Research Investigating Hypnosis as a Treatment for Exam Anxiety

Researchers have examined the effect of hypnosis as therapy for various disorders. There has been indication of its effectiveness, both in conjunction with other therapies, for example psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a specialized type of psychotherapy, and used alone. The results have been positive in all known studies. However, the structure of many of those studies was not carefully constructed. For example, in studies on the effect of hypnotherapy to alleviate stress before exams using college students as subjects, the results showed a beneficial effect. The limitations are that the study did not extend to taking exam score results after the conclusion of the hypnosis into consideration and there seemed to be no quantifiable conclusions.

In a meta-analysis of studies investigating the effectiveness of hypnosis as treatment for exam anxiety, Jennifer Baker, Hannah Ainsworth, Carole Torgerson & David Torgerson (2009) conducted a survey to evaluate the research done so far.

Sapp (1990) noted that there are two major features of hypnosis: the first is cognitive and the second a relaxation component. He considered the combination of these two components as the key to hypnosis being effective in reducing exam anxiety. Since hypnosis is beneficial as a treatment for acute stress disorder, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other severe conditions, the theory is that it will function to reduce exam anxiety as well. Gathering information for this survey involved searching all literature relating to the topic of hypnosis as a propitious treatment for exam anxiety,

The final groups being evaluated were all randomized controlled trials (RTCs) selected by 4 individual reviewers working in 2 stages using the Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT). Of the 176 studies relating to hypnosis for exam anxiety, 13 were considered and 5 were found to meet the final required criteria. The final 5 were taken from the 13 originally under consideration. There were limitations to the dependability of the results since none made comparisons between the final 5 who used hypnosis as treatment and subjects using other therapies intended to reduce exam anxiety. Results did indicate a sufficient amount of accuracy to permit pooling the final 5 since all were students of a comparable age and from similar circumstances. Thus the 5 studies were deemed valid for the purpose of proving or disproving the effectiveness of hypnosis as an exam anxiety treatment.

Sarason (1972) noted that some students who are intellectually qualified and academically capable perform poorly on exams due to anxiety. These students suffer the debilitating effects of anxiety that radically lowers their exam scores relative to their potential, and could benefit greatly from a form of relaxation such as hypnosis. Hypnotherapy has assisted smokers to quit and helped obese individuals lose weight after multiple diet failures. This meta-analysis attempts to gain inroads into whether hypnotherapy is a useful tool.

The results of the 5 studies show the size of each intervention group as 12, 44, 21, 16 and 14. Control groups number as follows, 12, 50, 14, 12 and 16. The intervention group had mean post-test anxiety scores of 18.54, 51.5, 57, 44.82 and 13.53. Mean post-test anxiety scores in the control groups were 25.42, 53.18, 63, 47 and 15.69. Each of the 5 research results indicated that yes, hypnosis was of benefit in the treatment of exam anxiety. Although the samples were varied and small all concurred. Similar, but not identical criteria were used in each of the 5. The conclusions to be drawn from this survey and meta-analysis are twofold. One, indication is that hypnosis serves as an effective treatment for exam anxiety; and two larger studies with specific parameters that are regulated cross-study are needed. The meta-analysis is valuable in that it points future researchers in the right direction.


Sarason, I.G. (1972). Experimental approaches to test anxiety: Attention and the uses of information. In C. D. Spielberger (Ed.), Anxiety: Current trends in theory and research (Vol. 2, pp. 283–400). New York: Academic Press.

Sapp, M. (1990, August). Hypnotherapy and test anxiety: Two cognitive-behavioural constructs. The effects of hypnosis in reducing test anxiety and improving academic achievement in college students. Paper presented at the 98th annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, Boston, USA.


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