Anxiety and phobias are a growing problem in society – and the Corona pandemic has only made this worse. Fear hinders and paralyzes, those affected suffer severely in daily life. Hypnosis is a way of dealing with such fears in a different way.
Psychologist Barbara Schmidt has been dealing scientifically with the topic of fear for years and has been researching possibilities in the field of hypnosis.
Dr. Barbara Schmidt is a Research Associate at the Institute of Psychiatry and Social Medicine, Psychotherapy and Psycho-oncology at the University Hospital Jena. Her research focuses on the effects of positive suggestion and hypnosis on anxiety and stress in the brain and body. She also uses hypnosis herself. The title of your recently published book on the topic: “Worried? just ask! Straightforward clear answers. Published by Verlag UTB.
Knowing SRF: Ms. Schmidt, you treat fears with hypnosis. Why did you choose this method?
Barbara Schmidt: Thoughts that can raise fears are especially accessible under hypnosis. This is because thoughts operate on a subconscious level, as if they were automatic. We hardly reach that level in the waking state.
Under hypnosis one is then very responsive to suggestions and target changes, provided of course that there is a trusting relationship between the hypnotist and the hypnotized person.
How do you deal with anxiety in hypnotherapy?
First I discovered in the conversation how fear expresses itself. Only then do I turn to hypnosis. In the anti-anxiety hypnosis intervention, I rely on a method I call “the safe place”. Everyone has a place where they feel safe and secure. And you have to imagine this. The subconscious mind knows exactly what this place or location is.
This security forms the basis for everything that happens next: Those who feel secure can become brave, facing and overcoming their fears.
What can hypnosis do here?
Anxiety and stress affect pain. This can have far-reaching effects on our health. Now, if you are able to reduce stress, even through an internal procedure, it has tremendous potential. I’m sure this will give us a better understanding of the many clinical images.
In a current project, you are also investigating how hypnosis can help with anxiety testing?
exactly. Based on my experience, I’ve created a text that I think anyone can use for hypnosis.
My research team and I are now in the process of testing such texts on schoolchildren with exam anxiety here in Thuringia: the intervention can be listened to as an audio file. We then check whether and how the test results and stress levels of the subjects change before and after the intervention. This research is still ongoing.
Effects of hypnosis in the intensive care unit
Barbara Schmidt collected clear evidence in intensive care units. The people there are in a frightening situation in itself, often between life and death.
Artificial respiration is often a problem: people have a mask pressed against their face, which is very taut and pushes air into their lungs.
Anyone trying to breathe against this mask has no chance – they may feel suffocated. People who have had bad experiences with it can develop a fear of this mask. However, it is necessary to increase the oxygen content in the blood.
Schmidt accompanied these patients with the “safe place” technique: If the patients could visualize the safe place during ventilation, they would obviously have relaxed faster and would have been able to accept the ventilation better, according to the German researcher.
You see another area of application of hypnosis in the fact that general anesthesia is used less frequently in children. Because Schmidt is troubled by the fact that some children are still under general anesthesia for an MRI. This is very stressful for the body.
Alternatively, you can get rid of the fear of the tube thanks to hypnosis: for example, suggesting to children that they are going on a space mission in a rocket and that the whole procedure will be an adventure. You can activate a lot of resources—particularly in children, who respond well to suggestions—and thus make sedation unnecessary, Schmidt says.
Is there a fear of hypnosis?
Yes, this can happen: feeling out of control creates fear from the hypnosis session. Then I explain that hypnosis is not about letting go of control. On the contrary: thanks to hypnosis, you can regain control. Because in the case of fear you have no control over your behavior to deal with the fear – we can change that with the resources within ourselves. What could more control mean?
For me, hypnosis impressively shows what we ourselves can do.
Long-term efficacy of hypnosis
Barbara Schmidt also works with so-called “post-hypnosis suggestions” – suggestions that can be recalled after hypnosis – and uses them to test the long-term effectiveness of hypnosis.
Method: During hypnosis, you ask patients to write a safety “S” on a piece of paper when the person feels safe. Later, when the person looks at the note again, he will immediately have the same feeling.
Even after weeks of hypnosis, patients will feel the same safe just by looking at the note. According to Schmidt, this shows the sustainable and long-term effects that hypnotherapy can have. These effects need further research.
The interview was conducted by Christian Bachmann.