Written by Rory Z Fulcher
What is cognitive hypnotherapy?
Cognitive hypnotherapy is the application of hypnotherapy to address unhelpful and unwanted beliefs and thoughts. The main goal of cognitive hypnotherapy is to create more helpful, healthy beliefs as well as challenging and removing the unwanted ones.
Cognitive hypnotherapy relies on the teachings of cognitive psychology and the study of mental processes – the things that happen in the brain when we act and react to situations in our daily lives. Our cognitions (or thoughts) are what can help us to make sense of what we perceive, as well as influencing our language, memory, creativity, reasoning and problem-solving skills, and our learning abilities.
Cognitive psychology began to develop in the 1960s with the thought that there were some unobservable mental processes occurring as well as habitual and behavioural responses. This transition from a focus on behavioural to more cognitive psychology was, in part, due to World War II, as the British Army began research on how to train the minds of their soldiers for the challenges of war, as opposed to just training their bodies and their physiological responses. Also, in the 1960’s and onwards, as computer science developed, a parallel was drawn between the way that the human mind works and how a computer works to process information, such as with memory storage and retrieval. Fast-forward to today, and cognitive psychology is one of the ‘go-to’ approaches for counsellors, psychologists and other talking therapists, and has a wide range of applications, including work with abnormal psychology, social psychology, developmental psychology, educational psychology and personality psychology.
Cognitive psychology relates to our beliefs – whether those are beliefs about ourselves, about others, or about situations and events. In simple terms, beliefs are formed by experience, whether directly or indirectly. When we learn something new, this knowledge can become a belief. This will sometimes require reinforcement and repetition. However, occasionally a strong belief can be formed by experiencing something just once. After a belief is created, it then informs the way that we choose to act and react in situations that relate to the belief. Unlike standard information that may or may not be true, and can easily be scrutinised, a belief is often something that we learn to ‘believe without question’. This happens because we have used our own experience and thought process as evidence to prove why this belief is supposedly true. Whether the belief is actually true or not, is another matter entirely…
Most of the time, the beliefs that we hold are based mostly on the information that we are presented with and the experiences we find ourselves engaged in. Depending on our upbringing and what we are taught as we grow up, the majority of beliefs that most people learn are healthy and helpful. However, sometimes we can develop unhelpful beliefs.
Unhelpful or unhealthy beliefs can be created for a number of different reasons. Most often though, it comes down to either incomplete/inappropriate learnings during childhood, or as a response to a negative situation (at any time during our life). As an example, a hypnotherapy client may have had a difficult childhood, where they were frequently berated and seldom ever praised. This could have caused the client to develop the belief that everything they do is wrong, or that no one will value what they have to offer. However, this same belief could be borne of a different situation. Perhaps in adult life, at work, the client submitted three consecutive projects to their boss, and the boss rejected all of them quite harshly. These negative experiences coupled with the high emotional states that may well have occurred before/during/after those experiences, could quite easily cause the client to again develop the belief that no one will value what they have to offer, or that everything they do is wrong.
As cognitive hypnotherapists, we are less interested in the event that was the catalyst for the belief to form, and more interested in the belief itself. By challenging a belief, the client can move beyond the limitations related to their unhelpful belief, and create a new, healthy belief, leading to a more helpful way of responding. Cognitive hypnotherapy works well alongside behavioural hypnotherapy to create significant, long-term changes, without the client needing to engage in analytical hypnotherapy approaches that may require more processing time for the client, and without needing to use regression to take the client back to past negative events, which, when used too early in the therapy process, could be unhelpful or traumatic for the client.
Cognitive hypnotherapy techniques
Cognitive hypnotherapy, as mentioned above, draws its interventions from cognitive psychology and other talking therapies. A cognitive hypnotherapist will initially learn to recognise ‘cognitive distortions‘. These faulty ways of thinking often indicate that a client may have an unhealthy belief. For example, a weight loss client may display black and white (all-or-nothing) thinking when they meet a food-based challenge. It maybe that they eat a healthy breakfast, then at lunchtime they make a less healthy choice, and have a small piece of treat food. Then, because they made one poor food choice, they globalise this ‘failure’ and decide to write off the whole day and just eat all the junk that they want, because ‘they’ve already failed, so there’s no point continuing to try and eat healthy’. This cognitive distortion might relate to an unhelpful belief that ‘to lose weight, one must eat healthy food 100% of the time’. As you’ll probably agree, for most people this belief would be unmanageable, and could cause emotional disturbance when that belief is not met.
