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Guided Imagery in Therapeutic Settings

What are the results from organizations practicing Guided Imagery in Therapeutic environments?

In the September 1996 issue of LIFE MAGAZINE, it was reported that major universities and hospital centers were combining imagery with traditional medical practices as a major tool in healing catastrophic illness and aiding in quicker recovery from surgical procedures.

Oncologists and best selling authors Bernie Seigel, M.D. and Carl Simonton, M.D., have both been successfully practicing guided imagery in the treatment of cancer for over 20 years.

Dr. Herbert Benson of the Harvard Medical School has developed an imagery technique he calls "remember wellness", a process of "remembering" your body into a state of perfect health.

The American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons reported this about guided imagery; a low-tech relaxation technique, (it) reduced pain and anxiety after colorectal surgery, helping people heal better and faster."

Cleveland researchers evaluated a group of surgery patients. The control group, who received traditional care, as compared with another group who listened to audiocassettes combining vocal instruction and soothing music for three days before surgery and six days after. The guided imagery group described their experience in these terms; "(the pain was) half as severe, used one-third less pain medication and left the hospital sooner."

Psychologist Jeanne Achterberg, Ph.D., calls imagery "the midwife that helps birth the unconscious to the conscious mind."

Carl Jung believed imagery to be "superior to dreams in defeating the unconscious and promoting maturation of analysis."

Hanscarl Leuner, M.D., stated that imagery represented "a superior short-term therapy, bridging the gap between symptomatic therapies and the gap between symptomatic therapies and the great psychoanalytic cure".

How does Therapeutic Imagery apply to medical conditions?

In studies performed by Harvard Medical School, patients healing from broken bones and post-surgical wounds were able to heal faster (by 2 1/2 weeks) and required less pain medication.
Hypnosis and Imagery have been used to effectively reduce blood pressure both in long term and long term. It can help clients who have “white coat” anxieties.

Source: American Hypnosis Association, Certifying Board for Therapeutic Imagery Masters require 720 Hours of Hypnotherapy training to complete the course of 64 additional hours for Imagery Master Certification

White Paper on Hypnosis for Common Medical Issues
Top Studies and Other Evidence

Date Published: Mon, May 1, 2017 Publisher: American Hypnosis Association


Compiled and written for the American Hypnosis Association by Bruce Bonnett:

Senior Staff Instructor at HMI College of Hypnotherapy Harvard Law School Graduate

President of the Hypnotherapists Union Local 472




As more and more studies show that hypnosis helps patients with many common medical problems, an interest in hypnotherapy for medical issues is greater than ever before.


The use of hypnosis for medical issues is not exactly new. Back in 1958, the American Medical Association (AMA) recognized that hypnosis is a useful technique in the treatment of certain illnesses and a valid medical procedure.[1] In fact, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2003 that hypnosis “is increasingly being employed in mainstream medicine”[2] and in 2012 that “scientific evidence is mounting that hypnosis can be effective in a variety of medical situations.”[3]


A 2016 study done by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine confirms that hypnosis is indeed a real thing. The study was conducted with functional magnetic resonance imaging, a scanning method that measures blood flow in the brain. It found changes in activity in brain areas of hypnotized persons that are thought to be involved in focused attention, the monitoring and control of the body’s functioning, and the awareness and evaluation of a person’s internal and external environments.[4]


Yet, hypnosis is still underutilized for medical issues. In 2016, Pierre-Yves Rodondi, a doctor at the University Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at the Lausanne University Hospital in Lausanne, Switzerland, said: "If hypnosis were a medication it would already be in all hospitals, but it is an approach, and thus it must overcome cultural barriers."[5]


Top Studies: Most Common Issues


Here are brief descriptions of just some of the top studies done at universities and hospitals that show how hypnosis helps with some of the most common issues that hypnotherapists address. (See References if you are interested in more details about any of these studies).


