During my own research recently, and as part of my PhD literature review, whilst reading literally hundreds of research papers on the subjects of hetero-hypnosis and self-hypnosis, one thing is highlighted by the majority of authors – that self-hypnosis of a self-regulatory nature (i.e. when it is learned as a skill and not just using self-hypnosis audios and treating that as self-hypnosis- that just means a hypnotist is absent) advances self-efficacy.

Why is this a good thing?

Self-confidence  is cited a great deal throughout psychological research and literature as effecting therapeutic outcomes as well as performance outcomes. The classic concept of self-confidence was defined by Bandura (1977, 1982, 1986) as self-efficacy. Bandura wanted to explain the relationship between cognitive beliefs and performance (as well as therapeutic outcomes). Self-efficacy is our own judgment of our own ability to successfully perform a behaviour. Self-efficacy theory asserts that actual performance will be predicted by the individual’s belief in personal competence when they have the correct incentives and skills or training.

Therefore, if an individual has the perception that they can successfully change in some way, that belief and perception increases the likelihood that the change will successfully occur. Judgments about our own self-efficacy have been shown to predict levels of success and support this theory (Bock et al., 1997; Sullum, Clark, & King, 2000).

According to self-efficacy theory, as well as being a predictor of performance, efficacy expectations will also predict how much energy we expend and our persistence to complete the activity.  For someone looking to develop self-hypnosis skills, this could influence enthusiasm, conviction to the processes involved or responsiveness.

One of the benefits of self-hypnosis could be perceived as meaning that an individual can use hypnosis techniques at home and can be taught a number of techniques to create a repertoire of skills to use in a wide variety of areas in life. This is made difficult if the person being hypnotised believes that they can only enter hypnosis if the hypnotist needs to be around to induce it.

Self-hypnosis experienced a widespread acceptance as an integral part of therapeutic intervention as far back as the 1970s (Sheehan and McConkey, 1979) though if we look at the popularity of Coué’s autosuggestion methodology, it could be seen as having widespread acceptance in and of itself since the 1920s.

The data available regarding the use of self-hypnosis in the therapeutic and clinical setting suggests that of the psychologists and medical practitioners who use hypnosis within their work, the majority teach their patients and clients self-hypnosis (Sheehan and McConkey, 1979), and one study also shows that self-hypnosis is used in the majority of smoking cessation programmes (Holroyd, 1980).The growing trend since then may well be related to the fact that the use of self-hypnosis gives individuals the chance of contributing to their own development within therapy, and to enjoy a feeling of being more in control of themselves. For those  not in therapy, it becomes a learnable, enjoyable skill that can enrich many facets of everyday living.

In a similar vein to the Carleton skills training programme, other studies have also indicated that as well as the actual responsiveness and skill developing from the practice of self-hypnosis, an individual’s confidence in their ability to use self-hypnosis is increased with practice (Fromm et al., 1981) and there are numerous other examples of how self-efficacy is related to and inherent within self-hypnosis.

For example, Salter (1941) showed a method of ‘fractional autohypnosis’ used in his study whereby self-hypnosis is actualised by building component ‘parts’ of the experience. These ‘parts’ included using waking suggestions to elicit hypnotic phenomena and encourage belief that fuels more responsiveness. Johnson and Weight (1976)  did find that hetero-hypnosis evoked more feelings of unawareness, passivity, and loss of control in their subjects, whereas self-hypnosis evoked more feelings of activity, awareness, and being in control of ones feelings.

Olness (1976, p.279) states “Not only do beds become dry, but the children develop new self-confidence from having achieved the cure on their own.” Handelsman (1984) wrote a clinical case study whereby it was hypothesised that a lady who was in mourning recovered quicker as a result of advancing self-efficacy which developed from learning self-hypnosis.

As with a number of studies Olness and Kohen, together and with other colleagues throughout the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and more recently have successfully shown therapeutic gains when children were equipped with a self-regulatory skill.  The studies demonstrating efficacy with self-hypnosis tend to be those teaching participants skills and as a result self-efficacy was developed.

