is important to discuss your options with a physician or mental health provider. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing the symptoms of panic disorder, including frequent worry, panic attacks, and nervousness. Only a qualified mental health specialist can provide you with an accurate diagnosis.

Hypnotherapy may not be suitable for everyone. People's ability to use hypnosis may vary. Individuals with certain mental health conditions such as some instances of dissociative disorders, active substance abuse, and psychotic disorders may not do well with hypnosis. Your doctor can advise you about including hypnotherapy in your treatment plan for panic disorder.

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Additional Reading
  • Sutton, A. (2010). Complementary and Alternative Therapy Sourcebook, 4th ed. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics.