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Sept. 13, 2021

How Clinical Hypnosis for Anxiety Works

How Clinical Hypnosis for Anxiety Works

Clinical hypnosis is used for anxiety in the clinical setting by many therapists. Learn how hypnotherapy can be a powerful tool.

Have you ever wondered how a clinical therapist uses hypnosis for anxiety? Are you wondering if hypnotherapy can help with erectile dysfunction? In this episode, Frank discusses clinical hypnosis with Dr. John Moore, from the Men's Self Help Podcast. 

Show Highlights

  • What is clinical hypnosis?
  • How hypnotherapy helps with anxiety
  • Common Hypnosis Myths
  • Discussion on Milton Erickson
  • BetterHelp sponsored this episode. Get 10% Off your first month of counseling.

Clinical Hypnosis

Hypnosis, can it really help with anxiety symptoms? That's the topic of today's show. Welcome to another episode of the anxiety therapist podcast. I'm your show host Frank Sasso. I'm a clinical therapist from Chicago, Illinois. If you haven't had the chance, please, please hit the follow button on whatever app you're listening with this way you'll never miss another podcast. All right, in today's show, I have a very, very special guest to help me to discuss how hypnosis is used in therapy for anxiety and folks you might want to Fasten belts for this interview because my guest today is Dr. John Moore from the men's self-help podcast. John is a board-certified clinical hypnotherapist, but in addition to that, I should also tell you that Dr. Moore is also my identical twin brother. Now you might be wondering right now. Wait a second. Your name is Frank Sasso. His name is John Moore. Well, if you listen to episode one, you'll know that I discovered I was adopted later in life and I ended up changing my name. My brother hasn't done that yet. So that's why we have different last names. 

So, all right you heard that right we're both licensed therapists and we will be talking to today about hypnosis on the podcast. My twin has never been on this show before, but as I've mentioned before, this will be interesting. Now, before I begin just a few fast items, first, this show isn't meant to replace mental health counseling or medical care, and I'm not your personal therapist. Second, if you enjoy the show, please leave me a review on apple podcast. It's not that often that people write reviews. And when I see the feedback, it just inspires me to want to keep creating more podcasts. I guess the more reviews the show has, the higher it comes up in the search results. 

If you're ready, let's jump right in today's show is sponsored by better help. If you're someone out there who's been looking to get into therapy, better help is a great option. You know, during the height of COVID 19, I used better help myself when therapists weren't available to meet in person better help and that's help with a P offers online virtual therapy. You can also talk to your therapist over the phone and get this. You have the opportunity to text with your therapist.

So if you're looking to get into therapy, this is a great option. And if you want to, you can go to therapist podcast, and get 10% off your first month of therapy. Again, that's better therapist podcast. I'll leave a link in the episode notes.

Interview on Clinical Hypnosis

Hello brother, John, welcome to the program. Can you tell our listeners a little bit of about yourself and your background?

Hey, Frank, good to see you and glad to be here. So my background is pretty basic. I'm a licensed psychotherapist from Chicago, Illinois. And in addition to the work I do in psychotherapy, I also teach classes in psychology and in business at the college level, generally in the graduate studies program at N Y T and some undergraduate classes as well. And part of the work that I do is clinical hypnotherapy. 

That's great. I also, some of the listeners might know that I also do hypnotherapy, but it's, really great to be able to talk to someone else, especially my brother about just the area of hypnosis. John, in a nutshell, can you just sort of explain to the audience what is hypnosis?

So, you know, Frank, I get this question a lot and I know you do too. It's in fact, one of the big questions people have when they call up a clinician or call up maybe a lay hypnotist and they want to what is hypnosis and what is hypnotherapy. And so what I try to do is instead of going into the clinical ins and outs of it is just give a very human experience. And that is, and I would ask your listeners to think about this. Have you ever been driving along the highway and maybe listening to some music or just in very deep thought and you kept driving and for whatever reason you drove right past your exit and maybe about a mile or so after driving past it, you realize, oh, my I've just missed my exit. Well, that's an example of hypnosis.

