Tap into the minds healing powers
Hypnotherapy has experienced a resurgence. Recent research shows that hypnotherapy and hypnosis can provide relief for physical symptoms such as pain.
Does hypnotherapy conjure an image in your mind of a tuxedo-clad hypnotist making audience members cluck like chickens? Hypnotherapy has experienced a respectable resurgence as an alternative method to help individuals lose weight and quit smoking. Recent research shows it can also provide relief for physical symptoms such as pain.
Natural—and increasingly, mainstream—health practitioners are referring their patients to hypnotherapy for health reasons.
Deal with chronic pain
“Recently, I’ve been turning to hypnotherapy for patients who have chronic pain,” says Dr. Fred Janke of Sylvan Lake, Alberta. “There are a lot of good studies on hypnotherapy’s effectiveness for treating pain in cancer patients and patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).”
Roland Valori, a British gastroenterologist, reports that he’s treated over 100 patients who suffer from IBS with hypnotherapy. He claims that nine out of 10 patients have shown a marked improvement in their symptoms.
A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2007 found that 88 percent of children who underwent hypnotherapy to alleviate headache symptoms experienced a reduction in frequency. Headaches were reduced, on average, from 4.5 a week to 1.4 a week, and in duration from 23.6 hours to 3.0 hours.
Dr. Ali Rahmanian, a Toronto hypnotherapist and naturopathic doctor, admits that the thought of healing the body through the mind alone sounds implausible to many. “Medical doctors are especially prejudiced about this idea,” he says.
Rahmanian points out that the mind naturally controls pain symptoms on a daily basis. For example, many people don’t feel aches when they’re busy, but the moment their brain isn’t distracted, their pain hits them with a wallop.
Focus to control stress
Hypnotherapy’s focus on breathing and quieting thoughts also helps to control stress, which, according to Rahmanian, lowers one’s pain tolerance. “Pain and anxiety are very energy consuming, and when we don’t have enough energy, a little physical pain can become very aggravated,” he says.
The specific brain regions and neural mechanisms involved in the hypnotic healing process are not known, says Nadeen Manuel, director of the Global Hypnosis Center in Toronto.
In broad strokes, the theory is that our thoughts control where blood flows in the brain. (If that sounds strange, Manuel gives the example of how thoughts send blood to “a certain area of the body” in the case of male arousal.) Since pain is felt in what is known as the primary sensory cortex, simple direction to the subconscious can “deviate blood flow away from this area,” she says.
A way to alleviate discomfort
Manuel has helped patients with chronic and post-injury pain, as well as multiple sclerosis, manage their pain and disability symptoms. But she’s quick to point out that while hypnotherapy alleviates discomfort, it doesn’t cure the underlying disease.
In fact, she requires that her patients who have pain first see a health care practitioner to ensure there is not an undiagnosed issue. “I don’t want to help someone make their headaches go away if the headaches are a sign of a tumour,” she says.
In cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, a number of centres now offer group and individual hypnotherapy classes to teach pregnant women self-hypnosis skills to aid them through the birthing process.
A typical hypnotherapy session
To Manuel, the groundswell of anecdotal and scientific evidence on hypnotherapy’s effectiveness shows that “we really can’t underestimate the power of our thoughts—it’s what drives us and makes everything work.”
How long does it last?
In most cases, a hypnotherapist will offer a potential client a free 30-minute to one-hour consultation ahead of the first hypnosis session. In this time, the hypnotherapist will educate the individual on hypnotherapy, build trust, and inquire about the particular needs and challenges of the person. The hypnosis itself will typically last 35 to 45 minutes.
The hypnotherapist will ask the client to close his or her eyes and induce relaxation. “There are hundreds of different ways to get a client to relax; one of the most common is progressive relaxation induction, which is having the client relax different areas of the body one by one,” explains Manuel.
When the individual is sufficiently relaxed, the hypnotherapist can begin to speak directly to the subconscious mind. The hypnotherapist will ask the person to clear the mind of any mental, emotional, or physical pain. “The subconscious takes suggestions in a very literal way,” says Manuel, so patients will often imagine their thoughts and emotional baggage being swept aside.
Many hypnotherapists, including Manuel, like to start with confidence building. “I tell my clients they are powerful, good people, and that they are deserving of feeling better.”
Next, the hypnotherapist specifically targets suggestions to the client’s concerns. “If a client has just had a knee replacement and has some pain because of that, I’ll tell them that the body is adapting to it and the leg is getting stronger,” says Manuel.
As the session continues, the hypnotherapist will continually reiterate the suggestions, using different imagery and phrases. “Our brains learn through repetition,” Manuel notes.
Most hypnotherapists will also provide a post-hypnotic suggestion which ensures the individual will be subconsciously reminded of the positive thoughts after the hypnosis. For people trying to lose weight, for example, Manuel often explains that when they see the colour red they will be reminded to stop eating when they feel full.
The hypnotherapist brings the client out of a trance by drawing the patient’s attention back to his or her fingers and toes and gradually to other parts of the body. After coming out of the hypnotic trance, individuals remember what they heard, imagined, and felt during the hypnosis session.
While one session can be enough to relieve an individual of physical and emotional pain, many people benefit from more than one session. Hypnosis is most effective if practised on a routine basis, so Manuel teaches her clients how to do self-hypnosis.