Not all health care providers consider alternative therapies when they treat common ailments. Yet despite many medical professionals who scoff at mind-body therapies as effective methods of treatment, researchers at the University of Florida have found evidence that hypnosis and cognitive behavioral therapy may benefit patients who suffer from certain diseases.
Led by Oliver Grundmann of the university’s College of Pharmacy, and Saunjoo Yoon from the school’s College of Nursing, the study reviewed 19 recent clinical trials that examined four mind-body therapies — hypnotherapy, yoga, cognitive behavioral therapy, and biofeedback — in the treatment of functional bowel disorders. The results showed indications that two of the four may deliver some benefits.
“Our work being highlighted in this way indicates that we are able to raise awareness for the issue of a more integrative and holistic approach to medical care in the area of functional bowel disorders in the scientific community — a goal that both Dr. Yoon and I have been striving for in our professional endeavors for many years,” said Grundmann.
In the research, cognitive behavioral therapy was found to help patients feel more positive and help alleviate negative attitudes that could adversely affect treatments. Hypnosis, on the other hand, was found to work as well as medication to help reduce pain in the patients.
Other organizations like the Chronic Pain Support Group have embraced hypnosis as a way to treat pain, explaining that the benefits come as the result of a chain reaction. Hypnosis involves deep relaxation; this helps to let go of resistance to sensations of discomfort, which in turn reduces tension. Less tension means less pain for many patients.
The long history of hypnosis as a treatment option
Other clinical trials have been performed over the years to exhibit hypnotherapy’s effect on stress, smoking cessation, anxiety, addiction, and many other issues. The results are based on the theory that hypnosis helps people deal with certain behaviors or effects that they feel are obligatory or unavoidable, by creating a disconnect between things that our subconscious has created over the years. This can be most easily shown by how hypnosis deals with weight loss.
“When people come see me, consciously they’re motivated,” says Rena Greenberg, a licensed hypnotherapist. “Subconsciously they’re programmed — things like, finish everything on your plate, have some cookies and milk when you’re upset. As children, these things are deeply ingrained in our brain.”
By breaking that programming, people are able to see results.
The benefits are also not limited to visits with a hypnotist. Self-hypnosis can help augment hypnotherapy sessions or can be used alone by people who cannot come in for an office visit.
“Self-hypnosis forces you to take time out and relax,” says clinical hypnotherapist Maggie Wilde. “Aside from weight loss, other benefits of self-hypnosis include a reduction in cholesterol, blood pressure, stress and it can aid digestion.”
Overcoming the stigma
Seeking out alternative therapies comes with some scrutiny. For one, many people are afraid to go against the advice of their doctors, fearing they might make matters worse. Others avoid alternative therapies due to discomfort with being regarded as different.
Those who turn to hypnotherapy are no different, because many myths surround the practice. These myths are perpetuated by the practice of stage hypnosis, in which participants are encouraged to perform silly acts for the amusement of the audience.
What people don’t know is that these participants are screened to be cooperative and have exhibitionist tendencies. Therapeutic hypnosis does not take advantage of people or cause them to lose control.
“We just need to have an open mind to the therapies that are not familiar in Western countries,” the University of Florida’s Yoon says.