It is a heightened state of awareness, a heightened state of focus, and we're completely aware of what's going on around us. We're functioning. We're not under a spell or anything, but we're just in this heightened state. And as a result of that, it's just more focused on whatever it is. And that kind of is hypnosis,

Man, I do that all the time. I'm constantly missing exits because I'm focused on something else, I'm listening to some music. So yeah, they call that like road hypnosis or something, right?

Related: What causes panic attacks to feel like your dying

Yeah. I mean, it is some people call it road hypnosis. And there are ways to deal with that. I won't get into it about how you can kind of shift your eyes and what have you to stay focused and attune. But this is just a 30,000 foot view of what hypnosis really is like, and we see this, vangoli kind of depictions of it, where someone's using a clock.

I remember growing up here in Chicago out on the south side and we would often see that where, he'd come on and there'd be this watch that he would dangle back and forth. And that's the typical or stereotypical idea of what hypnosis is. And, you know, it's funny to look at, but from a clinical point of view, we know that's just not, not really what it's like.

Related: 3 Ways to Stop Negative Thoughts with CBT

Yeah, you'd  this image of this damsel in distress on a couch with some guy bearding guy over her with a watch dangling it. And she's submissive. And folks like John said, hypnosis is not that. So alright, John, another question around this, how can hypnosis be used to help someone who's struggling with anxiety symptoms or even maybe low self-confidence?

 So, first of all, I just want to come out and say, in addition to what we're talking about here, because we have a, a basic definition of what kind of hypnosis is, and I gave the metaphor of driving in a car and kind of missing the exit, but you know, how do you extrapolate that and move that to helping someone with anxiety or whatever issues may  be going on in their life. It could be stress or career issues or even a physical problem. And so what's important to know, is that hypnosis true hypnosis isn't something a clinician does to a person, but instead a skill that they're teaching an individual so that they can use it for themselves.

How is Clinical Hypnosis Used?

See that's a big difference here because what happens is people think they come to a, a hypnotherapist and they do this magical thing on them. And on some level there's confirmation bias that happens that we, we truly believe that someone is gonna quote heal us, but the truth is a, at least a good hypnotherapist is going to teach the client the skill to self-calm and to relax. And so that's used in real life and that's one number two hypnotherapy is an adjunct to clinical talk therapy. Now I know that there's people who do lay hypnotism and that's fine. There's nothing wrong with that. But at least in the clinical sense, it is an adjunct to therapy. And so what we're doing is reinforcing the things that are being covered in a hypnotherapy session. So for example, if you come to me for help with anxiety, I'm going to talk with you and do talk therapy or cognitive behavior therapy, typically around some of the ideas you may have, some may be rational. Some we could call maybe not rational, or maybe anxiety producing. 

We're going to look at those patterns and themes, and we're going to see what we can do to create change around those themes. Hypnosis is used as a way of reinforcing what we're covering in that counseling session. And again, I'm talking about clinical hypnotherapy here for things like anxiety. I'll just add people often ask, well, what are you talking about with anxiety? And what I would say is things like generalized anxiety disorder, or it could be some other anxiety related disorder. It doesn't have to be that one specifically, but kind of any of those that fall under the umbrella. I'm going to be honest with you.

I'm still trying to figure out the DSM five. And for folks that are listening, that's the manual therapist used to diagnose different clinical conditions and they've changed that more than nine ways to Sunday. So I have a hard time sometimes keeping up, but I'm simply saying that in the, the realm of anxiety, hypnotherapy can be very helpful for people who are struggling with, issues in that area. 

Stage Hypnosis vs Clinical Hypnosis

Yeah. Let me, let me just sort of get into that a little bit. I think for the audience that's listening, there is a big difference between what you might see on this stage in say a Las Vegas hypnosis show that's entertainment, that's for the purposes of making people laugh or to have a good time, but in the clinical setting, hypnosis is much different. And I think what you're saying, John, is is that in the clinical setting for say anxiety, you might start with a frontline treatment, like mean of behavioral therapy, and then reinforce that work with hypnosis.

