British Psychological Society Report on Hypnosis

The British Psychological Society
As a Chartered Psychologist and member of the British Psychological Society (BPS), I was very interested to stumble across a review of hypnosis by the BPS.

The review was led by the renowned psychologist Professor Michael Heap and other experts. It was published in 2001, shortly after I started practicing hypnotherapy in London. The findings of the report are very interesting and I quote in full below the section on the effectiveness of hypnotherapy for anxiety and many other conditions:

“Applications of hypnosis in therapy and evidence of its effectiveness

Although accounts of the clinical applications of hypnosis have been published in books and journals over the last 150 years or so, it is only in the last 30 years that serious attempts have been made to evaluate the outcome of hypnotic procedures in groups of patients with specific problems. In such studies, hypnotic procedures have constituted the main component of treatment and have typically been directly targeted at symptom alleviation.

Enough studies have now accumulated to suggest that the inclusion of hypnotic procedures may be beneficial in the management and treatment of a wide range of conditions and problems encountered in the practice of medicine, psychiatry and psychotherapy. In many cases, however, the relative contribution of factors specific to hypnosis is as yet unclear, and often the influence on outcome of the measured hypnotic susceptibility of the patients is small or insignificant.

The results of clinical research may be summarised as follows: There is convincing evidence that hypnotic procedures are effective in the management and relief of both acute and chronic pain and in assisting in the alleviation of pain, discomfort and distress due to medical and dental procedures (Blankfield, 1991; Genuis, 1995; Lang, Benotsch et al., 2000; Lang, Joyce et al.,1996; Montgomery, DuHamel & Redd, 2000; Walker et al., 1991) and childbirth (Brann & Guzvica, 1987; Freeman et al., 1986; Jenkins & Pritchard, 1993).

Hypnosis and the practice of self-hypnosis may significantly reduce general anxiety, tension and stress in a manner similar to other relaxation and self-regulation procedures (Schoenberger, 2000). Likewise, hypnotic treatment may assist in insomnia in the same way as other relaxation methods (Anderson, Dalton & Basker, 1979; Stanton, 1989).

There is encouraging evidence demonstrating the beneficial effects of hypnotherapeutic procedures in alleviating the symptoms of a range of complaints that fall under the heading ‘psychosomatic illness’. These include tension headaches and migraine (Alladin, 1988; Holroyd & Penzien, 1990; ter Kuile et al., 1994); asthma (see review of clinical studies by Hackman, Stern & Gershwin, 2000); gastro-intestinal complaints such as irritable bowel syndrome (Galovski & Blanchard, 1998; Harvey et al., 1989; Whorwell, Prior, & Colgan, 1987; Whorwell, Prior & Faragher, 1984); warts (DuBreuil & Spanos, 1993); and possibly other skin complaints such as eczema, psoriasis and urticaria (Shertzer & Lookingbill, 1987; Stewart & Thomas, 1995; Zachariae et al., 1996).

Hypnosis is probably at least as effective as other common methods of helping people to stop smoking (see review by Green & Lynn, 2000). Meta-analyses by Law & Tang (1995) and Viswesvaran & Schmidt (1992) give mean abstinence rates for hypnosis at 23 per cent and 36 per cent respectively. There is evidence from several studies that its inclusion in a weight reduction programme may significantly enhance outcome (Bolocofsky, Spinler & Coulthard-Morris, 1985; Kirsch, Montgomery & Sapirstein, 1995; Levitt, 1993).

There have been fewer studies specifically on children, but the available evidence suggests that the above conclusions may be extended to children and young people (Hackman, Stern, & Gershwin, 2000; Sokel et al., 1993; Stewart & Thomas, 1995; see also review by Milling & Costantino, 2000).

Too few studies have been published investigating the adjunctive use of hypnosis in broader psychotherapeutic programmes for the treatment of specific psychological disorders such as depression, sexual dysfunction and disorder, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, speech and language disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder and phobic disorders. A similar statement may be made concerning its use in sports psychology.

The above conclusions are provisional, as research on the clinical effectiveness of hypnosis is continuing with improved Methodology” (Heap et al 2001, pp. 9-10).

As can be seen, the report is very favourable regarding the effectiveness of hypnotherapy. The report also suggests that more research is needed, which is a sentiment I fully support. It is only through research that we can identify the best strategies and approaches for applying hypnosis to treating various conditions.


Heap, M., Alden, P., Brown, R. J., Naish, P., Oakley, D. A., Wagstaff, G., & Walker, L. G. (2001). The Nature of Hypnosis: a report prepared by a working party at the request of the professional affairs board of the british psychological society. The British Psychological Society. Leicester: March, 10(03.2001). Available online

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