Hypnotherapy for Anxiety and Phobias

William L. Golden PhD

There have been a number of clinical applications of hypnotherapy in the treatment of anxiety, fear, phobias and stress-related disorders. Hypnotherapy can used to treat generalized anxiety disorder, job interview anxiety, test anxiety, sexual performance anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder. Hypnotherapy has been found to be very effective for stress-related disorders such as headaches and irritable bowel disorder.   In addition, it can be used in the treatment of phobias such as airplane phobia, school phobia and agoraphobia.


Stages of  Hypnotherapy

In  hypnotherapy, five stages of treatment can be differentiated:

1) Orientation – history taking and assessment take place, expectations are assessed, patients are educated about hypnosis and misconceptions about hypnosis are clarified.

2) Hypnotic induction - a hypnotic induction procedure is selected and used.

3) Deepening of hypnosis - following a hypnotic induction, one or several deepening techniques are used.

4) Utilization of hypnosis - during hypnosis, therapeutic interventions are utilized, such as positive suggestions and visualization.

5) Termination of hypnosis - using one of several methods, hypnosis is terminated and the individual  returns to a fully alert state.


Common Myths about Hypnosis

  1. Hypnosis is sleep - Hypnosis is not sleep. It is a relaxed state.
  2. Only weak or gullible people can be hypnotized - There is no negative personality trait associated with hypnotic ability.
  3. Only people with low intelligence can be hypnotized – The opposite is true. There is a positive association with intelligence and hypnotic ability.
  4. Hypnosis makes you dependent and weakens the will – The opposite is true. Hypnosis can be used for personal growth in addition to being used to overcome weaknesses, fears and phobias.
  5. There is a danger that you might not wake up from a trance – Hypnosis is a relaxed state. Even if you did drift off to sleep, you would eventually wake up on your own.
  6. You can be cured in one session of hypnosis – Hypnotic suggestions need to be repeated and reinforced, which is why self-hypnosis is so important.


Hypnotic Induction Procedures

There are various hypnotic induction procedures. The most widely used ones are the eye-fixation method, hand levitation the hypnotic relaxation induction. The easiest one to use is the hypnotic relaxation method. What follows is a transcript of it. Recordings can be made for the purpose of self-hypnosis training. For detailed descriptions of various other hypnotic induction procedures, the reader is referred to my book, Hypnotherapy: A Modern Approach that I coauthored with Thomas Dowd and Fred Friedberg.


Hypnotic Relaxation Induction

You can close your eyes and find a comfortable relaxed position. Let your body go limp and let yourself sink into the chair.

Let your breathing slow down, so that you are breathing slow and easy. A comfortable, relaxed breathing pattern, where you are breathing in slowly, and breathing out slowly… a comfortable rhythmic breathing pattern…

And as you continue to breathe slowly and deeply, your body will start to relax…starting with your arms and legs. As you exhale, you can feel the tension flowing out and relaxation flowing in. Your arms and legs are starting to relax. Arms and legs hanging loose and limp. Hands open, fingers apart, wrists loose and limp… With each exhalation, the relaxation is spreading… Feel the relaxation spreading up and down your arms, all the way up to your shoulders. Let your shoulders hang comfortably…Feel the relaxation spreading, more and more, with each exhalation...

And your legs…Let them hang loose and limp… Toes spread apart, in a comfortable position. And you can feel your toes and feet relax… Feel the relaxation spreading. As you exhale the relaxation spreads, more and more. You can feel the relaxation spreading to your ankles…calf muscles…knees…and thighs.

With each exhalation, you are becoming more and more relaxed. Breathing slowly and deeply, and with each exhalation the relaxation is spreading and deepening, more and more… breathing slow and easy.

And now, let your back go loose and limp, head and neck in a comfortable position. Letting the chair support your body, sinking into the chair… and you can feel the relaxation is spreading up and down your back…all the way up to your shoulders and neck.

And as you continue to breathe slow and easy, you can feel the relaxation spreading, spreading throughout your body, spreading to your stomach muscles… and to your chest…spreading and deepening…permeating your body, more and more…deeper and deeper, with each exhalation.

And now let your jaw hang slack, in a relaxed position, teeth slightly parted, and feel the relaxation spreading to your facial muscles…to your lips… cheeks… the muscles surrounding your eyes… your forehead…the relaxation spreading to all of your facial muscles.

And to deepen the relaxation, you can imagine a peaceful relaxing scene… using as many senses as possible, imagine your peaceful place. Imagine what you would see…what you would hear…what you might smell…how you would feel.

