Mindset Health (YC S19) – Hypnotherapy apps for chronic conditions

Hey HN!

We're Alex & Chris, brothers from Melbourne, Australia, and the founders of Mindset Health (https://www.mindsethealth.com). We create mobile apps to help people manage chronic health conditions at home. Our programs use hypnosis-based techniques, developed by clinicians, to help people manage conditions like anxiety, depression & Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

Mindset Health came out of a difficult period after Chris and I wound down our first startup. During this time, we experienced a lot of anxiety and stress. I ended up being prescribed anti-anxiety medication, but the side effects and the lack of control I felt caused me to look for non-pharmacological options, like CBT and biofeedback.

Someone we trusted recommended hypnotherapy. Chris and I were skeptical about hypnosis (the 'being made to cluck like a chicken' reputation), but after coming around to the benefits of meditation a couple of years before, we were open enough to say we'd look more into the science. We ended up spending a few weeks diving deep into the hypnosis research and were surprised at what we found. Since many HN readers are probably as skeptical as we were, we're going to saturate the rest of this post with references. Hopefully not too many!

Contrary to stereotypes of stage shows with outlandish mind control stunts, hypnosis simply involves becoming focused enough to become more receptive to new ideas or perspectives. Turns out that not only can this help with areas like smoking cessation [1], but conditions like anxiety [2], depression [3], IBS [4], sleep issues [5] and chronic pain [6] can be improved using hypnosis-based treatments. Like many topics in neuroscience, the mechanisms behind hypnosis are still being explored, but a 2016 brain scan study by the Stanford School of Medicine identified changes in brain activity related to absorption, executive control, and awareness [7] which is thought to create a more effective context for the delivery of therapeutic techniques like CBT [8].

It took some time but we decided to look into booking sessions with local 'hypnotherapists' to try it for ourselves. However, many of the people we came across weren't psychologists or qualified practitioners, and most of this wasn't covered by insurance. So we switched to trying pre-recorded sessions from a well-regarded psychologist who practices hypnosis. Those sessions were deeply relaxing and absorbing. Through using them I was able to learn coping skills helped me stop taking my anxiety medication.

This experience gave Chris and me an idea: could we help more people access hypnotherapy by removing the stigma and barriers to trying it? Calm and Headspace had succeeded at doing so for meditation. Similarly to how meditation has become a powerful self-care habit for a healthy mind, perhaps hypnotherapy could become a tool for self-managing chronic health conditions.

Chronic and mental health conditions account for a massive portion of the global healthcare cost (80–90% of the $3.5 trillion annual healthcare spend in the United States [9,10]). For many of these conditions, treatment is more about managing symptoms than 'curing' the condition, meaning that patients are reliant on drugs, surgeries, and/or restrictive diets for long periods of their life - with all of the cost and side effects involved.

We decided to make our idea into reality, and began Mindset Health with the intention of helping people with these conditions strengthen their self-regulation skills and reduce reliance on pharmacological interventions. We currently have two apps that use hypnotherapy to help people manage health conditions (with more on the way, including chronic pain and smoking cessation).

The first app is called Mindset (https://www.mindsethealth.com/mindset), which is based on the work of Dr Michael Yapko, an expert in the clinical uses of hypnosis (he literally wrote the textbook) [11]. It involves a series of hypnosis-based audio sessions that teach coping skills that can help manage anxiety and depression. Each hypnotherapy session dives into a specific thought pattern or life challenge and helps you improve by teaching you new skills and perspectives.

The second app, Nerva (https://www.mindsethealth.com/nerva), is designed for users with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (a condition affecting 10-15% of the population, so 33-49 million Americans). It's based on the work of Dr Simone Peters, who led a randomized controlled trial that deployed a 6-week gut-directed hypnotherapy program; this approach was shown to help 71% of participants improve their symptoms by a clinically significant amount [12]. Nerva delivers this 6-week hypnotherapy approach (audio sessions that use visualization and suggestion to improve self-regulation skills, as well as sychoeducation and breathing exercises), plus a maintenance plan to help users to build on their progress.

From past discussions, including the recent HN thread at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23410690, we know that the topic of hypnosis can bring up a lot of understandable skepticism. That's why we've included so many links below. We're also happy to talk about it. We've been there ourselves, so please feel free to be skeptical, ask questions, and share your experiences in this area. We want to hear them! And if there's anything you want to say that isn't right for a public forum, you're welcome to email us at [email protected] as well.

[1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18569754/

[2] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00207144.2019.16...

[3] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0020714060117789...

[4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25736234/

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5786848/

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2752362/

[7] http://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2016/07/study-identifi...

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK66430/

[9] https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/tools/TL200/TL221...

[10] https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Sta...).

[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_D._Yapko

[12] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/apt.13706

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