That's exactly what I'm saying. And you're right, Frank. I mean, there is stage hypnosis and that's where, you know, they have somebody from the audience come up and they they'll choose somebody from the audience and that's all, by the way, there's a whole system that goes into that, but they, choose somebody to come up and then they have the person they'll do something like that. That was funny. We all laugh, right? I mean, we laugh and it is funny or they'll have somebody belt out of tune like Tina Turner, whoever it might be, and it's fun and it's entertainment, and I'm all for that, by the way, that's all fine and dandy. But in the sense that we're talking about this is different. And it's used again as an adjunct and to help to reinforce. 

And you mentioned here in terms of the anxiety piece and what I often have to do because of the stigma is replace the term hypnosis or hypnotherapy with mindfulness based approaches. Because that's kind more in the focus Maybe I'm just an old school person. I'm not afraid of the word hypnosis. I know some people are worried about the stigmatism. I'm not. I think that there's just plenty of clinical literature that shows that it works and we should call it what it is. 

Well, absolutely. And then if you think in this space of say guided imagery, we know there's a lot of clinical research around that that shows that that can be helpful to help people with stress and anxiety. So hypnotherapy is very close to that guided imagery space.

That's right. There are hypnotic suggestions that are used when appropriate that can help with the subconscious mind in terms of self-calming, because the subconscious is always listening and always aware of what's going on, even when we're asleep, as we're awake right now, talking about different things. I mean, it's always aware. And so it takes that material in and that's where the hypnotic interventions come in and that's where they can be very useful in the subconscious part of the mind.

Anxiety also with addiction, it can be very helpful. And if anybody out there listening, who has struggle with an addiction, you, I'm not telling anything new here, that anxiety is often the best friend of addiction. I mean, they kind of go hand in hand. And so there's a holistic approach to it. 

You know, Frank, I'm reminded of your own journey growing up and I'm reminded of your struggle to stop smoking and how you used hypnotic interventions for yourself or self-hypnosis to help you find new coping mechanisms. So that smoking at least traditional cigarettes, weren't really as problematic Am I right here? 

Well, There was a time in my life where I did smoke. I'm not proud of it, but I think lots of people, our former smokers, maybe there are some people out here who are listening today, who still smoke. And for me personally, hypnotherapy was a great intervention and it worked for me. How about you, John has hypnosis helped at all with any addictions you might have had?

Well you know, this show really is about anxiety. You really don't want to know about my personal business. Oh sure. I do. 

Hypnosis for OCD

Okay. So I mean, it has helped and I'll just be real with you. And I do use hypnotic interventions even on myself, sometimes in the morning when I wake up, when I'm just getting out of bed and I'll kind of draw a mental picture for listeners. I'd like you to think of the mind in three different ways and let's use in a Freudian way. 

Well, by the way he was awful at hypnosis.

Absolutely. But I'm using a mental picture here of an iceberg. Okay. So you have consciousness, that's the, the ice that you see above the water. Okay. We’re talking about an iceberg here. So you see that, then you have the line where the water meets the ice I'm gonna call that pre consciousness and then sub consciousness is below the water line where the ice is. And I'm mentioning this because when we all wake up in the morning, we're at that water line where the water meets the ice and in my own life, when I wake up in the morning sometimes because of my own struggles with OCD. And I'm very open about that with all of my, even on my own podcasts, I often tell people stories about it. With OCD, you have intrusive thoughts. I'm one of those people that have intrusive thoughts for whatever reason, these terrible thoughts can come in in the morning when I wake up, I don't want them to happen. 

Are you thinking about me your twin brother, when you have those intrusive thoughts?

I've had terrible thoughts about you in the morning, just awful thoughts and really terrible thoughts. But in all seriousness, those, thoughts that come up if I'm not careful they can derail my day and they can infect the day with negativity. And so I've learned to use hypnotic interventions and you've talked about guided imagery before I've learned to use hypnotic interventions, including bilateral stimulation. And for, folks who are listening bilateral stimuli is if you're thinking of that watch that we talked about with going back and forth left to right. I do the same thing in my mind's eye, or I'll use my hands and tap on my knees as a little bit and do a bit of an affirmation. That was then this is now where those are just thoughts. Those aren't real. And I'm sharing this with you disclosing this to you, one to humanize what some people may be going through, but two to demonstrate a real life hypnotic intervention. And that's exactly what this is to help move through that moment so that you turn the anxiety down from a level nine or 10 down to something more manageable, a two or a three, if that makes sense.

