Panic attacks and phobias: healing with hypnosis

Anxiety disorders comprehend conditions in which in certain contexts, the individuals who suffer from them, show reactions of preoccupation and concern that are more intense than the general population. Such disorders, in their most sever forms, can have highly disabling consequences for patients, leading them in some cases even to a progressive social withdrawal.
An example of these disorders are phobias, such as claustrophobia, that is conditions in which patients feel a very strong, and often irrational, fear of some situations. Such fear is frequently associated with pronounced physiological reactions (among the others sweating, breathlessness, changes in bodily temperature, tremors can be observed). This disorder can become so disabling that it can limit patients in their everyday activity or in their freedom of choice: it isn’t hard to imagine that, for instance, fear of flying can limit those who suffer from it both in personal and professional life.
Scientific literature has clearly demonstrated how hypnosis can help to use and regulate the connection between mind and body1. This is one of the reasons why many researches explored the therapeutic possibilities that are offered by hypnotic techniques for this kind of conditions.
An interesting fact is that several therapeutic approaches successfully used hypnosis to enhance the effects of therapy and reach a more deep and faster resolution of the disorder. An example can be found in a study3 in which the progress of some groups of patients treated with cognitive behavioral psychotherapy was compared to that of other groups of patients who followed the same therapy with the addition of hypnotic sessions. Results, obtained by analyzing 18 different researches, demonstrated that participants of the second group showed a 70% greater improvement compared to the patients of the first group. Similar results have been found also in literature concerning different kinds of psychotherapies4.
Another form of the axiety spectrum that is quite widely diffused and that is highly disabling for those who suffer from it, is represented by panic attacks. They are usually described such as sudden events that last approximately 15-20 minutes during which a pronounced physiological arousal – sweating, peculiar sensations in the extremities, hyperventilation, chest pain, nausea, paresthesias, chills or hot flashes and dizziness – are associated to extremely unpleasant psychological symptoms: the person becomes afraid of dying or of becoming crazy, feels like having no control on the situation, experience dissociative states and feels like something terrible is going to happen. Another disabling component of this condition is the agoraphobia that follows. The patient, in fact, starts to progressively avoid the places in which the attacks happened and, more generally. places in which it would be hard to find help (crowded or deserted places, or places in which the individual feels like he cannot count on the help of anybody), limiting with time the possibilities of interaction with the environment.
Scientific literature regarding the therapeutic role of hypnosis to prevent these attacks from happening is still growing, but some authors described it as a promising technique. More specifically, it can be used also in particularly severe cases, like with those patients who, to overcome the above described fear, begun to make use of alcohol or drugs at the expense of their physical health. It is the case described in an article published in 2005ibid. in which the authors describe the progress of a subject since the beginning of therapy until its end. The patient, who, before treatment, had up to three attacks per week, in a month learned to thwart them before their occurrence. A 2 months follow up confirmed the stability of the result.
Hypnosis, when used by trained professionals, in other words, can allow those who suffer from panic attacks to learn to effectively and rapidly regulate their internal states.
These techniques, in addition to curing phobic conditions or panic attacks, support patients, allowing them to regain the possibility of managing their own well-being and restoring their sense of self mastery, which is often lowered by these disordersibid..
 [1] Iglesias, A. & Iglesias, A. (2005). Awake alert hypnosis in the treatment of panic disorder: a case report. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 47(4), 249-256.
[2] McNeal, S.A. (2001). EMDR and hypnosis in the treatment of phobias. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 43:3/43:4, 263-274.
[3] Kirsch, I., Montgomery, G. & Sapperstein, G. (1995) Hypnosis as a adjunct to cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy: a meta analysis. Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, 63, 214-220.
[4] Crawford, H.J. & Barbasasz, A.F. (1993). Phobias and intense fears: facilitating their treatment with hypnosis. In J. W. Rhue, S. J. Lynn & I. Kirsch, (Eds.), Handbook of clinical hypnosis (pp.311-338) Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.