When my therapist suggested trying hypnotherapy in my addiction treatment, I was both excited and skeptical. On the one hand, having my mind reprogrammed seemed like an attractive, effortless way of approaching addiction recovery. On the other hand, it surely could not be that easy.
The reality turned out to be a mixture of the two. Hypnotherapy can be very effective in addiction treatment. However, it looks nothing like we’ve been conditioned to expect. Addiction cannot be programmed out of you by magically accessing your subconscious. Hypnotherapy is a lot more subtle and is based on solid psychological therapy.
What is hypnotherapy?
One of the common factors in addiction is that substance use replaces healthy coping mechanisms. Often, the underlying reason is that an addict has strong narratives that make them feel unworthy, helpless, and undeserving. Traditional therapy often tries to meet these narratives head-on in an attempt to reframe them.
Unfortunately, because these narratives are so ingrained, simply breaking them down in conversation is a slog that sometimes gets nowhere. Hypnotherapy works by replacing the narratives on a subconscious level. Instead of trying to outthink or outlogic ideas that have been with you for decades, hypnotherapy hits them where they have taken hold.
In a hypnotherapy context, an addict will negotiate new narratives with their therapist – narratives that counter those that have gotten them stuck in the first place. The hypnotherapist then uses techniques to recite these narratives to the individual’s subconscious mind.
How does hypnotherapy benefit addiction treatment?
All addicts understand that their substance use is not entirely a choice. They can try to use their willpower to avoid substance use, but it is often clear that they will eventually lose this battle. The decision to use is made on a subconscious level.
Hypnotherapy is so useful in addiction treatment because it trains the mind to use alternative means of coping, as well as softening the effects of the narratives that are leading to substance use in the first place.
Think of it in a similar way to building physical strength. If you work on building a strong core, your body will defend itself against blows without you having to tell it to. You don’t have to consciously flex your abdominals when something is about to strike you in the stomach.
Hypnotherapy is like training for the mind. When you are confronted with a trigger, instead of having to think of how to react in a healthy way, your mind is already resilient. It is trained to dull the blow with your new, healthy narratives, rather than relying on substance use.
Hypnotherapy is an incredibly promising treatment for addiction. Substance use is not simply a choice to do the “wrong thing”, but is rather a maladaptive defense against emotional threats. Hypnotherapy trains the mind to be resilient and to stop relying on substance use to deal with difficult emotions.