It totally makes sense because what you're saying in a nutshell is all hypnosis is self-hypnosis.

That's Right. That's right. And, and to be completely transparent about it. One of the teachers that I learned a lot about hypnotherapy from is Dr. Richard Nongard and he's very famous the hypnotic community, and that's one of the things that he tries to impart to people. And I certainly show that with all of my clients, even during clinical hypnosis, I will say that.

I really like him too. And I've actually taken some of his CEU, his continuing education work. I probably ascribe more to the Milton Erickson style of hypnosis, there's a lot of different styles out there, but for me that's what I'm attracted to. So John, have you seen people come to you for therapy and they've, they've underwent some sort of hypnosis session and their anxiety has improved?

Yes, absolutely. There's no question about it. And to tie in what you're talking about here. So my specialty is men. I mostly work with men, not all, but for the most part, that that is who comes to see me. And I have seen that in many, many different cases, particularly for people who are athletic, if they're doing sports or something like that, or they're career driven, any of those things, the Ericksonian style hypnosis that you're talking about, which is metaphor based similar to that iceberg that I used earlier is exactly what we do and the reason for that. And so that they can call on the mental imagery that makes the most sense to them to help them dial down that number from a 10 or a 9 to a seven to a six or whatever it might be. We often think of hypnosis in terms of stopping a behavior, be it stop smoking. I mean, which is fine. There's nothing wrong with that. Or maybe we're gonna use hypnotherapy for something else. Like some people struggle with hair pulling or skin pulling and, and that's fine too, but both of those are really coping mechanisms for something underlying and sometimes an addiction. And so hypnosis is very helpful with that is an alternative coping mechanism.

Exactly It's a tool. And I tried to explain that when I first opened the podcast today, it's a tool that a therapist can use of many tools. John, before we move on to  this rapid fire part for someone who's listening in their thinking about going to see someone for hypnosis, what would you, you say to them? Like, what should they look for in a hypnotist?

That's a great question. And so for the areas and the topics we're talking about again for clinical hypnotherapy. I would highly recommend that the person look for a therapist, a licensed mental health professional that is trained in clinical hypnosis. Now there are people there are lay hypnosis who do offer hypnosis and that's fine, and you can see them, but make sure it's under the guidance of a therapist.

If you're trying to treat something like anxiety, if you're trying to learn self-relaxation techniques, just basic, you know, Hey, I want to learn to meditate and self-relaxation, not a problem. You know that that's fine. Look, look online, look at reviews and that type of thing. But if it's for clinical hypnotherapy for anxiety, depression, addiction, these types of issues, I highly recommend working with a therapist that is licensed and is trained in hypnotherapy.

Okay. Thank, thank you for that brother. All right let’s get down just to, a couple rapid fire questions and I'm just gonna sort of shoot off. Are you ready? 


All right. Okay. Can a person be forced against or will to do something in hypnosis that they normally wouldn't do?

So the answer is no so we hear about conversational hypnosis. We hear about these types of things and also kind of like, Hey, can you make someone fall in love with you? Can you make someone sexually submissive? And maybe we'll talk about that more, but the answer is no. Because we are awake during the whole experience, we're completely aware of everything to just like that car metaphor. We started out with you. You're obviously when you're driving, maybe you forgot to pull off to the exit. You want to be, you know, there's cars in front of you know, that you have to hit the brake if you have to slow down or what have you.

So the, the short answer to that is no you're not gonna be able to force somebody to do something that they don't want to. Now, what you can do with it is if there's a willingness and an openness for something is you can help encourage that. And that's a different story,

Right? So in other words, folks, if you're listening, you wouldn't go see  First of all, this wouldn't be ethical. What I'm about to say, but second, it wouldn't happen. You wouldn't be at the hypnotist or the therapist office, and the hypnotist suggest take off your, all your clothes and run down the street naked. That's not going to happen. That doesn't happen in hypnosis. You won't do anything that you wouldn't normally do. This is all about help and healing. All right. The next question you touched on it a moment ago, you hear about erotic hypnosis, John, what is that? 