1. Smoking Cessation (

2. Weight Loss (

3. Sleep Issues (

4. Stress (

5. IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) / Gastrointestinal Disorders (


1. Smoking Cessation

In 2007, researchers from North Shore Medical Center in Salem, Massachusetts compared 67 people who wanted to quit smoking and were divided into 4 groups based on their method of smoking cessation treatment: (a) hypnotherapy; (b) nicotine replacement therapy; (c) nicotine replacement therapy plus hypnotherapy; and (d) quitting “cold turkey.” They concluded that a person may be more likely to quit smoking through the use of hypnotherapy than by using other smoking cessation methods. This study shows that smokers who participated in one hypnotherapy session were more likely to be nonsmokers after 6 months compared with patients using nicotine replacement therapy alone or patients who quit "cold turkey.”[1]


In 1992, researchers from the University of Iowa statistically analyzed the results of 633 smoking cessation studies involving 71,806 participants. They concluded that hypnosis was the most effective technique used to quit smoking. In fact, they found that a single session of hypnosis is three times more effective than nicotine gum and five times more effective than willpower alone.[2]


In 2004, researchers from Texas A&M University’s Health Science Center studied 21 smokers who had failed in previous unassisted attempts to stop smoking. The participants were given three hypnosis sessions and also a tape recording with a hypnotic induction they could use on their own time. At the end of the program, 17 subjects (81%) reported that they had stopped smoking. A 12-month follow-up revealed that 10 of them (48%) remained smoke-free.[3]


In 2015, researchers from the Faculty of Nursing at the Beni-Suef University in Egypt studied 59 male secondary school students who were smokers. These subjects were taught self-hypnosis for the purpose of quitting smoking. After nine weeks of doing the self-hypnosis, 65.4% of those studied had stopped smoking.[4]


2. Weight Loss

In 1986, researchers from the University of British Columbia studied 60 overweight women, which were divided into a group who received hypnosis and another group who did not receive hypnosis. They found that those women who received hypnosis lost an average of 17 pounds while the women who did not receive hypnosis lost an average of 0.5 pounds.[1]


In 1985, researchers from the University of Northern Colorado Department of Psychology studied 109 subjects. All were given behavioral management to lose weight, but only half were also given hypnosis. Both groups had lost a significant amount of weight at the end of the 9-week program. When followed-up at 8 months and 2 years, the group that also received hypnosis had lost even more weight, while the group that had not received hypnosis remained unchanged.[2]


In 1996, researchers from the University of Connecticut Department of Psychology analyzed the data from a number of studies that tested the effectiveness of adding hypnosis to cognitive behavioral therapy (“CBT”) for weight loss. They concluded that people who received hypnosis in addition to CBT lost more weight (a mean weight loss of 11.83 pounds compared to 6 pounds). They also found that those who used hypnosis continued to lose weight over time (up to 14.88 pounds) while those not using hypnosis remained at just a 6-pound loss over time.[3]



3. Sleep Issues

In 1979, researchers from Guy's Hospital Medical School in London studied 18 patients who had suffered from insomnia for at least 3 months. They concluded that patients slept significantly longer with hypnosis alone than when they received a placebo. Also, significantly more patients had a normal night’s sleep when using self- hypnosis alone than when they received a placebo or Mogadon/Nitrazepam – a benzodiazepine drug.[1]


In 1989, a Ph.D. from the University of Tasmania, Australia studied 45 subjects randomly assigned to one of three groups: hypnotic relaxation; stimulus control; and placebo. The data generated by the study suggested that only hypnosis was effective in helping the subjects go to sleep more quickly.[2]


In 2006, researchers from the State University of New York Upstate Medical University studied 84 children and adolescents with sleep issues (such as insomnia, a delay in sleep onset, nighttime awakenings, and issues like pain that impedes sleep) who did hypnosis sessions and were taught self-hypnosis. 87% of the children reported that hypnosis had helped them either significantly improve or completely resolve their sleep problems.[3]


4. Stress

In 2013, researchers from the Department of Psychology at Lund University in Sweden studied the effect of participants’ use of hypnosis for two weeks (via audio recording). They found the hypnotic intervention had a medium-to-large beneficial effect on the participants’ experience of stress, burnout, and wellbeing.[1]

