Hypnotic Effects

Studies show how hypnosis can help patients deal with pain, fatigue, and anxiety.

In his landmark study published in The Lancet in 2000, Spiegel and colleagues reported that hypnosis could ease pain for patients undergoing invasive medical procedures. Of 241 total subjects, those randomized to hypnosis had half the reported pain and were less anxious than those who had standard care. They also used significantly less pain medication. “These [research subjects] are not suffering in silence–they are able to change their perception of pain,” Spiegel wrote.

In addition to pain, fatigue is one of the most reported side effects of cancer, during and after treatment. With patients undergoing radiation, fatigue can be especially distressing. In Montgomery’s recent study on fatigue and breast cancer radiation, 22 subjects, who met weekly with a trained psychotherapist throughout their radiation treatment, reported no increase of fatigue over the course of radiation. For the 20 patients in the control group who did not meet with a psychotherapist, fatigue increased linearly.

Hypnosis not only reduces physical symptoms, but can also impact patients’ emotional status. Studies have shown patients who undergo hypnosis before surgery reduces pain, but also anxiety.

Montgomery’s randomized clinical trial with 200 breast cancer patients, which was reported in 2007 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, provided 15 minutes of pre-surgery hypnosis to the intervention group. On average, the hypnosis group had ten minutes less operating room time and approximately 30 percent less anesthesia when compared with the control group. The researchers believe the cause was the subjects’ calmer state. After surgery, patients reported about half the level of post-surgery discomfort.

In a smaller study, Montgomery’s team found that patients who received hypnosis self-reported more positive moods and fewer episodes of negative feelings compared with the control group. 

“By lowering patient distress and changing expectations, hypnosis improves outcomes. For over a century, the success of hypnosis for improving postsurgical recovery has been documented,” Montgomery adds.

How can you find a well-qualified hypnotherapist to help with anxiety, pain, depression, fatigue, or other difficulties due to your cancer? Some cancer centers offer the approach or can make referrals. Also, check to see if your insurance covers hypnotherapy. 

You can also seek a nearby hypnotherapist through the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis (www.sceh.us), American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (www.asch.net), The American Association of Professional Hypnotherapists (www.aaph.org) or American Psychological Association (www.apa.org).

Find a hypnotherapist who is a licensed, trained health professional. “Choose someone with 40 or 50 hours of additional hypnotherapy training,” Spiegel advises.

Make sure the hypnotherapist has worked specifically with cancer patients. A successful session requires a skilled practitioner, plus the patient’s trust and willingness. “Hypnosis facilitates a primary treatment strategy. It helps separate psychological from physical stress, to better manage pain and anxiety. It’s much safer than any medication,” Spiegel assures.

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