What is Cognitive Hypnotherapy?

by Mark Davis, December 2018

If you search the term “Cognitive Hypnotherapy” you are likely to initially come across a range of websites by UK based hypnotherapists and an NLP training school. In the search results you will also find books, academic articles and training courses that present a completely different version of “Cognitive Hypnotherapy” which appears to have nothing to do with NLP and has a very solid theoretical basis in Cognitive Therapy (as developed by Aaron T. Beck)
So which is correct?!

This article aims to clarify the use of the term, explain it’s historical development and point readers towards the textbooks and research articles that have been published by serious research-clinicians under the term “cognitive hypnotherapy”.

The term cognitive hypnotherapy is, in academic and clinical circles, regarded as synonymous with cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy.

We hope this article will educate through clarifying the term, and rescue it from its current misuse and misappropriation so that the general public or therapists are not misled.

History and Origins of “Cognitive Hypnotherapy”

The origins of the term can be found mostly in the 1994 special edition of Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, which focused on the integration of cognitive therapy with hypnotherapy: Volume 8 Issue 4 – Special Edition: Cognitive Hypnotherapy.

The special edition was edited by Dr Assen Alladin, who also contributed an article on “Cognitive Hypnotherapy for Depression”.









The following articles were in the special 1994 edition of that journal:
(with links to the abstracts)

Cognitive Hypnotherapy for Anxiety Disorders
by William Golden

Cognitive Hypnotherapy for Depression
by Assen Alladin

Cognitive Hypnotherapeutic Interventions in the Treatment of Multiple Personality Disorder
by Catherine Fine, PhD

Cognitive Hypnotherapy with Sexual Disorders
by Daniel Araoz et al

Cognitive Hypnotherapy in Psychosomatic Illness; A Cognitive Experiential Perspective
by Donald Tosi et al

There are also some earlier uses of the term “cognitive hypnotherapy”. The term Cognitive Hypnotherapy was introduced in 1985 by Milne in an article in The Australian Journal of Clinical Hypnosis (Volume 13) – and also in a 1986 article by Michael Tobin.

And clearly the rational hypnotherapy of Morton Prince and Albert Ellis’ integration of hypnosis with REBT can both be considered “cognitive hypnotherapy” – however the term was formulated at those points.

Yet 1994 can ultimately be considered by the year when “Cognitive Hypnotherapy” was established (and please note that in ALL these cases it has nothing to do with NLP!)

1999 onwards – more books and research articles!

The term “Cognitive Hypnotherapy” first appeared in a book title with the publication of Cognitive Hypnotherapy by Professor E. Thomas Dowd in 1999, which included a glowing forward by none other than Aaron T Beck himself.

“Tom Dowd has taken the theory and practice of Cognitive Therapy one step further.  He has integrated it with hypnosis and hypnotherapy and produced the first-ever book on that topic…. I have great regard for his theoretical and clinical ability, and I recommend this book highly for anyone interested in another important extension of the Cognitive Therapy model”
Aaron T. Beck, M.D.
University of Pennsylvania, School of Medicine
December, 1999

(from the Foreword to Cognitive Hypnotherapy by E Thomas Dowd, part of the series “New Directions in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy” edited Robert I. Leahy, and published by Jason Aronson Inc)

Then, in 2007, Dr Alladin published “Cognitive Hypnotherapy for Depression: An Evidence-Based Approach”, and in 2008 “Cognitive Hypnotherapy: An Integrated Approach to the Treatment of Emotional Disorders”.  In 2007 Alladin also published his research results on cognitive hypnotherapy for depression.

But what is Cognitive Hypnotherapy?

In all of these cases the term has been introduced within the context of Cognitive Therapy as developed by Aaron T Beck and Albert Ellis – and it is essentially shorthand for “Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy”.

Cognitive Hypnotherapy assumes that most psychological disturbance is caused by a negative form of self-hypnosis, in which negative thoughts and images are accepted uncritically and even without conscious awareness (Daniel Araoz, 1985).

The first therapeutic step is to bring these negative thoughts into awareness – allowing for distancing and disputation, and for alternative thoughts to be considered.

Then alternative, more helpful, realistic and rational thoughts are “installed” and rehearsed through hypnosis and self-hypnosis. These positive, realistic thoughts are particularly rehearsed during imagery of challenging situations while under hypnosis.

Thoughts or cognitions of course also include emotions and behaviour (see Albert Ellis, 2005): thus rehearsal of new thoughts, emotions and behaviour under hypnosis provides for new healthy integrated “response sets” or modes to be developed while in hypnosis in the therapy room.

There is therefore extensive use of imagery in cognitive hypnotherapy – and it is this imagery rehearsal that allows for change at the levels of schemas and automatic (unconscious) processing; or what Tom Dowd called “tacit knowledge”, our “felt sense of knowing the world”.

Cognitive Hypnotherapy Confusion!

Unfortunately there are a number of uses of the term “cognitive hypnotherapy” which bear virtually no relationship to the term used by Alladin or Dowd – or anything to do with the cognitive therapy of Aaron Beck or Albert Ellis.

We’ve had several students complain that the term has been misappropriated and it’s use by NLP practitioners is quite misleading for the general public.

An NLP training school appropriated (probably innocently) the term and published a book “Cognitive Hypnotherapy” in 2010, possibly holding trainings in “Cognitive Hypnotherapy” since 2008. Since then websites like The Guardian and The Hypnotherapy Directory have carried misguided articles on Cognitive Hypnotherapy.

To be clear, “Cognitive Hypnotherapy” is not, as one therapist’s website states, “a blend of CBT, NLP, Positive Psychology and Gestalt Therapy.”

Indeed Professor Tom Dowd, who wrote the book Cognitive Hypnotherapy back in 2001 which included a glowing introduction by no less than Aaron Beck himself, was a vociferous researcher and had published research deeply critical of NLP, which he considered to be a cult (personal communication in Beijing, 2015).

We in no way wish to criticise or critique the NLP therapy and model that is presented as “cognitive hypnotherapy” – possibly when independent research is conducted it will prove to be as substantial and effective as CBT itself or cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy. However, it is a misrepresentation which is misleading as its use bears virtually no connection to cognitive hypnotherapy as developed by Dr Assen Alladin, William Golden PhD, Daniel Aroaz or Professor E Thomas Dowd – and endorsed by Aaron T Beck.


Articles on Cognitive Hypnotherapy

You can read more here:

A Brief Introduction to Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy

Strategies and Applications of Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy

Hypno-CBT® & Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy

The Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy Toolbox of Techniques & Interventions (Hypno-CBT® Toolbox)

Why Combine Hypnosis with CBT – Part 1


About the author

Principal and Director of The UK College of Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy. Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist - with practices in Central and North London. Personal website at www.inspiredhypnosis.co.uk

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