In 2013, researchers from the University of Delhi studied 7 college students pursuing a Ph.D. The study showed that hypnotherapy is an effective intervention strategy to help patients diagnosed with anxiety symptoms.[2]


In 2006, researchers from Yale University School of Medicine studied the stress and anxiety of 76 patients before and after surgery. The 26 patients who received hypnosis were significantly less anxious post-intervention. Moreover, on the entrance to the operating rooms, the hypnosis group reported a significant decrease of 56% in their anxiety level. The study authors conclude that hypnosis significantly alleviates preoperative anxiety.[3]


In 1991, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee studied 44 introductory psychology who were given 4 sessions of hypnosis for exam stress compared to 50 similar students who did not receive any hypnosis. Those students who received hypnosis showed a decrease in exam anxiety as well as improvements in test achievement.[4]


In 1994, researchers from the University of Tasmania studied 40 music students who experience considerable anxiety when they perform. Results indicate that hypnotherapy is likely to assist musicians in the reduction of their stage fright.[5]


In 1989, researchers studied 56 medical students. Those students who received 9 hypnosis sessions improved significantly in coping with exam stress.[6]



5. IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) / Gastrointestinal Disorders

In 2015, a researcher from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill reviewed 35 studies on the use of hypnosis for gastrointestinal disorders including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The conclusion was that research shows unequivocally that for both adults and children with IBS, hypnosis treatment is highly efficacious in reducing bowel symptoms and can offer lasting and substantial symptom relief for a large proportion of patients who do not respond adequately to usual medical treatment approaches.[1]


In 2003, researchers from the University Hospital of South Manchester and Withington Hospital in the United Kingdom studied 204 patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). They observed that 71% of the patients responded to hypnotherapy, and 81% of those maintained their improvement over time. Hypnotherapy resulted in improvements in patient symptoms, quality of life, anxiety, and the amount of medication required.[2]


Top Studies: Other Medical Issues


Here are brief descriptions of just some of the top studies done at universities and hospitals that show how hypnosis helps with various other medical issues. See References if you are interested in more details about any of these studies.


1. Dementia / Alzheimer’s Disease ('s-Disease)

2. Arthritis ( )

3. Asthma (

4. Blood Pressure (

5. Cancer (

6. Diabetes (

7. Headaches (

8. Healing (

9. HPV (

10. Medical Tests (

11. Pain (

12. Strokes (


1. Dementia / Alzheimer’s Disease

In 2007, a study done by researchers in two care homes in the United Kingdom found that dementia patients who received regular weekly hypnosis sessions over a 9- month period showed improvements in all 7 aspects of their “quality of life”: concentration, relaxation, motivation, activities of daily living, immediate memory, memory of significant events, and socialization. In fact, some of those improvements were maintained for a period of time after the study – such as for 21 months or more from the start date of the study.[1]


2. Arthritis

In 2000, researchers from the Institute of Medical Psychology, Ludwig-Maximilian-University in Germany conducted a study involving 66 Rheumatoid Arthritis patients. The patients who used hypnosis experienced clinically significant improvements in both subjective measurements (e.g., to assess the severity of joint pain/function) and objective measurements (e.g. testing blood samples for indicators of inflammation). The patients who used hypnosis improved more than the patients in the study who used other techniques – such as relaxation. And, improvements became even more significant if one of the patients in the study practiced hypnosis regularly during follow-up periods.[1]


3. Asthma

In 2000, researchers from the University of California analyzed numerous studies that had previously been conducted about the effect of hypnosis on asthmatic patients. Those researchers concluded that the studies that have already been done consistently demonstrate the power of hypnosis to help someone with asthma. Children, in particular, seemed to respond well to hypnosis as a tool.[1]


In 2007, a Harvard Medical School Ph.D. reviewed the evidence from various controlled outcome studies on hypnosis for asthma. The review concluded that hypnosis may be successfully used to treat asthma symptom severity as well as emotional states that can exacerbate airway obstruction.[2]



4. Blood Pressure

In 2007, a University of Paris Ph.D. in clinical psychology studied 30 participants with high blood pressure and concluded that hypnosis is effective in reducing blood pressure both in the short term and long term.[1]


