Below are some excerpts from a recent article in the Wall Street Journal and it has created
considerable interest in the use of hypnosis for certain medical problems...Medical Hypnosis: You are getting
By Melinda Beck
On the mornings she undergoes chemotherapy, Jeanne Safer hypnotizes herself
en route in the taxi.
Hypnosis may stir images of stage magic and swinging pocket watches, but there's growing
evidence it can be useful for easing pain, relieving anxiet and relaxing patients before surgery. Melinda Beck has details
on Lunch Break. Photo: Getty Images
She starts by closing her eyes, then rolling them up to the top of her head
and down, all the while breathing deeply. "As I'm doing that, I'm saying to myself, 'This is a procedure that will save
my life. I'm not going to fight it. I'm going to make it as easy on my body as possible,' " she says.
Safer, a New York psychologist who has a rare but curable form of leukemia, started out as a skeptic, but found that hypnosis
helped put her at ease before biopsies, MRIs and several surgeries. She now uses it with some of her patients as well. "It's
an excellent self-management technique," she says. "It gives me a feeling of mastery, a sense that I am participating
in my own care rather than just being passive."
CHILDBIRTH. Hypnosis can relax and distract, but expectant
moms should be wary of exaggerated claims by some 'hypnobirthing' centers that promise painless labor without drugs.
Hypnosis has been the subject of fascination, intrigue and ridicule for centuries. Now, researchers are getting closer to
understanding why and how it can work. The mechanism may be similar to the placebo effect—in which patients' expectations
play a major role in how they feel. Hypnosis, in turn, can help patients adjust those expectations to minimize pain, fear
The image of a stage hypnotist swinging a stopwatch and commanding a volunteer to squawk like a
chicken has led to misunderstandings, experts say. Real hypnosis for therapeutic purposes gives subjects more control over
their minds and bodies, not less.
"We can teach people how to manage pain and anxiety, " says David Spiegel,
a psychiatrist and director of the Center for Health and Stress at Stanford University who has studied hypnosis for 40 years.
"There's been this mistake in medicine that if you have a certain amount of tissue damage, you should feel this amount
of pain. But many things can alter how much pain you feel."
Indeed, scientific evidence is mounting that hypnosis
can be effective in a variety of medical situations, from easing migraine headaches to lowering blood pressure, controlling
asthma attacks, minimizing hot flashes and diminishing side effects from chemotherapy.
PHOBIAS. Some psychologists
use hypnosis and other methods to lower the expectation of fears, such as the fear of insects, flying, needles and heights.
Last week, two studies from Sweden found that one hour a week of hypnotherapy for 12 weeks eased symptoms of irritable-bowel
syndrome in 40% of patients (compared with 12% in a control group) and that the positive effects can last as long as seven
Such scientific findings still catch skeptics by surprise—in part because many claims haven't been
carefully studied. "Hypnosis is like a good kid with a bad reputation. Everybody is interested, but in the back of their
minds, they're thinking of Bela Lugosi," says Guy Montgomery, director of the Integrative Behavioral Medicine program
at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York who has led many of the studies. "It's not mind control. We can't make somebody
rob a bank," he says.
Hypnotherapy does typically begin with the therapist instructing patients to relax deeply—often
with long, slow breaths—then focus their attention intently. Some versions have patients imagine being on a beach or
in another pleasant setting and enjoying all the sights, sounds and sensations. Once patients are relaxed and focused, practitioners
give them soothing messages and suggestions, such as, "You have no urge to smoke" or "There is nothing to fear."
Theoretically, those thoughts remain even after the patient is focusing on the real world again.
However it works,
a hypnotic suggestion in the mind can have measurable effects in the body. One Stanford study asked subjects to imagine that
they were eating, and their secretions of gastric acid increased by 70%. In a study from Harvard Medical School published
in the Lancet in 2000, patients who had 15 minutes of hypnosis before surgery not only needed less pain medication afterward,
but also took less time in surgery, saving an average of $331 each.
"There is a strong link to physiology—and
it's getting stronger, the more research is being done," says Tanya Edwards, director of the Center for Integrative Medicine
at the Cleveland Clinic. She says about half of the center's patients are referred by other Cleveland Clinic physicians, particularly
gastroenterologists, oncologists and primary-care physicians looking for ways to help reduce patients' pain.
studies have shown that while parts of the brain that register painful sensations are still active, the anterior cingulate
cortex, which reflects attention, is less engaged. That observed brain effect is greater in the 10% to 15% people who are
"highly suggestible" to hypnosis. About 30% of people are resistant—particularly those who are deeply skeptical.
Whether someone is actually in a "trance" is a matter of debate. Dr. Montgomery says the notion is upsetting
to some people, and he finds that being relaxed and at ease is sufficient to benefit.
Dr. Spiegel counters that
"you get more bang for your buck if you're in a trance," which he describes as being completely absorbed—like
being engrossed in a great book or movie. But he notes that people can enter and exit that state at will.
say there are few harmful side effects to hypnosis, although some hypnotists who claim to help clients "recover"
lost memories have been charged with implanting false ones, which can be highly destructive to real relationships.
DENTAL WORK. One 2007 study found that the more people feared seeing the dentist, the greater their ability to be
hypnotized—possibly because both rely on imagination.
Experts also urge patients to be wary of exaggerated
claims that hypnosis can "cure" alcoholism or depression or medical problems, "or that promise to uncover your
long-repressed alien abduction," says Dr. Montgomery. He also notes that some of the thousands of iPhone apps that offer
self-hypnosis are downright goofy, with disclaimers such as "if you turn someone into a monkey and can't turn them back,
don't blame us.' At least they have a sense of humor about it," he says.
Write to Melinda Beck at HealthJournal@wsj.com
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