So, and I did do a podcast on this because it's probably one of the biggest questions that people bring to people who work in the hypnotic community for lack of a better term. And erotic hypnosis is basically what we're talking about it is an ability to work with someone who has a willingness or openness to do something different. So let's just get to the nitty gritty and maybe even be a little bit graphic here. Okay? 

Sure, we like graphic.

What is Erotic Hypnosis?

Okay. So let's say a couple comes in for a couple's counseling and one of the people wants to role play and the other person is open to it as well, but they've never done it before. Maybe they're a little bit anxious and maybe they want to take on a role that they've not ever done. For example, maybe being submissive or dominant, if there's a willingness and an openness, and I can't emphasize ii enough a willingness and an openness for both people then hypnosis may be helpful with encouraging something like that. Here's what it's, not's, it's not gonna make someone a sex slave. It's not gonna- meaning against their will it's not gonna do that. It's not gonna make the girl that you met at the Starbucks suddenly want you and do things with you or the,-

I can't hypnotize my wife and make her submissive. That's not going to happen?

Not against her will. No, it's not. It's not gonna happen. But if there is an openness and that's the key word that's what it is. And so let me, let me just throw in something else here for men who are listening, who may struggle with erectile dysfunction. Okay. Okay. Or performance, anxiety, even no pun intended, a larger point here, the erotic hypnosis can be helpful, very helpful with creating a state of self-calm, creating an alternative mindset, if you will, or alternative imagery. So that anxiety is coming down from a 9 or a 10, which is preventative in terms of well, an erection.


Or keeping it and bringing it down to something more manageable. That too, that is also erotic Hypnosis. 

Oh, absolutely. 

And very helpful, very helpful for premature ejaculation. For some men that struggle with that. This can be a very helpful tool as part of a comprehensive approach. And I look for clinical reason and ethical reasons, I'll just come out and say, look, if you've got ED, you need to be checked out by your doctor for medical causes to rule it out. Because some people may have diabetes or what have you. I'm not a medical doctor, but rule those things out. And if it is anxiety, then clinical hypnotherapy, maybe very helpful.

Well sure. And there's a lot of men I work with in my private practice who that's exactly the case. They've gone to the doctor they've been checked out medically. And when I ask them, when they go to arouse themselves, they will usually say, I don't have a problem when it's by myself. But then it's when I'm with a partner, that's when I encounter the problems. And that's where hypnosis can be helpful as you said, with reducing that level of anxiety.

And Frank with the, the men that you've worked with in terms of this issue, have you found that they like learning about this skill in the way that we're talking like, and that they use it?

Sure. They do, the men love it because it's natural. They like the idea, at least in my experience that this is natural, that this isn't something where they have to go and take some medicine. Now some, some do, some men will get prescribed Viagra or get testosterone therapy. And that can be helpful, but just as sort of like a first natural way to try to approach this. The men sure, they enjoy it a lot. And for a lot of 'em it's been successful.

Yeah. And, and that's been my experience too, with men that have basically wanted some guidance and help around here is what they're really looking for is a tool. And folks, when we hear that word therapy or psychotherapy, we often get that traditional image of, you know, someone sitting back on a couch, the patient and the therapist kind of sitting there with a clipboard, taking notes and all that. And you know, that's a bunch of BS, to be honest, maybe some still do that. Those are analysts. What really is going on at least, least in this realm, is clients coming to a therapist to learn skills for coping. Again, I've said that before. Sure. There's catharsis. And sure there's sharing and we process trauma and we do those things. But when hypnotherapy is used, it is about the skill building and teaching of information so that you as a client can use those in real life.

Exactly. And I think a lot of people might be listening and they might be having that image in their mind of someone laying on the couch and the therapist asking them about their earliest childhood memory. Some of that does go on in this psychodynamic psychoanalytic world. But I think John, what you're talking about in the kind of solution focused hypnosis therapy, you're mentioning right now, it's identifying the problem and making suggestions to improve it.

