Irritable bowel syndrome affects the lower gastrointestinal tract and typically brings on diarrhea, constipation, bloating and gas — often with little warning. But research shows that hypnosis, when combined with psychotherapy, can ease symptoms.
“With IBS, up to 80% and higher experience significant relief,” says Williams, referring to research from William Whitehead, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Once they have relief, five years later, the majority still have relief.”
How it works: Patients “learn to do self-hypnosis, so if they feel an attack coming on, they learn to regulate themselves in the moment,” Williams says. “These are tools you always have and you develop confidence in your ability to stop flare-ups.”
Try this: People with irritable bowel syndrome often experience fear of embarrassing situations or lack of control, says Williams. To ease fears, patients are instructed to place one hand on the stomach and repeat one of three words — “warm,” “calm,” “safe” — per deep breath.
Athletes use hypnosis to improve their golf swing, jump shot or chances at Olympic gold. When Jim Taylor, a psychologist and partner in a Bay Area corporate consulting firm, talks to athletes, he tries to instill the idea that the mind is a powerful tool and it can help them achieve their goals when they know how to use it.
How it works: Taylor talks about how motivation, stress, focus, confidence and emotions affect overall performance on game day. He helps athletes identify which area needs improvement. Typically, athletes struggle in a couple of areas, he says, adding, “People who lack confidence tend to experience more stress and negative emotions.”
Taylor uses positive self-talk strategies to help patients overcome negative thoughts that end up costing them the winning shot. An athlete might say, “I’m terrible, I stink” after a losing streak. Instead, Taylor suggests replacement thoughts like, “OK, I struggled in that performance and I know now what I need to do to improve.”
He says people have “bad thought habits.” But with practice, you can “retrain habits,” which helps you think more positively.
Try this: Close your eyes. See yourself on game day. Imagine delivering a perfect tennis serve or scoring points on the basketball court. It’s important to see yourself staying relaxed and confident during games, he says, because both will help you win.
Stress, Christopher says, has a “carry-over into the bedroom.” So if you suffer from sexual dysfunction but have not been diagnosed with specific medical problems, hypnosis might be useful.
How it works: With relaxation techniques and guided imagery, Christopher helps clients minimize stress so they are more attuned to their partner’s needs and their own.
Sometimes, more complex matters — “negative emotions” — are problematic. “So it’s about going back and resolving those emotions,” Christopher says.
Try this: Get relaxed. Sit or lie down in a quiet place. Visualize yourself descending a staircase — 10 steps. Each step feels more relaxing, says Christopher. Prepare to destroy negative thoughts.
“Then I might get them to collect all the negative emotions and thoughts, put them into a box and let them throw it into the sun,” he adds.
When they reach a relaxed state, “I ask them to touch their fingers together. When you’re feeling stressed [at a future point], touch your fingers, and it triggers the same physical relaxation in your body.”