We are sometimes asked about hypnotherapy and eating disorders. Some people are interested in hypnosis because it’s generally considered a safe therapy, with few side effects. Some people are interested in the idea of a treatment for eating disorders that doesn’t involve hospitalization, residential treatment or lengthy outpatient therapy. They may hope hypnotherapy will offer a quick fix for an illness which is often long-lasting and long-term. Some people have tried counseling and other forms of treatment but still struggle with anorexia, bulimia or other eating disorders and are desperate to find alternatives that might work for them..
It’s understandable that people might want to try hypnotherapy eating disorders treatment for all of those reasons. Does hypnotherapy really work?
How Does Hypnotherapy Work?
It’s a bit more complicated than this, but in a nutshell, hypnotherapy involves helping a patient enter a very relaxed and calm state. In this state, the patient is usually very open to suggestions. For instance, if a patient seeks hypnotherapy to help with stress, the therapist might suggest ways to reduce stress, like making time to relax, exercising regularly and meditating. The therapist might also encourage the patient to visualize achieving the desired results, like feeling more relaxed, being free from worry, and sleeping well and waking up refreshed.
Unlike what you may see on television or in the movies, people don’t lose control of themselves and do foolish things or things they normally would not do while under hypnosis.
Does Hypnotherapy Work?
According to the Mayo Clinic, hypnotherapy has been found useful in the treatment of many conditions, including anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, headaches, impotence, and even allergies and asthma. It’s been used to help people stop smoking and to help women cope with pain and avoid the need for anesthesia during childbirth. It’s even been used to help people heal faster after surgery.
But what about hypnotherapy for eating disorders? Can it be used to treat serious conditions like anorexia and bulimia?
Hypnotherapy and Eating Disorders
Dr. Lauren Muhlheim, a psychologist who specializes in eating disorders, says, “There is not enough evidence to support the use of hypnotherapy for eating disorders. When suffering from an eating disorder, it is common to wish for an easy solution, like hypnotherapy. Eating disorders are serious mental disorders with significant medical risks. Recovery requires hard work and the support of professionals who specialize in the treatment of eating disorders.”
The website of the Mayo Clinic agrees, saying that hypnotherapy usually is not an adequate treatment for serious mental health conditions, which would include eating disorders. While hypnotherapy has few side effects and is generally considered safe, relying on hypnotherapy eating disorders treatment may be dangerous because eating disorders are so serious, even deadly sometimes. If someone relies on inadequate treatments like hypnotherapy, they probably won’t recover and their condition may even worsen.
While studies have found hypnotherapy to have a number of beneficial uses, research has not shown it to be an effective treatment for eating disorders. It might help with things like stress, anxiety or insomnia, which might also be experienced by people with eating disorders, in which case it might be a useful adjunct to eating disorders treatment but not a substitute for other treatment modalities. Note that in many studies which found hypnotherapy helpful for certain conditions, it did not replace medical treatment altogether; for instance, people with chronic pain used less pain medication when they were treated with hypnotherapy but it did not eliminate the need for pain medication altogether.
To learn more about effective treatments for eating disorders, treatments which are backed by research, visit our treatment page. Ask your health care providers about efficacy-based treatment options.
Mayo Clinic – Hypnosis Definition
Mayo Clinic – Hypnosis in Contemporary Medicine