That's correct. And, and that really comes from insight on the part of the client and for listeners. That means you, you know, what is your own insight around this because you are coming in, if you're a client is, Hey, I've got this issue and I want to either get rid of it or deal with it better. Or what have you. So in hypnotherapy, in combination with, let's say CBT, or other forms of therapy, that's exactly what's going on here is the skill building piece of it.

Our goal is not to keep people in therapy forever in a day. It is traditionally solution focused, brief therapy. We're talking, you know, I can't put a number on it, but it can be as, as few as three, sometimes 8 to 10. It just depends on what's going on. And usually narrow and focused in terms of, of what's happening. If there's an underlying trauma, those types of things, then that's obviously gonna take a, a little bit longer, maybe even a lot longer, but I'm just giving you the 30,000 foot view.

Let me ask you one last question about this. Do you find in your experience mine might be different from yours, John, but hypnotherapy can be provided online, say through teletherapy?

So there was a time that I really didn't think it was gonna be effective but because as a COVID and really because all of mental health, at least a lot of it kind of went online, went to zoom and went to well, HIPAA compliant programs, let's say. The truth is I have found that it can be helpful and is effective. And this is part of, kind of the stereotypes of what, what works and what doesn't. And the reality is hypnotherapy can be very helpful in online. Let's say a HIPAA compliant type video session, just like EMDR by the way, can be very helpful. And we already know that just from some small research that's been done and again, it's skill building. And so we're teaching skills. Is it more effective in person? Some people would argue yes.

That maybe there's a better benefit to have it in person. I know I use equipment when people come in for hypnotherapy in my office that I just can't use on an online platform. It can be replicated in some ways, depending on what, what program you're using, but it's not exactly the same, but there is an effectiveness there. And I do think there's value in it. And again, if you come at it from, well, what am I learning here? What's being taught here can be very helpful.


I agree. I personally, I, I, as a clinician, prefer to do hypnotherapy sessions in person, but I have done them online and I've seen that they have been effective for people. It's just sort of a personal bias that I have that I enjoy doing it in person. All right. Well, John, can you tell our listeners about your own podcast and how they can get ahold of you? So the podcast I have is the men's self-help podcast. The podcast itself is targeted towards men and the people who love them. So I don't want to just kind of overstate that and make it too narrow, but generally for men and men's issues that come up. And some of the topics mirror, a little bit of what we've been talking about here today.

The podcast also is one that touches on relationships problems with marriage. It can be addiction or whatever, but it really, I try to be holistic in nature. So the website that people can go to, to listen to episodes or find out more about it is guy, again, guy And it's on all of the major apps. The men's self-help podcasts, for example iTunes or Spotify are both good places. 

Yeah. For of the listeners who, who are tuning in right now my brother's podcast is similar to mine in the sense that he stays away from being too clinical. I think there's plenty of clinically therapies type podcasts out there. So both myself and, and my brother try to stay away from that and explain things in a, down to earth way. 

Thank you for, for asking me about the podcast. And just as a real world example, you know, just what, what we're talking about here today, for folks who struggle with anxiety. I ask you to ask yourself how many of you remember your dreams? And I'm willing to bet that maybe up to 20%, maybe 25% of you are gonna come back and say, you know what? I don't remember my dreams at all. I don't remember the last time I had a dream. I'm one of those people that can't remember my dreams. And to my response to you is we all dream. We just don't all have the ability to recall it. And it can be sometimes stress related or anxiety related. And this is where hypnosis or hypnotherapy can be very helpful. This is something I will talk about in my podcast.

Frank is maybe talking about on his podcast, but the idea is this is where we will teach you skills to help get you to a place where you can lower the anxiety and recall some of that dream material. And so I'm just throwing that out there in terms of the practical again, practical approaches. Sure. For hypnosis. 

Well brother, John, I appreciate that you came on this podcast today, and again, everyone who's listening, you can go to the men's self-help podcast on all the apps to listen to Dr. John. Dr. John Moore thanks so much for joining us.

Thank you. Thank you very much.



John Moore Profile Photo

John Moore

Dr. John Moore

Dr. John Moore is a licensed psychotherapist and board certified clinical hypnotherapist. In addition to his work as a private practice clinician, he teaches courses in psychology at the New York Institute of Technology