Using Hypnosis for Pain and Anxiety

The idea of hypnosis in healthcare might seem strange or even scary, especially if your first exposure was watching Jafar hypnotize the Sultan in Aladdin, or laughing at your high school classmates during a stage show. In movies, hypnosis is often portrayed as a form of mind control, but when administered by a qualified professional, it can be helpful for treating a number of conditions. Here’s what the research says about its potential benefits. 

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What is Hypnosis?
According to the American Psychological Association, “hypnosis is a procedure during which a professional suggests while treating someone, that he or she experience changes in sensations, perceptions, thoughts, or behavior.”

I like to explain it to my clients as a "heightened state of awareness and control where you are more able to accept new ideas and suggestions."

Clinical hypnosis puts you into a state of concentration that’s a lot like what you experience when you get lost in a book, movie, or exercise, says Carol Ginandes, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University. “We naturally go in and out of that state probably several times a day while we’re awake, whenever we become absorbed in something we’re doing,” she says.

The goal of clinical hypnosis is to help you learn how to access that natural hypnotic state and focus it to create changes in patterns of behavior, Ginandes says.

Being hypnotized can help address psychological problems such as generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, panic attacks, body image issues in cancer survivors, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more. It can also help people with insomnia fall asleep faster, make it easier to quit smoking, and aid weight loss. Hypnosis can even help people relieve pain, deal with skin disorders, and experience fewer migraines.

Hypnosis is not a substitute for medical treatment. Hypnosis is a wonderful adjunct treatment to use in addition to whatever care and expertise is available. No matter what issue you are addressing, I always recommend that you talk with your primary care provider first. Get a diagnosis and start your treatment plan there. 

Whether you are using hypnosis, massage, acupuncture, or working with a naturopath or chiropractor, you know that each modality has its own benefits and they all complement each other well. (This is why we sometimes call them "complementary therapies.") 

We should all be getting massages, seeing  a chiropractor, working with a nutritionist, and seeing a hypnotist. The mind and body have a complicated relationship, and each of these therapies have benefits in improving your overall health.

How Do I Find a Hypnotist?
Look for someone with the right training and credentials. In the US, there is no standard legislation pertaining to the practice of clinical hypnosis, so take your time and do your research. You will want to work with someone who belongs to a reputable organization and can tell you about their initial and ongoing training.

I suggest that you look for someone who has a "client-centered" approach. This means that the whole process is designed to address you specifically. Be careful of those who offer to "fix your problems in one session." Hypnosis is a process, and you should be learning skills and abilities that you can use long after your sessions are over.

You can also find hypnotists that have a medical or mental health background that can help to give you a more rounded experience. If you have a problem during your session, such as accessing traumatic memories, you want to be with someone who is qualified to help you cope. A qualified hypnotist will be able to adjust the session to meet your needs. For example, while treating trauma patients such as combat veterans and rape survivors, some patients responded better to treatment with their eyes open.

Here are a few other ways that hypnosis, done correctly, could help you.

Hypnosis Could Help People With IBS. 
Hypnosis can help people deal with the bloating and misery of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is a functional gastrointestinal disorder, meaning that it’s not explained by a structural or biochemical abnormality, but instead by dysfunction between the gut and brain, says Olafur S. Palsson, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“In [people] with IBS, the brain often fails to dampen uncomfortable sensations from the intestines, and sends signals inappropriately that disturb their functioning and contribute to producing diarrhea or constipation,” Palsson says. 

Hypnosis may help the brain correct this inappropriate sensitivity and restore healthier, more comfortable bowel function by allowing people to pay less attention to sensations in the gut, he adds.

Hypnosis Could Help Relieve Chronic Pain.
“A big part of how we [experience pain] is based on what the brain is doing with that information,” Jensen says. When a body part is injured or inflamed, your brain takes input from the body and creates pain as a warning signal, or it doesn’t. Put simply, hypnosis can help refocus the brain on more pleasurable sensations, Jensen says. For example, he might invite a patient to remember a time when they were happy and ask them to re-experience that joy. Or he might ask them to imagine a powerful analgesic making the painful area more comfortable.

Hypnosis Could Make Your Skin Look and Feel Better.
For acne, rosacea, or eczema, your first line of defense is probably a skin cream or other topical product, but hypnosis may also help. These skin problems are caused, at least in part, by inflammation, says Philip Shenefelt, a professor of dermatology at the University of South Florida. “If a person is tense and upset, [those feelings] can aggravate skin conditions via an inflammatory reaction,” he says. Hypnosis may help soothe inflammation by calming your autonomic nervous system, which can have a delicate interplay with your skin, he adds.

Hypnosis Could Make Surgery More Pleasant and Decrease Pain and Recovery Time.
Hypnosis has been shown to reduce anxiety, decrease recovery time, speed up healing, and decrease dependence on medication in patients undergoing surgery, says Jessie Kittle, a clinical assistant professor of medicine at Stanford University. “In procedures where the patient is awake, like biopsies, hypnosis can decrease procedure time, by decreasing the need to pause to deal with discomfort or opioid side effects such as low blood pressure,” she says. Hypnosis can also be used during the pre-op period to help people manage the fear of needles, surgery, or pain, and help prepare patients to better manage post-op discomfort, nausea, and anxiety, she says.

What Else Should I Know Before I Try Hypnosis?
It helps to start with realistic expectations: Sometimes people have a misconception that hypnosis is an instant fix or a magic wand. Hypnosis requires collaboration with your hypnotist. The process of using hypnosis is not something they “do” to you, but a set of skills that you learn with their help. Be prepared to work with your hypnotist to get the benefits.∎

Karen Gray is a Certified Hypnotist, a Registered Nurse, and the Director of Green Mountain Hypnosis. For more information on how you can use hypnosis to change your life, contact Karen at karengray@greenmountainhypnosis.com, or (802) 566-0464.

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