5. Cancer

In a study of 150 participants concluding in 2015, a nurse and researcher at the City of Hope Cancer Center studied 150 cancer patients and found that 78% of those who used hypnosis experienced significant, lasting reduction in symptoms such as anxiety, pain, sleeplessness, fatigue, nausea and vomiting.[1]


In 2013, researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the City of Hope Cancer Center reviewed the empirical literature on hypnosis as a cancer prevention and control technique. They concluded that hypnosis has strong support for use in surgery and other invasive procedures and shows promise to help with chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and metastatic disease.[2]


In 2005, researchers from hospitals and hospices in the United Kingdom studied the impact of hypnosis on 20 hospice cancer patients. They found that hypnotherapy did help the cancer patients with insomnia, frequent bowel actions, itchiness, pain, chemotherapy side effects like nausea and fatigue, and anxiety. They also concluded that the “best time for hypnotherapy to be offered to cancer patients is right at the time of diagnosis.”[3]


6. Diabetes

In 2008, researchers from Lund University in Sweden concluded that empirical research shows promising results for hypnosis as an adjunct therapy to insulin treatments in the management of diabetes.[1]

7. Headaches

In 2007, a Professor at the University of Utah School of Medicine reviewed numerous studies on hypnosis for headaches and concluded that hypnosis is a well- established, effective treatment for headaches and migraines.[1]


In 2007, a researcher from the University of Minnesota studied 144 children and adolescents who were taught self-hypnosis to help with recurrent headaches. The results showed that hypnosis significantly helped with the frequency of headaches, the intensity of headaches, and duration of headaches.[2]

8. Healing – Healing of Broken Bones, Post-Surgical Wound Healing

In 1999, researchers at Harvard Medical School studied 11 people with fractured bones and concluded that those participants who used hypnosis healed faster (by 2 1⁄2 weeks), required less pain medication, showed more improvement in ankle mobility, and had an easier time descending stairs.[1]


In 2003, researchers at Harvard Medical School studied 18 patients who had breast reduction surgery. They concluded that those participants who used hypnosis healed significantly faster than those who did not use hypnosis.[2]


9. HPV – Human Papillomavirus

In 2009, researchers from Washington State University and Eastern Washington University studied the effect of hypnosis on human papillomavirus (HPV), which is the most common sexually transmitted disease and can lead to cervical and other cancers. Hypnosis resulted in a statistically significant reduction in areas and numbers of lesions. Hypnosis also was more effective than medical treatment in achieving complete clearance of warts.[1]



10. Medical Tests – Hypnosis to Make Tests Easier and More Comfortable

In 2010, researchers in Brazil studied 20 claustrophobic patients to evaluate the use of hypnosis for the management of claustrophobia in patients submitted to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). They found that 15 of the 16 hypnotizable subjects who were submitted to magnetic resonance imaging could complete the examination under hypnotic trance, with no sign of claustrophobia and without the need for sedative drugs.[1]


In 2006, researchers, including ones from Baylor University and Texas A & M University College of Medicine, studied hypnosis for pain and anxiety management in 6 colonoscopy patients who received a hypnotic induction and instruction in self-hypnosis on the day of their colonoscopy. Their results suggest that hypnosis appears to be a feasible method to manage anxiety and pain associated with colonoscopy, reduces the need for sedation, and may have other benefits such as reduced vasovagal events and recovery time.[2]


In 2008, researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine studied 90 patients who were having breast biopsies and concluded that brief presurgery hypnosis is an effective way of controlling distress in women awaiting diagnostic breast cancer surgery.[3]


11. Pain

In 2014, researchers from the University of Washington reviewed recent clinical trials regarding studies hypnosis for pain management and found that hypnosis is effective for reducing chronic pain. They conclude that: “Chronic pain management remains one of the largest challenges in health care, and hypnosis is an undeveloped but highly promising intervention that can help to address this problem.”[1]


In 2015, researchers from the University of Rome reviewed functional neuroimaging studies focusing on pain perception under hypnosis, which supported the clinical use of hypnosis in the management of pain conditions.[2]


