Medical hypnosis — it’s a real thing!

Medical hypnosis is a real clinical intervention. Often when hypnosis is introduced as a potential intervention for an individual, people will give a puzzled look. This isn’t your stage show hypnosis. You will not walk out of a session clucking like a chicken at the sound of a bell. With appropriate education about medical hypnosis, patients are often excited and ready to try it.            hypnosis words

What is hypnosis?

Medical hypnosis is a unique mental state, different from the individual’s normal wakeful state in specific ways. Techniques used by a health professional trained in hypnosis include:

  • Narrowing the focus of attention
  • Guided physical relaxation (feel the body become warm, heavy, limp or cool, light, floating)
  • Narrowing the focus of attention
  • Encouraging the patient to let things happen by themselves
  • Vividly engaging the imagination by appealing to all the patient’s senses
  • Facilitation of dissociation
  • Therapeutic verbal suggestions (aimed at medical/psychological problems) and imagery

Overall, the experience of hypnosis allows the patient to utilize their mind to become very deeply relaxed. During this state of mind the professional can target specific medical or psychotherapeutic processes.

When is it appropriate?

We look at several factors when deciding to use medical hypnosis with a patient:

  • The patient will not be harmed in the treatment
  • The individual is willing and capable of handling the emotional intimacy associated with hypnosis
  • The patient is willing to take an active and participatory role in treatment
  • Moderate to good hypnotic ability (which will be assessed by the treatment provider)
  • Absence of an available better-established treatment for the presenting problem
  • Patient is motivated, interested and prefers hypnosis

Some of the situations in which medical hypnosis has proven effective are alleviating pain associated with cancer, controlling nausea and vomiting in cancer chemotherapy, reducing procedure-related pain and distress in children and adolescents, and treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

At the University of Michigan Gastroenterology Division, we may use hypnosis to treat IBS. This treatment requires that patients be active participants in their treatment. They must put in the work. Luckily for hypnosis patients, this deeply relaxing treatment is not a bad form of therapeutic homework to engage in!

Take the next steps:

  • Read more about IBS.
  • Read more about the Michigan’s Bowel Control Program.
  • Call 888-229-7408 to schedule an appointment with one of the University of Michigan’s gastroenterology experts.


Profile-MeganRiehl-2014 boilerplateDr. Megan Riehl is a licensed clinical health psychologist with extensive experience working with individuals with various physical and mental health issues. She joined the faculty at Michigan in 2014 and specializes in the treatment of gastrointestinal problems and anxiety related-disorders. Working from a collaborative perspective, she believes that a strong therapeutic relationship will aid in facilitating change and promoting well-being. Her approach relies on principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy to design unique and flexible treatment plans tailored to each individual.


The University of Michigan Digestive and Liver Health services is one of the largest programs in the country, providing prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases involving the gastrointestinal tract and liver. Our 60-plus physicians are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of all diseases of the gastrointestinal system.