And as you continue to enjoy your peaceful place, and continue to breathe slowly and deeply, you can feel yourself becoming even more relaxed, calm and relaxed. Arms and legs, more relaxed. The relaxation spreads and deepens… with each exhalation…deeper and deeper…Shoulders hanging comfortably…Back and neck, loose and limp….Jaw hanging slack…Facial muscles, smooth and relaxed…Stomach, calm and relaxed. All the muscles of your body relaxed…and your mind feeling calm and peaceful…As you continue to imagine your peaceful serene scene and continue to breathe slowly and deeply, you can feel yourself drifting, drifting off into a deeper, and deeper state of relaxation, feeling calm and very relaxed…calm and peaceful….more and more relaxed…..

(At this point, hypnotic suggestions can be given while in the deeply relaxed state. Then, after completing the therapeutic suggestions, you can return to the fully alert state.)

And now, at your pace, you will begin to return to the fully alert, wide-awake state. Take your time… Allow a comfortable transition between the deeply relaxed state and the alert state…. Go at a pace that is comfortable for you... Take it slowly, and at your pace, starting to move a little, like moving you fingers and your toes… maybe stretching…and when you feel ready… starting to open your eyes, slowly… starting to return to the fully alert state…feeling relaxed, refreshed, and wide awake.



I use various methods for teaching self-hypnosis.  As I mentioned already, hypnotic inductions can be recorded on CD or digital format. I can email recordings as attachments for my patients to listen at home. Most people are able to induce self-hypnosis after listening to the recording several times. Alternatively, scripts (such as the one from above) can be memorized or be used for making recordings in one’s own voice. One can also learn self-hypnosis by employing the basic skills of hypnosis (relaxation, imagery, suggestion).

You can use self-hypnosis to prepare for anxiety-producing situations. During self-hypnosis, you imagine handling upcoming stressful events and apply hypnotic suggestion to reduce anxiety and build confidence. With enough practice, eventually you can also apply self-hypnosis skills when you start to feel anxiety.

Utilizing Hypnotic Suggestion

During hypnosis, you can prepare yourself for dealing with stressful situations by imagining yourself successfully dealing with them. While in the relaxed hypnotic state you visualize yourself being successful. You can replace negative thoughts with positive hypnotic suggestions.

For example, in the case of anxiety about an upcoming job interview, one can imagine oneself being calm and confident and thinking,

“I have the qualifications and I’m ready for this interview. But even if I don’t get this job, I’m not a failure or worthless. And eventually I’ll get a job.”



Golden, W.L. (1983). Rational-emotive hypnotherapy: Principals and techniques.  British Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 1, (2), 47-56.

Golden, W.L. (1985). Commonalities between cognitive-behavior therapy and hypnotherapy. The Cognitive Behaviorist, 7, 2-4.

Golden, W.L. (1986). An integration of Ericksonian and cognitive-behavioral hypnotherapy in the treatment of anxiety disorders.  In E.T. Dowd & J.M. Healy (Eds.), Case Studies in Hypnotherapy. New York: Guilford press.

Golden, W.L. (1986). Another view of choosing inductions.  In B. Zilbergeld, M.G. Edelstein, & D.L. Araoz (Eds.), Hypnosis: Questions and Answers. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Golden, W.L. (1986). Can hypnotized patients be persuaded to do almost anything? In B. Zilbergeld, M.G. Edelstein, & Araoz (Eds.), Hypnosis: Questions and Answers. New York: W.W. Norton & Co

Golden W.L. (1994). Cognitive-behavioral hypnotherapy for anxiety disorders.  Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly, 8, 265-274. 

Golden, W.L. (2006). Hypnotherapy for anxiety, phobias and   psychophysiological disorders. In R. A. Chapman (Ed.) The Use of Hypnosis in Cognitive Behavior Therapy. New York: Springer Publishing Co.

Golden, W.L. (2007). Cognitive-behavioral hypnotherapy in the treatment of irritable-bowel-syndrome-induced agoraphobia. International  Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 55, (2), 131-146.

Golden, W.L. (2012). Cognitive hypnotherapy for anxiety disorders. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 54, 4, 263-274.

Golden W.L., Dowd, E.T.,  & Friedberg, F. (1987). Hypnotherapy: A Modern Approach.  New York: Pergamon.

Golden W.L., & Friedberg, F. (1986).  Cognitive-behavioral hypnotherapy. In  W. Dryden & W.L. Golden (Eds.), Cognitive-Behavioral  Approaches to Psychotherapy.  London: Harper and Row.




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