Hypnotherapy for depression

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Does hypnotherapy work for depression?

The results of the two randomized controlled trials and one case study demonstrate that hypnotherapy is an effective treatment for depression.

In the first randomized controlled trial by Alladin and Alibhai, hypnotherapy produced significant improvement. In the second trial by Dobbin et al, hypnotherapy was significantly more effective than antidepressant treatment for depression. A case study by Loriedo and Torti shifted the view of depression to include the role of family and cultural influences through hypnotherapy of the patient and their family, which resulted in a decrease in depressive symptoms.

The studies also revealed that hypnotherapy is more effective in treating depression than anti-depressants or cognitive behavioural therapy.

Read the review here:

Is Hypnotherapy an Effective Treatment for Depression?

What are the benefits of using hypnotherapy to treat depression?

Hypnotherapy can help you build positive expectancy/outlook, address numerous depressive symptoms (including insomnia and rumination), and modify patterns of self-organization (such as thinking, behaviour, attentional, and perceptual styles) that contribute to depressed thinking and mood. Hypnosis helps retrieval of past positive experiences and the development of coping skills.

Some of the other benefits of hypnotherapy for depression include:

  • allows you to regress and change learnt beliefs and behaviours
  • Increased ability to focus on stressful objects and ideas while remaining emotionally balanced
  • reduces unhelpful automatic, subconscious processes
  • enables you to develop a better sense of self-efficacy
  • A more positively oriented worldview
  • Renewed feelings of self-control
Depressed woman in bed under the covers

How does hypnotherapy work for depression?

Since hypnotherapy allows you to enter your subconscious, we can treat the whole mind, instead of the 10% that consciousness makes up. It allows for the underlying reasons behind the depression to come forth and be treated, and for any self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviours to be resolved.

Hypnotherapy can help you to regulate and relieve symptoms of depression including insomnia, lack of motivation, poor concentration, negative thinking patterns, and bad habits such as excessive drinking, smoking, or drugs. As well as other forms of escapism, such as binge eating or over-sleeping.

From the very first consultation, I felt understood, listened to and experienced a tremendous sense of well-being. Everything seemed to click into place – I felt relaxed and at ease and immediately had complete trust in Barry. I found it extremely easy to talk to him and to listen to his responses – my inner turmoil and confused thoughts seemed to become more ordered and I could see a happier future for myself – none of my issues seemed impossible to either resolve or deal with. I learned so much about myself and about the way I am, the way I think, the way I have dealt with ‘stuff’ in the past – I have been able to put into practice the things I have been enlightened by during our sessions. I am not clear about why or how this has worked so well for me – somehow Barry has enabled me to tap into my real feelings, my real self – I know the session where I was able to talk to myself as a little girl and ‘hear’ my late husband advising me was extremely powerful – I have no idea how it works, I just know it absolutely does.


Hypnotherapy techniques for depression

Depression can consist of symptoms (including insomnia, low self-esteem, rumination, negative thinking etc.). To successfully treat depression, we need to address the root cause and all the underlying symptoms. Below are some of the techniques used to help treat depression.

Identity root cause and contributing issues

While struggling with depression, you often do not know where your feelings are coming from. By looking below the surface, hypnosis can help you understand what is causing your depression, identify issues that contribute to your depression and change behaviours that make it worse

Identify unresolved feelings or lack of closure.

Depression may stem from a feeling of having unfinished business. This may be conscious, but more often is subconscious. When you are in a hypnotic state, we can find out if you are carrying unresolved tension, grief, or guilt about something.

Change negative self-suggestion.

Suffering from depression probably means that you are in the habit of giving yourself frequent negative mental feedback. You may not be aware that you are doing this. Once negative self-talk has been identified, you can work towards forming healthier thought patterns.

Build positive expectations.

Depression often involves expecting the worst and seeing the negative side of things. It can be very difficult for you to change these thoughts, even if you know they are irrational. Hypnosis can put you into a more receptive state, which makes it easier to alter your negative thoughts, replacing them with positive ones instead.

Reframe traumatic memories.

