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Can Hypnosis Help with Emetophobia?

Silver pendant hanging from a chain, with a brown armchair out of focus in the background
Image source: MK Hamilton via Unsplash

When you’re living with a condition like emetophobia, you may not be aware of the range of treatments available to you. One such therapeutic option is hypnosis. This involves altering one’s mental state so as to achieve greater focus. During this treatment, your mind becomes open to suggestions, giving you the power to tackle problems more effectively.

There is some evidence suggesting that hypnotherapy can be an effective way of dealing with certain conditions—but can hypnosis help with emetophobia? We’ll take a look at the research to find out whether this treatment could work for those living with a fear of vomiting.

What is hypnosis?

While almost everyone will have heard of hypnosis, it remains frequently misunderstood and is the subject of numerous myths. It may even conjure images of a sinister figure using a swaying coin to lure you into a trance, at which point they can control your mind completely. This, of course, is mere fiction.

The reality is that hypnosis does not give someone else power over your mind, and you can’t be hypnotised against your will. Instead, the person guiding you will help you to achieve a state of relaxation in which you experience increased concentration and focus.

During the session, the hypnotherapist will make suggestions on ways for you to reach your goals. Because of your altered mental state, it’s likely that you’ll be both more receptive to these ideas and be able to more clearly visualise how to go about doing so.

It is not fully understood why hypnosis is so effective. Healthline suggests that it can help to clear a ‘cluttered’ mind, enabling you to absorb a suggestion more thoroughly. Alternatively, the hypnotic state may provide a fertile environment in which new ideas can be implanted.

Though the state reached during hypnosis has been compared to sleep, the person being hypnotised remains awake and aware throughout the session. Indeed, the process has been defined by Ivan Tyrrell as an ‘artificial way of accessing the REM state’.

Is hypnotherapy the same as hypnosis?
Hypnotherapy is the use of hypnosis for therapeutic purposes. In the context of treating emetophobia, hypnotherapy will be used.

What is emetophobia?

Emetophobia is a specific phobia of vomiting. Individuals living with this condition experience more than a simple dislike or fear. Instead, their aversion to vomit and the act of vomiting can hamper their ability to live normal lives. Common symptoms include:

  • Avoiding situations which the individual perceives to come with heightened risks
  • Distress, anger and other emotional reactions
  • Physical symptoms, such as an increased heart rate, nausea, shaking and sweating

Emetophobia commonly develops in childhood or adolescence, with Lipsitz et al finding an onset age of 9.2, compared to 15.7 in a study by Veale et al. It may be caused by a traumatic event at a young age, or be linked to other conditions, such as OCD or social phobias.

Many people never get a formal diagnosis for their condition, and, as a result, it is difficult to know how common emetophobia is. Nevertheless, it appears to be more prevalent amongst women and those with anxiety disorders.

For more details on causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options, read our What Is Emetophobia? article.

Hypnosis and emetophobia

Woman seated in a therapist's office, staring at a pen being held up by a hypnotherapist
Image source: Mark Williams via Unsplash

A wide range of approaches are used to treat emetophobia, with some of the most common including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), exposure therapy and medication. Hypnotherapy, however, is sometimes used as an alternative to these methods.

When hypnotherapy is used to treat a phobia, the patient will be guided into a relaxed state. Once this has been reached, they will then be prompted to explore their fear in ways they may not have previously considered, or have been resistant to thinking about. This may include:

  • Revisiting the initial event that sparked their phobia
  • Going over any triggers that they commonly experience
  • Desensitising them to situations or objects that arouse their symptoms

In some ways, forms of hypnotherapy can be compared to exposure therapy. That’s because the patient is encouraged to face the object of their phobia so as to normalise it and break its associations with fear.

The difference, of course, is that instead of coming into contact with one’s triggers in person, patients do so within their own mind. In doing so, they may be able to imagine specific situations that they find particularly stressful or terrifying and work through them.

Does hypnotherapy work for emetophobia patients?

The theory behind hypnotherapy sounds incredibly promising in principle: people with emetophobia can desensitise themselves to their fears, focusing on aspects that are personal to them to an extent that would not otherwise be possible. The key question, though, is this: does it really work?

Opinions amongst experts are divided. In the same study we mentioned earlier in this article, Lipsitz et al noted that some of the patients he surveyed “described having […] hypnosis for emetophobia with no benefit”.

In literature reviews relating to phobias more generally, Choy et al noted that there were “mixed findings” regarding hypnotherapy, with questionable efficacy in one study and none at all in another. Meanwhile, Antoine Pelissolo found that:

“To date, evidence is negative or insufficient to support the efficacy of hypnosis in chronic anxiety disorders, in any categories whatsoever – including phobia or PTSD.”

Others view hypnotherapy more positively. Stuart McKenzie reported on the case of a 40-year-old woman whose phobia of vomiting led her to fear holding a baby—a phobia which was resolved by the use of hypnosis. B. Wijesinghe found that use of the ‘flooding’ technique was enough to help one patient overcome their emetophobia in a single session.

What is flooding?
Flooding is a technique used in psychotherapy that works via exposure to thoughts, memories or situations that cause a patient fear. The aim is to show them that the thing they are afraid of is not as dangerous or scary as they imagine. It can either be achieved in vivo or by asking the patient to imagine a particular scenario. Flooding has been shown to work quickly for some patients with long-lasting effects.

Some researchers, meanwhile, see hypnosis as best used alongside other treatments. William Golden, for example, found that cognitive-behavioural hypnotherapy—a combination of CBT and hypnosis—seemed to be “at least as effective as [other] treatments that employ imagery and relaxation techniques for anxiety disorders”. Similarly, Thomas McGuinness came to the conclusion that “hypnosis is an effective and efficient adjunct in the treatment of phobias”.

More recently, Kristin Magaldi wrote a personal testimony in Bustle of her experience of using hypnosis for a fear of vomiting. Though she conceded that she was “certainly not cured of [her] phobia”, she felt that hypnotherapy “has a way of opening you up to your subconscious mind”, and that it could be a useful complement to other forms of therapy.

What other treatments are available?

If you decide that hypnotherapy isn’t a good fit for you, then you may wish to explore some of the other common treatments used for emetophobia. These include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy, which aims to reshape your thinking around the situations that cause you fear
  • Exposure therapy, a method involving coming into contact—physically or virtually—with your triggers
  • EMDR, a type of therapy that involves the use of bilateral stimulation to enable patients to reprocess their memories
  • Medication, including antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and gastrointestinal medications
  • Lifestyle changes, such as practising mindfulness and self-care as well as reaching out to your social support network

Visit our guide to the Best Treatments for Emetophobia to read about each of these methods in greater detail.

Getting help for emetophobia

No matter which treatment option is right for you, your journey to recovery can only begin once you make the decision to take the first step. EmetoGo is here to help you from start to finish as you reclaim your life from fear.

To find out more about what we have to offer and the various methods used by our expert therapists, just get in touch with us. We’ll be happy to answer any questions and set you on the right path to conquering your fear.