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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Many Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) sufferers find that clinical hypnotherapy is an effective adjunct to their health care. Research has shown that hypnotherapy is effective in working with the subconscious mind to explore and alleviate the negative beliefs that come about as a result of trauma.

Pierre Janet (1859-1947) viewed the trauma response basically as a disorder of memory which interfered with effective action. Relying heavily on the use of hypnosis, he taught that retrieving and transforming traumatic memories into meaningful experiences, and taking effective action to overcome learned helplessness, were effective therapies.1

At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century PTSD was most commonly associated with combat, and hypnosis was often used by military therapists for the treatment of posttraumatic conditions.

More recently, hypnosis has been found to be effective with survivors of sexual assault, accidents, and other traumas.

Hypnosis can easily be integrated into therapies that are commonly used with traumatized clients. Various studies have shown high hypnotizability in a number of PTSD individuals.2

Hypnosis is found to be beneficial in treating PTSD for two reasons:

One, the symptoms of PTSD are similar to the phenomena experienced under hypnosis. Studies have shown “dissociation” appears common to both.3, 4, 5

Two, hypnosis allows people to access memories of the event/trauma under controlled circumstances. Memories that they may have blocked from their conscious awareness can be amended so as to prevent future symptoms of PTSD. People with PTSD can be taught to use self-hypnosis so they can reduce the effects if a re-experiencing of symptoms occurs.6, 7

A 2005 study tested the effect of hypnosis and
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) on participants with posttraumatic stress disorder. Sixty-seven people with PTSD completed the study. Participants were divided into three groups. They received six sessions of CBT with hypnosis, CBT-only, or supportive counseling.

The CBT with hypnosis group used exposure, cognitive restructuring, and anxiety management in relation to the traumatic event. The hypnosis session included a hypnotic induction and suggestions to help the participant fully engage in the exposure of the event.

The CBT-only group worked on exposure, cognitive restructuring, and anxiety management during their sessions without hypnotic suggestions.

Results of the study showed that people in the CBT with hypnosis and CBT-only groups showed less symptoms of PTSD immediately following treatment and at the 6-month follow-up compared to the group that received supportive counseling only. In addition, the group that received hypnosis reported fewer re-experiencing episodes than the CBT-only group. This study shows that hypnosis has a profound effect on people suffering from PTSD.8

Relieving PTSD symptoms using hypnosis can greatly improve a person’s well-being. Hypnotherapy allows the sufferer to be in control of symptoms and helps minimize reoccurring negative thoughts associated with the traumatic event.

Some of the specific techniques that can be helpful include, but are not limited to:

1. Teaching the client self-hypnosis to enable them to instantly relax. Anywhere. Anytime.

2. Working together to distance the client from the trauma.

3. Identifying triggers so the client can experience more control over a larger array of situations.

4. Where appropriate, going even deeper to see if other events are fueling the trauma.

5. Re-framing of repetitive dreams.

6. Providing tools to help clients control pain.

7. Assisting clients in dealing with bodily trauma after an accident or injury.

8. Providing controlled access to memories in a safe environment.


1Journal of Traumatic Stress, Vol 2, No. 4, 1989.

2Assessing Psychological Trauma and PTSD. Edited by John Preston Wilson, Terence Martin Kean (Chapter 6).

3”Dissociation and Hypnotizability in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.” Spiegel, David; Hunt, Thurman; Dondershine, Harvey E. The American Journal of Psychiatry 145.3 (Mar 1988): 301-5.

4Dissociation, Hypnosis, and Stress and Trauma. Butler, L. D., R. E. Duran, et al. (1996).

5“Hypnotizability and traumatic experience: a diathesis-stress model of dissociative symptomatology.” Am J Psychiatry 153 (7 Suppl): 42-63.

6“New uses of hypnosis in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder.” Spiegel, D. & Cardena, E. (1990). The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 51, 39-43.

7Trauma: Critical Care edited by William C. Wilson, Christopher M. Grande, David B. Hoyt.

8The additive benefit of hypnosis and cognitive-behavioral therapy in treating acute stress disorder.” Bryant, R.A., Moulds, M.L., Guthrie, R.M., & Nixon, R.D.V. (2005). Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 73(2), 334-340.