Reframing an experience means finding a way to think about it differently. The way you interpret your experiences determines the way you feel about them. When you are under hypnosis, you are in an ideal state to think about past negative experiences and re-interpret them in a more positive way.

Reframing a memory can help you feel more at peace with it afterwards.

Changing unhelpful thinking habits

We tend to develop unhelpful thinking habits such as catastrophising or being too self-critical. Once identified you become more aware of unhelpful thinking patterns. Enabling you to challenge/change/distance yourself from the unhelpful thoughts and see the situation in a more helpful way.

Depressed girl

How many hypnosis sessions are needed to treat depression?

The number of hypnotherapy sessions required to treat depression varies from person to person. It depends on your personal circumstances and how motivated you are to create change. Whilst Hypnotherapy is not a magic wand, it does help you create positive change in a relatively short period of time. Typically for anxiety and stress-related issues, a minimum of 4 – 8 sessions are required to benefit.

What happens in a hypnotherapy session for depression?

With hypnotherapy, we look at all aspects of your depression. During the sessions, we will look at your thinking patterns, and behaviours, address your symptoms and find the experiences/beliefs at the heart of your depression. Together we will explore any issues that may have occurred in your life that triggered or contributed to your depression, and negative thinking styles and negative-self talk will be replaced with more positive frames of mind.

You will develop the ability to be more aware of your thoughts during the day and learn ways to address any negative thoughts you might have. You may also be taught self-hypnosis among other techniques so that you can help yourself.

In collaboration with WHO to mark World Mental Health Day, writer and illustrator Matthew Johnstone tells the story of overcoming the “black dog of depression”.

What is depression?

Depression is more than feeling blue. Depression is a mental health condition that causes you to feel low for more than two weeks. It’s a serious mood disorder that affects how you think and feel. You may struggle to carry out day-to-day activities and lose interest in activities that you used to find enjoyable. The condition can affect you in different ways and may be mild, severe or somewhere in between.

Types of depression

There are many different types of depression, including:

Clinical depression

Also referred to as severe depression, major depressive disorder or chronic depression, clinical depression is characterised by low moods and a lack of joy in everyday life. The symptoms of clinical depression are likely to be much more debilitating, causing you to struggle to look after yourself, meaning that you’re unable to carry out your normal day-to-day activities and responsibilities. People with severe depression may also experience suicidal thoughts and impulses or have frequent thoughts about dying. It is therefore a life-threatening condition.

Recurrent depressive disorder

If you’ve had at least 2 depressive episodes, then you are considered to have a recurrent depressive disorder. During the time between these episodes, your mood may be relatively stable, and you’ll typically feel well.

Reactive depression

If your depression was triggered by difficult events in your life, such as job loss, divorce or money worries then it is classified as reactive.


This is when you are experiencing continuous mild depression that lasts for over 2 years. Also sometimes called persistent depressive disorder (PDD).  if you struggle with dysthymia, you will typically find that you feel sad and hopeless most of the time Dysthymia

causes you to experience low moods, feelings of hopelessness, low self-esteem and a lack of enjoyment. However, it differs from other forms of depression in two key ways:

  • Dysthymia symptoms tend to be milder than other types of depression, especially severe depression. However, they can still impair your ability to function socially and at work
  • People with dysthymia often experience low moods and sadness for years at a time, as opposed to having episodes that come and go
Psychotic depression

Psychotic depression is a type of depression that causes all the symptoms of severe depression as well as psychotic episodes.

Not only does it result in the intense ‘low’ feelings and feelings of hopelessness that come with severe depression, but it can also cause you to experience hallucinations. A hallucination means you might hear, see, smell, taste or feel things that aren’t real. A delusion means that you might believe things that don’t match reality.

Bipolar Depression

Also previously referred to as ‘manic depression’ is characterised by extreme mood swings. These mood swings range from energetic ‘highs’ (mania) and extreme ‘lows’. Episodes of ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ can last between several weeks and several months. Bipolar depression is sometimes accompanied by psychotic episodes, including delusions and hallucinations.


Similar to bipolar depression cyclothymia is characterised by persistent and unstable moods. However, these episodes may not be severe enough or long enough to be diagnosed as bipolar disorder.

