Encouraging Words

Can encouraging words during surgery from the medical team help improve outcome?

BY DON VAUGHAN
PUBLISHED: JUNE 18, 2013
An often overlooked aspect of mind-body surgery preparation is establishing a good rapport with one's surgical team. This is important, proponents say, because the anesthesiologist and others in the room can play a significant role in the process by reciting healing statements and other forms of encouragement.

"Patients are encouraged to explain to the staff what they like and why they are using the program," says author Peggy Huddleston. "Every hospital has a Patient's Bill of Rights that allows the patient to make reasonable requests" during treatment.

The notion that the brain is susceptible to suggestion while under anesthesia dates back more than five decades. In 1959, at the second annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, researcher L.S. Wolfe reported on nearly 1,500 patients who had received hypnotic suggestions while under general anesthesia that were specific to their comfort and healing during recovery. According to Wolfe, both adult and child patients required less (or no) postoperative narcotics and reported less postoperative pain.

Later that same year, Donald Hutchings attempted to replicate Wolfe’s experiment with 200 patients. During surgery, statements such as, "You will heal promptly and well" and, "You will have no pain at the place that was operated" were read to the patients.

In an article published in 1961 in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, Hutchings reported that 70 percent of patients received no narcotics following surgery and experienced minimal postoperative nausea and vomiting. It’s important to note that both studies were conducted at a time when research protocols were not as rigorous as they are today, and, in both instances, there were no control groups to compare with the patients receiving hypnotic suggestions.

In 1998, researchers at the University of Ulm in Germany, reported in the European Journal of Anaesthesiology a double-blind randomized study of 100 patients undergoing surgery to remove all or part of the thyroid. The study evaluated the impact of positive therapeutic suggestions made during anesthesia. Patients in the suggestion group heard positive suggestions during the operation; those in the control group listened to a blank audio recording. Patients in the suggestion group experienced significantly less postoperative nausea or vomiting and required less anti-nausea drug treatment compared with the control group.

"The more comfortable you are with your team and the more you know about your procedure, the better it will be because aspects of recovery, such as a scratchy throat or nausea, become more predictable. You will not be as anxious because you received that information in advance," notes Lorenzo Cohen of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. "You can develop confidence in your team by getting to know them during pre-op visits."

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