Problem Behaviours

What is a problem behaviour?

A problem behaviour is an unwanted habit, pattern or addiction. It may be something which the person feels they have no control over even though it  negatively affects their life or the lives of those they care about. Habits such as overeating or smoking are common, but there are many other problem behaviours that may impact on their physical or emotional wellbeing or those around them.

Habits for which people might seek hypnotherapy include:

  • Disordered eating
  • Hair pulling
  • Biting nails
  • Misuse of alcohol
  • Perfectionism
  • Procrastination
  • Recreational drug use
  • Teeth-grinding
  • Sexual performance
  • Smoking

Hypnotherapy is often chosen by clients who are committed to changing patterns but who want support to achieve their goal. Most behaviours are driven by the subconscious mind so using hypnosis to uncover drivers for the behaviour and to establish a clear vision of the future without the problem can be very beneficial. Hypnotherapy may be used to increase an individual’s level of self belief and motivation.

Addictions and Alcohol misuse

Addiction is defined as not having control over doing, taking or using something to the point where it could be harmful to you. There are many reasons why individuals use substances but it will always involve changing how they feel.  These feelings can be pleasurable and thus create a powerful urge to use the substance/s again; over time this can lead to dependency. A person who is addicted to something is likely to experience withdrawal symptoms if they attempt to stop. As these can be extremely unpleasant, it is often easier to continue the behaviour to satisfy cravings. Experts do not agree on whether addictions are a disease or a behavioural pattern and therapists will have different approaches to supporting clients who want to break habits and addictive behaviours. Some hypnotherapists are trained to deal with these conditions.

Disordered eating

Disordered eating is an umbrella term for a wide range of food-related behaviours that depart from established norms of healthy eating patterns; eating when hungry and stopping when satisfied. Unhealthy eating patterns are often connected to emotional eating or self-medicating with food and to poor body image and self-esteem. Hypnotherapy can help an individual to gain an understanding of their behaviours and the drivers behind those behaviours. In hypnosis a therapist may give suggestions to promote a healthy self-image and suggest behaviours that will support that change. Eating disorders that affect an individual’s health are considered psychiatric disorders and need specialist help. Some hypnotherapists are trained to deal with these conditions.

Nail biting, Hair pulling, Teeth grinding

Nail-biting, hair pulling and similar behaviours such as skin pulling are considered as stress-relieving habits. Whilst many people do these behaviours without realising it, they often increase in frequency when the individual is stressed, anxious or bored. In the case of teeth grinding or bruxism, as it is known by medical and dental professionals, it is often carried out in sleep. Because these habits are carried out automatically, without a conscious decision to do them, they can be hard to break. Hypnotherapy which works with the subconscious mind can often be the therapy of choice for individuals who want to change these behaviours.

Procrastination and Perfectionism

Occasionally we can all procrastinate or want things to be perfect but sometimes these behaviours can dominate our lives creating unnecessary frustrations and leading to further distress. Procrastination and perfectionism at their worst are underpinned by a vulnerable self esteem, the behaviours can lead to temporary relief, and similar to that of addictions, the cycle repeats between relief and anxiety and/ or frustration. Hypnotherapy can work with the core of the behaviours and can be really effective allowing space for healthy esteem and confidence to expand.


Hypnotherapists who work with clients who want to quit smoking may adopt a variety of approaches; they may use aversion therapy or the benefits approach or a combination of the two. The aversion method is where a client in hypnosis is told things that will put them off smoking. The benefits approach involves finding out from the client what will be good about being a non-smoker and emphasising this in hypnosis. To successfully stop smoking it is important that there is a genuine desire and commitment to quit. It is also essential that the client can imagine how their life will be improved when they have stopped. Research shows that quitting smoking with hypnosis is three times more effective than nicotine patches.

How many sessions will I need?

The number of hypnotherapy sessions required will vary depending on the problem behaviour and the commitment of the client. For smoking it may be as little as one longer than usual session but this will depend on the approach of the therapist and the client’s commitment. For other issues the number of sessions will vary depending on the complexity of the problem and the method adopted by the therapist.

What will I expect from a session?

Depending on the problem behaviour in question, the  hypnotherapist will discuss with the client  the behaviours they wish to change, any emotional triggers that lead to the behaviour and the level of commitment to change. To succeed in stopping something or changing a behaviour the motivation must come from the client; therapy undertaken to satisfy someone else is unlikely to be successful. The therapist may teach visualisation techniques for focusing on the desired outcome and self-hypnosis and relaxation exercises.

  • Suggestions to increase your confidence in your abilities
  • To learn about the stress response and how to reduce it
  • To learn techniques to manage any cravings or urges
  • Tools and visualisations for the desired outcome

How do I find a hypnotherapist?

Type your postcode into our hypnotherapist finder to find a hypnotherapist near you.

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The National Council for Hypnotherapy is one of the largest not-for-profit professional associations in the UK. All our members have the option to join the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council.