Prenatal or postnatal depression

Prenatal (also called antenatal) depression occurs during pregnancy. Postnatal (Postpartum) depression occurs after birth. It can affect both men and women. Prenatal and postnatal depression are specific forms of depression, which are directly related to birth and becoming a parent.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is another specific form of depression that typically occurs during autumn and winter. It is also known as ‘winter depression’.

You might find that your mood or energy levels drop when it gets colder, or that you notice changes in your sleeping or eating patterns. The lack of daylight and the generally bad weather that we get in autumn and winter can make you feel so low that your ability to function is compromised.

BBC Three: What It Feels Like To Have Depression | Body Language

Symptoms of depression

Symptoms caused by major depression can vary from person to person. Some common symptoms include:

  • Negative feelings or emotions such as low mood, loss of pleasure and feelings of guilt.
  • Negative thoughts include negative self-image, a negative view of the world or of the future
  • Lack of motivation, losing interest in things that used to give you pleasure and generally a loss of interest in life, withdrawing socially, neglecting your personal hygiene/appearance.
  • Changes in behaviour such as dropping out of activities, showing signs of being more irritable
  • Loss of appetite/weight, reduced libido, insomnia and possibly vague aches and pains.
  • Difficult concentrating
  • Low self-esteem/confidence
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Catatonia is a motor activity that involves either uncontrollable and purposeless movement or fixed and inflexible posture

Diagnosing depression

Your doctor may determine a diagnosis of depression based on:

  • Physical exam. In some cases, depression may be linked to an underlying physical health problem.
  • Lab tests. A blood test, called a complete blood count, or a test of your thyroid to make sure it’s functioning properly.
  • Psychiatric evaluation. You may be asked to fill out a questionnaire or asked questions to gather information about your symptoms, thoughts, feelings and behaviour patterns.
  • DSM-5. Your doctor or mental health professional may use the criteria for depression listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association.
Frustrated Depression Man

What causes depression?

The causes of depression are different for everyone and can be complex with multiple factors at play. Some of the most common causes include:

Childhood experiences

The experiences you have in your childhood can have a profound, making you more likely to experience depression. You may have experienced trauma, abuse, bereavement or even had an unstable family environment. All these situations can affect your mental health.

Life events

Depression can be caused by a particular event in your life. You may have lost someone close to you, lost your job, or a close relationship may have come to an end. Major life changes like moving, getting married and changing jobs can lead to depression.

Mental or physical health problems

Sometimes other mental health conditions can cause depression, for example, Anxiety, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you struggle with your physical health or if you have chronic pain, you may also find this affects your mood and triggers depression.

Genetic factors

If a member of your family has depression, you are more likely to develop the condition yourself. This could be linked to genetic and biological factors, or it may be down to environmental conditions.

Substance abuse

Drinking or taking drugs may trigger your depression. Using substances to self-medicate will most likely make the situation worse.


Although lifestyle changes are unlikely to cause your depression, they may make it worse. How much you sleep, what you eat and how much exercise you get can all affect your mental health.

Other causes

Some medications can cause depression due to side effects, and some health problems (such as hormone issues) can cause depression.

Depressed man

Treatments for depression

It’s important to find an approach that works for you. Everyone is different and there are lots of approaches to try many people recover from depression and manage their mental health using the treatments discussed here.

A self-help programme

If your depression is mild and it’s the first time you’re experiencing it, you might try a self-help resource. This may include working through a self-help resource with the support of a professional, a computer-based cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) programme or a physical activity programme.

Talking therapies

As well as hypnotherapy there are several talking therapies that can help with depression, including:

Cognitive Therapy

Your thoughts can affect your emotions. For example, if you choose to look for the silver lining in every experience, you will be more likely to feel good, as opposed to if you only focus on the negative.

It’s hard to feel good when you’re stuck in a constant loop of negative thoughts. Cognitive therapy helps people learn to identify common patterns of negative thinking (known as cognitive distortions) and turn those negative thought patterns into more positive ones.

