The Truth About Hypnosis for the Treatment of Chronic Pain

by Christina Lasich, MD Health Professional

Let’s clear up some confusion about hypnosis. This alternative treatment for chronic pain is not simply a matter of relaxing, meditating or imagining. Hypnosis is:

"An agreement between a person designated as the hypnotist and a person designated as the client or patient to participate in a psychotherapeutic technique based on the hypnotist providing suggestions for changes in sensation, perception, cognition, affect, mood, or behavior." (1)

The operative word in this definition is “suggestions”. The hypnotist inserts therapeutic suggestions into your subconscious mind to help you obtain specific goals. For example, a practitioner might suggest that smoking will no longer be viewed as pleasurable to someone that wants to quit smoking. And quite frankly, quitting smoking is a great goal if you have chronic pain. Other potential suggestions worth considering if you have chronic pain:

  • You will find sweets to be distasteful

  • You will think exercise is pleasurable

  • You will enjoy eating vegetables

  • You will not be fearful of movement

If you want to experience less pain, you might want to consider trying hypnotherapy because some valuable goals can be achieved. Hypnosis has been shown to be effective for all types of pain including cancer-related pain (2). It has also been shown to be effective in all ages from young to old. And best of all, there are no side effects. However, it is not recommend for those with a history of psychosis or other mental illness that impairs cognitive function.

Of course when people think about hypnosis, they think about circus tricks and fairground acts. But the truth is the following:

  • You cannot be made to do anything against your will

  • You can stop the session at anytime because you are aware of what is going on

  • Being hypnotized is not a sign of a “weak mind” because everyone can be hypnotized, although to different degrees (2)

Accessing a hypnotist may be difficult because of the lack of available practitioners and a lack of insurance coverage. But overcoming these barriers can prove rewarding if you suffer with a painful condition. You can find more information or a professional hypnotist at the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis ( Now stare at the ball and count backwards…

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  1. Vickers, A; et al; Hypnosis and Relaxation Therapies; Western Journal of Medicine; Oct 2001; 175(4): 269-272

2)Kravits, K; et al; Hypnosis: Adjunct Therapy for Cancer Pain Management; Journal of the Advanced Practitioner in Oncology; March 2013; 4(2): 83-88

Christina Lasich, MD
Meet Our Writer
Christina Lasich, MD

Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.