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Brief Introduction & FAQ

What is Cognitive-Behavioural Hypnotherapy?

The cognitive-behavioural approach to hypnotherapy is the main evidence-based approach to hypnotherapy, and draws heavily upon psychological research on hypnosis and suggestion.  It can best be understood as in terms of three features it typically adopts,

  1. What’s traditionally termed the “cognitive-behavioural” theory of the nature of hypnosis, which basically rejects the notion of hypnotic “trance”.
  2. Cognitive and behavioural therapy interventions, which partly derive from modern cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and partly derive from traditional hypnotherapy pre-dating CBT.
  3. A broadly cognitive-behavioural theory of people’s problems (psychopathology), which attempts to explain issues such as anxiety using specific evidence-base models.

You may encounter training courses or articles on the internet that suggest cognitive-behavioural hypnotherapy is just hypnotherapy combined with CBT techniques but this is incorrect.  The cognitive-behavioural approach to hypnosis is mainly characterised by the rejection of the notion of “hypnotic trance” and an emphasis on ordinary psychological factors such as suggestion, expectation, and imagination, instead.

In addition for an approach to be truly “cognitive-behavioural” it needs to have a conceptualisation or “working model” of the client's problem in cognitive behavioural terms.

Where can I find more detailed information?

There are several good books on the subject.  We recommend Essentials of Clinical Hypnosis: An Evidence-Based Approach (2006) by Steven Jay Lynn and Irving Kirsch, two of the leading researchers in this area as well as The Practice of Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy (2012) by Donald Robertson.  There are many articles on our blog and you may find the one below particularly helpful as a more detailed historical overview,

CBT & Cognitive-Behavioural Theories of Hypnosis

What are the other approaches to hypnotherapy?

Cognitive-Behavioural Hypnotherapy (CBH) is a term used to describe one of three major approaches to hypnotherapy.  The others two are the Ericksonian and Regression (or “psychodynamic”) approaches, which originate with the work of Milton Erickson and Sigmund Freud, respectively.  Virtually all hypnotherapy falls into one of these three broad categories, although they adopt different assumptions, language and methods from each other.

Is it a new thing?

No.  It’s recently grown in popularity, since the 1980s, because of the success of CBT.  However, the cognitive-behavioural approach to hypnosis can be traced all the way back to the founder of hypnotherapy, James Braid, who coined the term “hypnotism” around 1841.  His approach to hypnosis and that of other Victorian hypnotists was not “cognitive-behavioural” in the modern sense but definitely contains traces of theories that were to develop later under that heading.  From the 1950s onward, psychologists such as Ted Sarbin began to propose theories of the nature of hypnosis that rejected the notion of “hypnotic trance” and emphasised the role of ordinary cognitions (thoughts and beliefs) and behaviour in explaining apparently extraordinary responses such as hypnotic amnesia or painless surgery.  Following on from this early work, the psychologist Theodore Barber and his colleagues carried out a systematic programme of research on hypnosis.  This led to further refinements of Sarbin’s non-trance (called “non-state”) model which in one of the most influential books in the field of hypnosis, Hypnotism: Imagination and Human Potentialities (1974) by Barber, Spanos & Chaves, he eventually labelled the “cognitive-behavioural” approach to hypnosis.  Since the 1970s, it has become common to refer to various non-trance theories as the “cognitive-behavioural” tradition in hypnosis.

Is it fairly common?

The non-trance (“non-state”) perspective was adopted by the most prolific researchers in the field, i.e., Sarbin, Barber, Spanos, Wagstaff, Kirsch, Lynne, etc.  However, most hypnotherapists have tended not to engage with the research literature in their field and still tend to use the older language of hypnotic “trance”, etc.  The modern emphasis on evidence-based practice means that hypnotherapists are increasingly under pressure to read and assimilate the scientific research in their field, however, and that tends to favour a “cognitive-behavioural” approach to hypnosis.  Hence, from the 1980s onward, cognitive-behavioural hypnotherapy has become increasingly popular.

Is it derived from CBT?

Not really.  The cognitive-behavioural theory of hypnosis, which has its roots in the original Victorian theories of hypnosis, began to develop properly in the 1950s and 1960s, and was labelled “cognitive-behavioural” in the mid-1970s.  Cognitive therapy, which later became known as “cognitive-behavioural therapy” or CBT, was just beginning to develop around this time and did not become well-established until the 1980s.  Cognitive-behavioural approaches to hypnosis therefore predate the development of modern CBT.  However, because of the overlap between them, modern cognitive-behavioural approaches to hypnotherapy inevitably draw on elements of CBT.  On the other hand, some of the ideas and methods found in CBT may derive from earlier hypnotherapy approaches and precursors of them can certainly be found in the literature of hypnosis before the 1970s.

Where can I find courses?

The UK College of Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy has always adopted a cognitive-behavioural approach to hypnosis and was one of the first (perhaps the first) training school in the UK to do so.  More recently other schools have switched from other (contradictory) orientations to teaching the cognitive-behavioural approach to hypnotherapy.  However, the UK College have a long-standing reputation for adopting an evidence-based and cognitive-behavioural approach.  See our main website below for information on our externally-accredited Diploma in Cognitive-Behavioural Hypnotherapy.  We also sometimes run “conversion” courses or short workshops for qualified hypnotherapists who wish to change from another orientation to adopt a more evidence-based or cognitive-behavioural approach to their work.

See our main website below for more information on these and other training courses.  You can call our office on 0207 112 9040 or email us at for a prospectus or more information.

About the author | Mark R. Davis

Mark is a therapist, trainer, meditation teacher – and a leader in developing the integration of hypnosis with cognitive behavioural psychotherapy approaches. As Director and Principal of The UK College of Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy, he is at the forefront of evidence-based hypnotherapy training – and is also very involved in the the integration of yoga and non-dual philosophy into Western Psychotherapy.