More and more celebrities are opening up the mental health conversation, revealing their own personal struggles—and Keira Knightley is the latest star to share her struggle with anxiety. The Colette star confessed to the Hollywood Reporter that she suffered a debilitating mental breakdown in 2007, and as a result was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Knightley attributes her breakdown to the pressure and attention that came with fame, adding that the paparazzi exasperated the situation. “It was big money to get pictures of women falling apart,” Knightley told the Hollywood Reporter during their Awards Chatter podcast in reference to Britney Spears’s breakdown.
Eventually, her overwhelming anxiety built up and it took a serious toll on her. “I did have a mental breakdown at 22, so I did take a year off there and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder because of all that stuff,” she said.
To help her treat her PTSD and panic attacks on the red carpet, Knightley credits hypnotherapy. “I actually did hypnotherapy so that I could stand on the red carpet at the BAFTAs and not have a panic attack,” she confessed. “The hypnotherapy worked because I did stand there and I didn’t have a panic attack.”
But what exactly is this form of therapy—and how does it work? Here’s what you should know.
Hypnotherapy is different from traditional talk therapy in that it puts you in a trance-like state to help you gain better control over your anxiety. According to the Mayo Clinic, hypnotherapy is usually done with a therapist repeating certain words or mental images to a patient.
“Hypnotherapy works to build walls around the patient’s central system and to develop a lens to see the world in a less threatening light,” psychotherapist Paul Hokemeyer, PhD, explains to Prevention.
While there are several modalities of hypnotherapy, Dr. Hokemeyer believes the one likely used with Knightley would involve a combination of deep relaxation and cognitive restructuring.
“By inducing a state of deep relaxation, through breath work, guided meditation, or yoga practice, the clinician gains access to the patient’s subconscious thoughts,” Dr. Hokemeyer explains. For example, meditating can help relax by forcing you to focus on using your breath. It can also help you see your fears and anxieties not as threats, but as opportunities to grow and make you stronger. “The work would also enable them to re-evaluate their own perceptions, correcting any distortions and strengthening their agency and resilience,” Dr. Hokemeyer says.
The benefits of hypnotherapy aren’t immediate, and half the battle is trusting your therapist and being patient with the process. To be truly effective, you need to find the right hypnotherapist who can address your needs.
Dr. Hokemeyer says hypnotherapy generally takes at least four sessions or a month of preliminary work with your therapist. That preliminary work involves finding a therapist you can trust, actually undergoing the hypnosis treatments, and implementing those changes to your everyday life.