Keep your eyes on the ball swinging back and forth, watch very closely and focus your attention. We are now entering the world of hypnosis. The first stage of hypnosis is called the “induction” to focus attention and turn off the peripheral awareness. Induction is thought to make a person more receptive to the “suggestion”. A hypnosis practioner might suggest a change in perception, sensation, emotion, thought or behavior. In the use of hypnosis for pain management, the suggestion would be for the reduction in pain intensity, frequency, or duration. Hypnosis has been used to treat pain since the 1840’s; but lately, this alternative treatment has been gaining some additional recognition. This increased interest is due to a further understanding of the brain’s role in the pain experience, the advanced imaging technology that can observe the effects of hypnosis on the brain, and growing evidence of the beneficial effects that hypnosis has on people with pain.
Once researchers discovered that a hypnotic suggestion could create or intensify pain, the natural extension of this research was to change the pain experience in the opposite direction, towards pain relief. Now, many studies show that the hypnotic suggestion can selectively alter the pain experience through selective effects on different areas of the brain. As research continues, hypnosis continues to demonstrate usefulness in pain management with multiple benefits.
To further explore the use of hypnosis to treat chronic pain, I interviewed a practicing psychotherapist, Dr. Daniel Rockers, PhD, who has successfully utilized hypnosis in his practice as an adjunctive treatment for many years.
- 1. Dr. Rockers, who is most likely to benefit from hypnosis for the treatment of pain?
The most likely candidates for hypnosis are individuals who are motivated and interested in getting alternative help for their pain condition. They should be open-minded, and understand that they may need to learn a skill of self-hypnosis. A very important consideration to remember is that medical hypnosis is not stage hypnosis. Both are actual phenomena, but stage hypnosis is for the entertaining of others, while medical hypnosis is solely for the individual seeking treatment. Medical hypnosis is serious business, and usually involves the patient learning to allow the unconscious mind to help them progress in life. The implication here is that the conscious mind often gets in the way of our own progress
- 2. Dr. Rockers, how long does the analgesic effect last from hypnosis?
Medical hypnosis for pain is more than just applying an analgesic suggestion. It means establishing a relationship with the patient so that both doctor and patient feel comfortable enough to explore what has led up to the pain condition. For example, one patient that I treated suffered a traumatic assault and resultant pain, but only after several sessions was this revealed. Until that point, I was working to apply analgesia, but with limited success. Other patients may not need such exploration, and in those cases, skillful application of hypnotic analgesia can be successful, with self-hypnosis booster sessions. For example, one individual that I worked with had a damaged spine when quite young and had suffered back pain all her life. Traditional treatments were not so helpful, and she did not want to take medications. She was able to learn a specific technique which helped reduce her pain to a manageable level and pursue her hobbies. Others around her noticed the change.
- 3. Dr. Rockers, what self-management tools are learned from hypnosis therapy?
This is such a great question and lets me know that you are a very good physician/treater of chronic pain. Skills like pacing yourself, developing increased self-awareness, relaxation techniques, breathing techniques are all quite common. A really great side effect of learning self-hypnosis for pain is self-efficacy: knowing that what you do makes a difference. This is a building of self-power in an appropriate way, and lets you function better as a responsible person in the world.
- 4. Dr. Rockers, how can someone find a hypnotherapist?
I think that the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) is a very good professional governing body in this area. I took ASCH training when I was in graduate school and found it quite helpful. Another quality resource is to ask your pain physician or a nearby university multidisciplinary pain treatment center for a referral. I recommend finding someone with professional credentials, such as an advanced degree, and someone who has experience in both the psychological as well as the physical pain areas. They are both important.
5. Dr. Rockers, if I am hypnotized, will I just automatically “spill my guts” and reveal my deepest secrets?
I find this to be a common fear, and I am guessing that it comes from the stage hypnosis shows in which persons seem to relinquish all control to the hypnotist. Please remember that the purpose of stage hypnosis is much different that that of medical hypnosis. The short answer to the question is another question: do you automatically spill your guts when you have a drink, or when you meet someone new on an airplane? Probably not.
The longer answer is (1) that your unconscious is going to protect you, as it always does, but (2) you should also select a hypnotist in whom you feel trust. Why? Because you are placing your care in her or his hands. When you go to a doctor for medicine or surgery, you want someone who you trust. You wouldn’t have surgery from just anyone on the street, would you?
Hypnosis is a worthy alternative treatment for chronic pain. As with any treatment, early intervention seems to be a key to success. If anyone has tried hypnosis, please share your experience in the comment section below. Sharing creates solutions!