My wife has been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder and as her husband and care giver I'm trying to delve into both understanding this disease and being an intelligent guide to freedom from as many of the negative symptoms as is possible. I've been reading up on hypnotism and would like to consider it as a future treatment but I'm wondering if the nature of Bipolar creates any unique environments where hypnotism might harm rather than heal.
First of all, I would like to point out that hypnosis, and therefore hypnotherapy, is generally considered pseudo-scientific within the scientific community and therefore this question can be classed as off-topic here by some. However, there are trained and licensed hypnotherapists who share the same question on whether or not to use hypnotherapy on patients diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (Leach, 2013), so I will provide some background to my answer with some research available.
Is hypnotherapy suitable for Bipolar Disorder?
Switches into mania have been observed in unipolar and bipolar depressed patients following physical treatments as well as cognitive therapy. Such a phenomenon has not been observed with hypnotherapy (Suresh & Srinivasan, 1994 - Introduction)
Suresh & Srinivasan studied the possibility of hypnotherapy being used to help Bipolar Disorder with a patient suffering from Dysthymic Disorder (now called Persistent Depressive Disorder) which is less acute and severe than major depressive disorder.
Three sessions of hypnotherapy were given over a period of one week. Ventilation of her negative self evaluations and use of positive suggestions to improve her self esteem and ego strength was done during each session under first stage of hypnosis. Neither deep level of hypnosis nor hypnoanalysis was attempted. After the initial sessions, the patient was instructed to practice self-hypnosis once a day using an audio cassette with a recording of the last session by the therapist.
A point to note with this study is that hypnotherapy was advised for the patient as she did not prefer drug therapy and there were major problems.
At the end of one week she presented with a cheerful mood and improved self-esteem, confidence and energy with no depressive symptoms. Her child was concurrently treated and had by then returned to school. Self-hypnosis was continued and ten days later her spouse brought her with symptoms of sleeplessness, irritability with a tendency to be aggressive and disinhibited, excessive talk, ideomotor pressure and grandiose ideation. Clinical examination showed the presence of a Manic disorder.
Following recovery from this episode in two weeks with antipsychotics, she was advised not to practice self-hypnosis. However, this was not heeded and a week later there was reemergence of manic symptoms requiring increase in the dose of antipsychotics. Subsequently, it was ensured that she did not practice self-hypnosis.
Suresh & Srinivasan noted that as deep hypnosis or hypnoanalysis was carefully avoided, the manic reaction could not be viewed as a manifestation of nonspecific psychotic disorganisation which is known to occur if hypnotherapy is too deep and uncontrolled (Auerbach, 1962); and the precipitation of mania by hypnotherapy supports the evidence that this therapy can be useful in depression.
Although Psychotherapy using hypnosis is known to be helpful in mild depression if light hypnosis and simple positive suggestions are applied (Ambrose & Newbold, 1980), I would contest this last statement by Suresh & Srinivasan, by pointing out that antipsychotics were prescribed at the time of mania being present, and therefore you cannot say that it was the hypnotherapy which precipitated mania.
The bottom line - Talk to your doctor
As a trained and accredited hypnotherapist myself, the bottom line is that hypnotherapists are told in accredited training that they must not provide hypnotherapy to those diagnosed with a psychosis or certain types of personality disorder, as it could make your condition worse. (See also, neurosis vs psychosis) Another golden rule is that anyone who is looking to embark on hypnotherapy when they are diagnosed with any mental health condition should obtain doctor's permission first.
Ambrose, G. & Newbold, G.(1980). A Handbook of Medical Hypnosis, 4th edition. London: Bailliere Tindall.
Auerbach, A. (1962). Attitudes of Psychiatrist to the use of hypnosis. Journal of American Medical Association, 180(11), 917—921.
Leach, H. (2013). My experience of mental health discrimination as a hypnotherapist [Online]
Available at: https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/blog/hypnotherapist-mental-health-discrimination