12. Strokes

In 2006, researchers from Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital conducted a clinical study of six chronic stroke subjects who were hypnotized. Measurements of motor function and brain activity were taken. After hypnosis, the six subjects exhibited qualitative improvement in motor function related to an increased range of motion, increased grip strength, and reduced spasticity of the paretic upper limb. After hypnosis, the subjects also reported an improved outlook, increased motivation as well as decreased effort to perform motor tasks.[1]



More Evidence of Increasing Medical Use of Hypnosis


In addition to the studies described above, there are many other examples of the increasing use of hypnosis for medical issues. Here are just a few examples:


1. In 2015, it was reported that surgeons at the Institute Curie in Paris did more than 70 cancer operations using just hypnosis and a local anesthetic – often in cases where the use of a general anesthetic would be risky (like when the patient had heart or breathing problems) or where the patient needed to recover quickly.


2. In 2016, it was reported that the burns unit of the Lausanne University Hospital in Lausanne, Switzerland, uses hypnosis on a daily basis and that hypnosis is offered to all patients. Two nurses in the Intensive Care Unit only do hypnosis. A study has shown that hypnosis reduces anxiety, the use of drugs, the overall need for anesthetics and, on average, reduces the time spent by patients in intensive care by five days. (


3. The website of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center was updated in 2015 to include information on “Using hypnosis to cope with cancer” and how “Hypnosis can help you feel better mentally and emotionally.”


4. The University of California San Diego Moore’s Cancer Center now offers hospitalized cancer patients hypnotherapy.

5. Harvard Medical School asked a hypnotist to speak to a class of third-year medical students interested in the use of hypnosis in the medical community.

6. In 2015, the Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank CA announced the creation of a job opening for a hypnotherapist to work with cancer patients in its Integrative Medicine Clinic and also at the Disney Family Cancer Center.


7. The University of California San Diego hired a full-time hypnotherapist in 2013 to assist with and develop a hypnotherapy program for its Maternal Mental Health Clinic, to provide hypnotherapy services for its patients, and to educate the university staff and faculty about hypnotherapy.


New Studies Currently in Progress


Because of the increased interest in hypnosis for medical issues, many new studies on this topic are currently in progress or recruiting participants. Here is a list of some of those


  1. Hypnosis to Perform Awake Intubation

  2. Hypnosis to Improve Sleep In Menopause

  3. Hypnosis, Self-hypnosis and Weight Loss in Obese Patients

  4. Assessment of the Contribution of Hypnosis in the Tolerance of the Bronchoscopy

  5. DVD-Based Training Program in Self-Hypnosis for Children (a program for parents to use with their children to teach self-hypnosis techniques for inducing relaxation and hypnotic analgesia; these relaxation techniques can be employed to manage anticipatory anxiety, distress, and pain during an invasive medical procedure)

  6. Hypnosis as a Potentiation Technique for the Interventional Treatment of Chronic Lumbar Pain

  7. Hypnosis for Pain and Itch Following Burn Injuries

  8. Conversational Hypnosis in Women Undergoing Imaging for Breast Cancer

  9. Hypnotherapy in Treating Chronic Pain in Cancer Survivors

  10. Effect of Hypnosis on Dyspnea (shortness of breath)

  11. Self-hypnosis in Patients Awaiting Lung Transplantation

  12. Pediatric Emergency Suture Care: a Trial Comparing the Analgesic Efficacy of Hypnosis Versus MEOPA

  13. Improving Sleep Quality in People With Insomnia Using Hypnosis

  14. Brain-Centered Therapy Versus Medication for Urgency Urinary Incontinence: Hypnotherapy Or Pharmacotherapy

  15. Hypnosis Efficacy for the Prevention of Anxiety During a Coronary Angiography

  16. Randomized Controlled Study of the Efficacy of Hypnosis Versus Relaxation and Control in Neuropathic Pain

  17. Hypnotherapy vs. Probiotics in Children With IBS and Functional Abdominal Pain

  18. Complementary Therapies (including hypnosis) in Spinal Fusion Patients

  19. A Brief Laboratory-Based Hypnosis Session for Pain in Sickle Cell Disease

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