Harmon, Hynan and Tyre, (1990) showed that when participants in their own study saw (via the IPT) the results of the self-hypnosis, they improved in responsiveness; the more they believed in the process, the better they responded to the use of self-hypnosis to elicit hypnotic analgesia during childbirth.  Spinhoven and colleagues (1992) showed that the patients who attributed the pain reduction obtained during the treatment to their own efforts manifested long-term pain reduction.

Whitehouse et al. (1996) showed that once subjects had learnt and practiced the skill of self-hypnosis,  improvements in distress and anxiety during exams were made. Anbar (2001) suggests that the reason one of the children in his study did not derive benefits from self-hypnosis training was because, despite his ability to relax, he did not practice self-hypnosis as instructed and was skeptical about hypnosis in general.

In a systematic review of effectiveness and methodology related to hypnosis interventions, Richardson and colleagues (2006) state: “Children can be taught self-hypnosis because this has the potential to facilitate self-management of symptoms, thus providing a sense of self-efficacy and mastery over pain and distress. Active participation in one’s own care has been shown to have an additional beneficial therapeutic effect in pediatric cancer patients.

Liossi, White and Hatira (2006, p. 314) suggest that “the child who practices psychological techniques for pain control my achieve a sense of mastery over their pain that is additionally therapeutic.”  In study looking at pain relief for lumbar punctures …. The authors suggest that “the child who practices psychological techniques for pain control my achieve a sense of mastery over their pain that is additionally therapeutic.” (Liossi, White and Hatira, 2006, p. 314) Jensen (2009, p. 241) shows that belief and control were enhanced with self-hypnosis and suggest it is a skill that gives a sense of self-efficacy in dealing with pain.

Even studies where the outcome for self-hypnosis did not compare favourably against the control group (Werner et al., 2013; Werner et al., 2011) more than one session was used, indicating that researchers believed it was something requiring practice and development.

Additionally, it may also be suggested that lacking belief may cause problematic responses. Coué’s autosuggestion methodology (1922) involved a general use prescription sentence for one to use daily almost like a mantra; “day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better.” Coué taught that all attention is so totally focused on the self-statement that everything else is kept out of awareness.

Similarly, Araoz (1981) a proponent of the notion that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis introduced a new concept, that of “negative self-hypnosis.” According to Araoz, individuals with little self-confidence, courage, and initiative engage in many unconscious and conscious combinations of perceptions of and script making for themselves to keep aspects of their lives ungratifying. He applies the label “negative self-hypnosis” to these activities.

I think all hypnotherapists should be teaching their clients self-hypnosis for these reasons and there is evidence to suggest the usefulness of it. However, even if you are not a hypnotherapist, it makes absolute sense to learn this skill for yourself and advance your self-efficacy in life in general.

Last week, I had a live recorded conversation with James Tripp. It covered the topic of self-efficacy in some depth and we even discussed who pronounced it correctly, you can listen to it here:

I think that gives you some insight. Self-hypnosis and self-efficacy go hand in hand.


Bandura, A. (1977) Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavior change. Psychological Review, 84, 191-215.

Bandura A. Self efficacy mechanism in human agency. Am Psychol. 1982;37:122–147

Bandura, A. (1986) Social foundations of thought and action. A social-cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentic-Hall.

Bock, B. C., Albrecht, A. E., Traficante, R. M., Clark, M. M., Pinto, B. M., Tilkemeier, P., & Marcus, B. H. (1997) Predictors of exercise adherence following participation in a cardiac rehabilitation program. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 23, 79-87.

Ness, R. G., & Patton, R. W. (1977) The effect of external cue manipulation upon weight-lifting performance. Paper presented at the American Alliance of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation, Seattle, WA.

Sullum, J., Clark, M. M., & King, T. K. (2000) Predictors of exercise relapse in a college population. Journal of American College Health, 48, 175-180.

Please get in touch if you want full references of any of the other papers mentioned in my article today.