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Hypnosis for Pain Management and Trauma Reduction

I have been asked many times whether hypnosis can be used to minimize pain during surgery (referred to as ‘medical hypnosis’). The short answer is ‘yes’, although it is most commonly limited to those surgeries involving local anesthetics. In 1958, both the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association recognized hypnotherapy as a valid medical procedure. Since 1995, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has recommended hypnotherapy as a treatment for chronic pain (NIH reference).

From personal experience, I commonly use self-hypnosis for pain control during any dental procedure which would normally involve a local anesthetic, and I recently used it for minor surgery on my arm involving 18 stitches; no pain. One excellent self-help book on self hypnosis is Instant Self-Hypnosis: How to Hypnotize Yourself with Your Eyes Open by author Forbes Robbin Blair. A more advanced book for practicing hypnosis and for hypnotherapists is Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy Basic to Advanced Techniques for the Professional, written by Calvin D. Banyan and illustrated in the above image.

Let’s take a glimpse at how the medical community is actively using hypnosis for pain management on a much more challenging level.

Medical Experience Using Hypnosis for Pain Management  

An excellent discussion on the application of “Hypnosis in Pain Management” written by Hoi Ning Ngai, Associate Director of Academic Affairs and Advising at the Wharton University of Pennsylvania, draws positive conclusions on the attributes of hypnosis as an effective tool for medical treatment. In addition, the following link provided by Ron De Vasto of the Hypnotic Research Society in Orlando, Florida, discusses the extensive application of medical hypnosis in Belgium for pain reduction:

Hypnosis for Pain Management in Spinal Cord Injuries

The Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine has developed protocols, reports and even videos for the application of hypnosis for spinal cord injury pain management. A detailed discussion and video presentations have been developed and uploaded to the internet by Shelley Wiechman Askay, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Washington.

The University of Washington applies hypnosis for both chronic pain (develops over a long period) and acute pain (occurs quickly and is typically intense). The University has a program which focuses on the application of hypnosis for managing the acute pain experienced by burn victims. This is accomplished in part by applying “virtual reality hypnosis.” This is accomplished using a computer-simulated environment called “SnowWorld“, which creates the illusion of traveling through a cool, snowy canyon to reduce the sensation of pain.

The above referenced report by the University of Washington emphasizes the importance of working with a qualified hypnotherapist when using hypnosis for pain management, stating:  “It is important to work with someone who is qualified to use hypnosis in a therapeutic setting. This is a crucial point. People who advertise themselves as hypnotists may or may not have any kind of behavioral or mental health training. But pain is such a complex issue that you really need to work with somebody who understands pain, who understands behavior management, depression, anxiety, and who use hypnosis as one of many techniques that can help manage pain.

Another caution is worth noting, although it does not appear in the article:  pain has value to the patient as a warning indicator of something which has gone wrong in the body; the more severe the pain, the greater the problem.  If all pain sensation were eliminated from the body and something new or more significant occurs, that patient may not have an indication of the new or changing physical condition. Thus, in most cases where hypnosis is used for pain management, the objective is the minimization of pain rather than the elimination of pain.

It is worth noting, however, that the human body has an excellent internal clock, which many people use in place of an alarm clock to wake up in the mornings. It can also be used in combination with hypnosis for pain management. As a simple example, in preparation for a dental procedure a patient may use self-hypnosis or even guided hypnosis to eliminate all pain in the affected area of the procedure (the local area of the affected teeth) for a specified period of time:  e.g., 2 hours, or until 11:00. Similarly, following surgery, a post-hypnotic suggestion might eliminate pain “for 24 hours,” thereby improving the patient’s ability to rest with little or no pain and with less or no pain relieving drugs.

Pain and Trauma Reduction During Pregnancy and Childbirth

Guided meditation or hypnosis can also be used to reduce the trauma of medical and surgical procedures, including through the use of audio recordings. For example, while working with Jeff Moen of Studio 717, we developed a series of meditation recordings (some are currently available on the Studio 717 page; others will soon be introduced on the various internet music sites, such as the iTunes Store and Two of these recordings form the Miracle of Birth series, which will be described in a separate article/post as soon as the recordings are available online. The Miracle of Birth guided meditation recordings were developed to assist the expectant mother to experience a happier, healthier pregnancy. Pregnancy is a natural, beautiful process; it can also be a more trauma-free experience both during the pregnancy term and during birth. The Miracle of Birth recordings help to achieve these objectives.

Other Medical Conditions which may Respond to Hypnosis

It is worth noting that hypnosis is commonly used for a much wider range of medical challenges. For example, the University of Maryland Medical Center identifies the following additional problems or conditions that may respond to hypnotherapy:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Tension headaches
  • Alopecia areata
  • Asthma
  • Phobias
  • Insomnia
  • Addictions
  • Bedwetting
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Phobias
  • Labor and delivery
  • Skin disorders [such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema (atopic dermatitis)]
  • Stress
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Cancer-related pain
  • Weight loss
  • Eating disorders
  • Warts
  • Indigestion (dyspepsia)

Additional Reference Links for Hypnosis in Pain Management

Altering the Pain Experience: Hypnotherapy for Pain Management; Cynthia Lindner, MS, HypoGenesis Magazine online.

Hypnosis in the Treatment of Cancer; American Cancer Society.

Hypnosis, Meditation, and Relaxation for Pain Treatment; WebMD online.

Phantom Limb Pain: Hypnosis helps decrease pain by helping the brain adjust to the new territory; Uncommon Knowledge, LLP.

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