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Where Is The Evidence? Hypnosis

Posted on 29th July 2013 by

Evidence Reviews

I was once attending a hypnosis course… it’s a long story. One of the tutors was very passionate about hypnosis. “Fair enough”, I hear you say. That’s exactly what I thought until I overheard him telling another student about how “bad and evil Western medicine” was, and how he had seen people with florid psychosis and cancer “CURED” by hypnosis. This did not sit right with me, however I did not have the evidence to say what hypnosis was/wasn’t capable of achieving. In order to help me, I turned to the trusted Cochrane Collaboration,

If you have not heard about the Cochrane Collaboration and their reviews, you’re in the right place! You can read a review here. So I searched the Cochrane Library for “hypnosis” and here is what I found…

The search for “hypnosis” returned 91 results, so as not to bore you with details, I will list what hypnosis may be effective for and what there was not enough evidence for in order to show efficacy.

Hypnosis may be effective for…

  • Bedwetting
  • Chronic and recurrent pain in children and adolescents
  • Needle-related procedural pain and distress in children and adolescents
  • Pain during labour and child-birth

Hypnosis was shown not to be effective for (i.e. the evidence was not good enough to show efficacy)…

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Pain for children undergoing dental treatment
  • Preventing of postnatal depression
  • Psychogenic non-epileptic seizures
  • Schizophrenia
  • Rehabilitation for ankle fractures in adults
  • Smoking cessation
  • Treating conversion disorder
  • Assisting the induction of anaesthesia in children

Importantly, my search has shown me that hypnosis is effective for some things but it has not been shown to be effective for treating Schizophrenia (a psychotic syndrome). Next time someone tries to convince me otherwise then I have the Cochrane Collaboration on my side…


Abu Abioye

Hi, my name is Abu. I am a medical student at Oxford University, currently in my 6th and final year. I also work as a tutor in Neuroscience, Physiology, and Critical Thinking at various Oxford colleges. My academic interests include neuroscience, mental health, alternative medicine, exercise medicine, and surgery. View more posts from Abu

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  • Hugo Pedder

    Awesome post! I had always wondered about how much to believe about the effects of hypnosis….and it’s really interesting to know that wasn’t found to be effective for smoking cessation, the use which I thought it was most famous for!

    Something else in the post which I thought was kind of interesting to point out is that you mention that “Hypnosis was shown to be not effective for…”, when probably what you meant was “Hypnosis was not shown to be effective for…”

    Just a very simple change in word order can mean something very different. Not finding efficacy is not the same as finding no efficacy – in fact, as explained in this blog (http://www.statisticalmisconceptions.com/sample2.html) proving no effect (i.e. proving the null hypothesis) is not possible unless the entire population described is tested.

    It was quite clear what you meant, because you also wrote “i.e. the evidence was not good enough to show efficacy”, but I just thought it was interesting to note :)

    7th August 2013 at 10:37 am
    Reply to Hugo

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