Behavioural Therapy

Whereas cognitive therapy is focused on negative thoughts, behavioural therapy is centred on changing behaviours that affect your emotions. This entails helping you engage in activities that will enhance their feelings of well-being (called, behavioural activation)

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive therapy and behavioural therapy are combined in an approach called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT focuses on addressing both the negative thought patterns and the behaviours that negatively affect your emotions

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy

Dialectical behaviour therapy is mostly based on CBT. The key difference is that it asks you to acknowledge and accept your negative thoughts and behaviours. Through the practice of validation, individuals can come to terms with their negative emotions, learn to cope with stress and regulate their reactions to it, and even improve their relationships with others.6

Dialectical behaviour therapy also incorporates mindfulness practices from Buddhist traditions

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy, also known as psychoanalytic therapy, assumes that depression can occur because of unresolved—usually subconscious—conflicts, often originating from childhood. The goals of this type of therapy are for you to become more aware of your full range of emotions, including contradictory and troubling ones, and to help you more effectively bear

Interpersonal Therapy

Interpersonal therapy focuses on these issues by addressing past and present social roles and interpersonal interactions. During treatment, you generally focus on one or two problem areas at a time.

Depressed boy

Medication for depression

In some cases, your doctor may be recommended that you try medication for depression. This can be in conjunction with talking therapies. There are different medications available to help with depression, including:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs are considered safer and generally cause fewer side effects than other types of antidepressants. SSRIs include citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva), sertraline (Zoloft) and vilazodone (Viibryd).
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Examples of SNRIs include duloxetine (Cymbalta), venlafaxine (Effexor XR), desvenlafaxine (Pristiq, Khedezla) and levomilnacipran (Fetzima).
  • Atypical antidepressants. These medications don’t fit neatly into any of the other antidepressant categories. They include bupropion (Wellbutrin XL, Wellbutrin SR, Aplenzin, Forfivo XL), mirtazapine (Remeron), nefazodone, trazodone and vortioxetine (Trintellix).
  • Tricyclic antidepressants.  These medications can be very effective but tend to cause more-severe side effects than newer antidepressants. So tricyclics generally aren’t prescribed unless you’ve tried an SSRI first without improvement. Tricyclic antidepressants include imipramine (Tofranil), nortriptyline (Pamelor), amitriptyline, doxepin, trimipramine (Surmontil), desipramine (Norpramin) and protriptyline (Vivactil)
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). MAOIs may be prescribed, typically when other drugs haven’t worked, because they can have serious side effects. Using MAOIs requires a strict diet because of dangerous (or even deadly) interactions with foods. MAOIs include tranylcypromine (Parnate), phenelzine (Nardil) and isocarboxazid (Marplan). Selegiline (Emsam), a newer MAOI that sticks on the skin as a patch, may cause fewer side effects. These medications can’t be combined with SSRIs.
  • Other medications. Other medications may be added to an antidepressant to enhance antidepressant effects. Your doctor may recommend combining two antidepressants or adding medications such as mood stabilizers or antipsychotics. Anti-anxiety and stimulant medications also may be added for short-term use.
Depressed Mother Of Adhd Boy

Other treatment options for depression

Other procedures, sometimes called brain stimulation therapies, may be an option for those who haven’t responded to antidepressants:

  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Electrical currents are passed through the brain to impact the function and effect of neurotransmitters in your brain to relieve depression. ECT is usually used for people who don’t get better with medications, can’t take antidepressants for health reasons or are at high risk of suicide.
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). During TMS, a treatment coil placed against your scalp sends brief magnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells in your brain that are involved in mood regulation and depression.
Bridge Or Pier Over A Dune

Support for depression

Depression can make you feel isolated. It can be helpful to meet with other people who understand what it’s like.

  • Mind website for information about support groups in your area.
  • local psychological therapies team: info on depression and support groups in your area.
  • Sane website: Online forums where you can read about other people’s experiences or write about your own and respond to other postings.
  • Togetherall is an online service for people who have common, distressing mental health problems.
  • Depression UK has a penfriend scheme for members.

If you’re a carer and affected by depression, ring the Carers Direct helpline on 0300 123 1053 to find out how to meet other carers.

Check your mood with this mood self-assessment quiz.