Hypnotherapy for Social Anxiety Disorder

Hypnotherapy can be used to treat anxiety.
VOISIN/PHANIE / Getty Images

Hypnotherapy for social anxiety is a relatively new concept. Although hypnosis evolved from work on animal magnetism introduced in the 1700s by Austrian physician Franz Anton Mesmer, it wasn't until 1958 that the American Medical Association (AMA) recognized hypnotherapy as a valid medical procedure.

Since then, hypnotherapy has been used in treating not only anxiety disorders but chronic physical conditions linked to anxiety such as asthma and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

How Does Hypnotherapy Work?

In certain traumatic and anxiety-provoking events in people's lives, physical and emotional reactions can become linked.

When you experience the same events again, those physical and emotional reactions, whether they are healthy or unhealthy, are reactivated.

For example, if you had a traumatic first public speaking experience, you might associate speaking in public with shaking hands and intense anxiety.

The goal of hypnotherapy for social anxiety is to help separate your body's anxiety response from the experience of public speaking.

In addition, you might be given the post-hypnotic suggestion that you will be able to relax whenever you want to after the session ends.

What Happens During Hypnotherapy?

Before beginning hypnotherapy, your therapist should take your medical history, discuss your presenting problem, and provide a brief explanation of how hypnotherapy works.

The goal of hypnotherapy is to enter an altered state of consciousness, also known as a trance or hypnotic state.

During a trance, most people experience relaxation, lowered blood pressure and heart rate, and changes in their brain waves.

While in this altered state, you will be highly responsive to suggestions made by the hypnotherapist. Each hypnotherapy session will generally last between a half an hour and one hour. At the end of each session, you will be brought back to alertness and reflect on the experience. Often, you will be instructed on how to practice self-hypnosis outside of hypnotherapy.

Treating Social Anxiety

Although the impact of hypnotherapy on social anxiety has not been specifically studied, randomized controlled trials have shown that hypnotherapy can reduce anxiety in general and may enhance the effects of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety.

What to Consider Before Entering Hypnotherapy

Though rare, it is possible for hypnotherapy to make some psychological problems worse. Although there is some debate about whether there are absolute contraindications to the use of hypnotherapy, in certain circumstances such as psychotic illness or a history of significant early trauma, hypnotherapy should be used with added caution.

In addition, it is important to receive a diagnosis from a mental health professional before participating in hypnotherapy, so that you can be sure the right problem is being treated.

Most hypnotherapists are licensed medical doctors, registered nurses, social workers, psychologists or other professionals who have training in hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapists who are also health care professionals are governed by the regulations of their profession.

Although there are several professional organizations for hypnotherapy, such as the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis and the American Association of Professional Hypnotherapists, they do not certify or regulate hypnotherapists. If at all possible, you should seek a hypnotherapist who is also a healthcare professional.

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • University of Maryland Medical Center. Hypnotherapy.

  • Golden, WL. Cognitive hypnotherapy for anxiety disorders. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 2012;54(4):263-274.
  • Vickers A, Zollman C. Hypnosis and relaxation therapies. Western Journal of Medicine. 2001;175(4):269-272.

By Arlin Cuncic, MA
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.