As well as recognising unhelpful and unhealthy beliefs, hypnotherapists will learn a range of cognitive therapy approaches to dispute and challenge said beliefs, and to create new, more healthy and appropriate beliefs to replace them with. During our own hypnotherapy courses, we teach our students how to incorporate rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT) approaches into the hypnotherapy process. REBT is kind of like CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), only REBT is a little more flexible, and easier to incorporate into the hypnotherapy process. It follows a five stage model, called the ABCDE model. ABCDE stands for:
- Affect (the emotions relating to the problem)
- Belief (what the client believes, relating to the problem)
- Consequence (the symptoms/issues the client is experiencing)
- Dispute (challenging the unhelpful belief during the hypnotherapy session)
- Emotional integration (making the belief change permanent)
There are many different hypnotherapy techniques that can be used within the REBT hypnotherapy process, meaning that you can engage your client in this process both out of hypnosis (as is common in other talking therapies), as well as in hypnosis, which can result in faster, longer-lasting changes.
Alongside REBT approaches, the cognitive hypnotherapist will also learn to incorporate core values (a client’s core important beliefs) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) approaches into the therapy session, as well as mindfulness and thought stopping approaches for clients who need help with managing intrusive thoughts.
What cognitive therapy can help with
Cognitive hypnotherapy can help with a vast range of client issues and goals. Fundamentally, any problem that has a belief component can be successfully addressed with cognitive hypnotherapy. Here are some examples of what cognitive hypnotherapy can help with:
- Anger management
- Childhood anxiety disorders
- Dental hypnosis
- Eating disorders
- Memory enhancement
- Nail biting
- Pain management
- Panic attacks/disorder
- Performance anxiety
- Psychogenic infertility
- Psychosexual disorders
- Skin conditions
- Sleep disorders (parasomnias)
- Smoking cessation
- Speech impediments and stammering
- Sport hypnosis
- Stress management
- Terminal illness and death
- Trauma and PTSD
- Weight management
Potential limitations of cognitive hypnotherapy
As a hypnotherapist, it is a really good idea to have a thorough understanding of how to incorporate cognitive hypnotherapy approaches into your hypnotherapy practice. It is also worth understanding there are limitations to ONLY using cognitive hypnotherapy, without understanding the other key therapy modalities.
As as you are now no doubt aware, cognitive hypnotherapy works to deal with beliefs. In some cases, this belief change work alone will help to resolve the clients issue. However, in some cases you will need to apply behavioural hypnotherapy, in order to ensure that the client is able to generate new behaviours that correspond to their new, healthy beliefs. Conversely, in some situations, you might find that the client is unable or unwilling to resolve their issue by working on the belief. Some clients can find that having one of their long-held beliefs challenged, can be too much for them. This is especially the case if the client does not have sufficient resources and ego strength to deal with this disputing process. As such, it is important for the professional hypnotherapist to have a range of ‘client stabilisation’ approaches, to ensure the client is able to deal with a potentially challenging therapy session. It is also a good idea for the therapist to have other tools (such as analytical or regression approaches) for where a client is unable to engage in the cognitive hypnotherapy process.
How to learn cognitive hypnotherapy
If you would like to learn cognitive hypnotherapy approaches, your best option is a practitioner level hypnotherapy course. Rather and trying to learn cognitive hypnotherapy as a stand-alone approach, learning it as part of your overall hypnotherapy approach will give you the best idea of how and when to apply your cognitive approaches, and when a different approach might be a more appropriate option. Our next hypnotherapy diploma course start soon, to learn more click here:
If you’d prefer an online solution, our Live-Online Hypnotherapy Certificate Course will teach you how to use cognitive hypnotherapy approaches (and much more). We hope you enjoyed this blog about cognitive hypnotherapy. If you have any questions about this topic or anything else for that matter, do please get in touch, because we’re always happy to help!
– written by Rory Z Fulcher