Everyone has heard the anecdotes: hypnotized subjects walking on coals without pain or injury, subjects raising blisters on their arms without physical cause. Stories, which may be true, but are rightfully questioned by the skeptical; after all, magician David Blaine’s needle-through-the-bicep trick has been well debunked. At the same time, peer-reviewed research shows that hypnosis can reduce many kinds of pain, including that from “burns, cancer, invasive medical procedures, headaches, musculoskeletal conditions, irritable bowel syndrome, and fibromyalgia”—and it is especially useful for the long term control of chronic pain. Furthermore, it has no negative side-effects (evidence suggests that it may have beneficial side-effects!) and requires no equipment and relatively little training. Some of the suspicion directed at hypnosis may be because it seems too good to be true.
Doubts about hypnosis in general may be due to its sensationalized presentation in stage shows and movies, where subjects rarely remember or have any control over their experiences—and the understandable fear that it could be abused. In reality, at least in medical hypnosis, the subject never loses consciousness, control, or memory. A patient can arouse themselves at any time. Those (such as this author) who have used self-hypnosis testify that trance is, on the contrary, an entirely empowering experience. As the popular health guru Dr. Andrew Weil quips, “all hypnosis is self-hypnosis.” Which is one of the best reasons to extend its medical application; the best kind of healing is self-healing.
A new study of hypnosis for pain reduction among hospitalized elderly patients, published in BioMed Central Geriatrics, is the first to focus on patients with a mean age over 69. The study sought to establish the feasibility of hypnosis for both short- and long-term reduction of chronic pain among the “very old” (the subjects had a mean age of 80), suffering, variously, from chronic back pain, neuropathic pain, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and accompanying depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, and reduced quality of life. The identification of non-pharmacological treatments for this age group is especially urgent since these conditions are typically treated with drugs that carry an increased risk of “adverse side-effects and intoxication in elderly adults.”
In the randomized and controlled study, one group received hypnosis for pain reduction, and the other massage treatments, for three once-a-week sessions of 30 minutes each. Patients responded to standard medical questionnaires rating pain and mood before and after each therapy session and several times after discharge, until the 12th week. 23 hypnosis patients (88% of the original group) and 17 (63%) of the massage group completed the study. One of the results that intrigued this author is that all five of the patients who refused to complete the study belonged to the massage group. The study’s authors do not point out this discrepancy, but it seems highly suggestive of the advantage of hypnosis over more physically invasive treatments.
The study had the following positive outcomes:
- Chronic pain was significantly reduced after each session (for both groups).
- The pain reduction by hypnosis lasted longer than for the massage group, agreeing with other studies showing that hypnosis can allow for the reduction of daily pain medication for a variety of conditions.
- The hypnosis had a positive effect on mood—a very significant reduction in depression–not reported by the massage group. The study’s authors speculate that this was due to both the post-hypnotic suggestions included in the therapy and to the empowering effect of activating the patients’ own internal resources for controlling their pain.
One mixed result was that by 12 weeks after discharge, there was no significant difference in pain intensity or mood between the two groups. Only three of the 23 hypnosis patients carried out the suggestions for self-hypnosis after leaving the hospital. Strangely, it did not occur to the study authors to send the patients home with self-hypnosis recordings, so this short-coming seems predictable and easily remedied!
The other major short-coming of the study was its brevity—only three sessions per group. Previous studies on younger groups used at least six sessions, and anything less than eight is considered “brief” by medical hypnosis experts. However, such a number of sessions is difficult to secure for patients in this age group, especially considering current pressures to discharge patients as soon as possible.
Hypnosis Relieves Senior Pain
Nevertheless, the study confirmed both the feasibility and benefits of hypnotic treatments for chronic pain among those for whom non-pharmacological treatments are most urgently sought. Moreover, it confirmed that hypnosis reduces depression even when that is not the focus of the intervention, and suggests that the empowerment of patients to control their own pain is a significant advantage of hypnotic techniques over other treatments.
It seems a long road from the patient-as-object paradigm to full recognition of the mind’s healing potential and the great desirability of empowering people for self-healing. Hypnosis, as potentially the cheapest, most direct, and most natural of self-healing practices, promises a happier and healthier future for many as we reduce our dependence on dangerous drugs and the depressing fallacy that health and comfort must be bought at great cost.
To read from original link at longevitytimes.com, please click here.