It is easy to dismiss the seemingly preposterous claim that some strange-looking oddball can hypnotize people into thinking that they don’t feel pain anymore. Then again, it is not so easy when this claim is actually backed up by solid scientific evidence and thousands of respectable medical experts who recommend hypnosis as a supplementary treatment for pain.
The Pain Numbers
In the United States, more than 34 million people suffer from chronic pain, a kind of pain that is usually classified as lasting months after it is expected to subside. Many people are extremely affected by chronic pain, disabled and unable to go on with their day-to-day activities. Pain is a very big industry in America, with more than $40 billion spent every year on medication and pain therapies. In the workplace, more than a fourth of all used sick leaves were spent because of pain.
People who do not experience chronic pain hardly understand what pain patients have to go through. Pain increases a person’s susceptibility to cave in when stressed, and it heightens the risk for blood clotting, water retention, appetite loss, and impairment of the immune and digestive systems. The stress caused by pain can also lead to psychological problems, such as sleep disorders, low self-esteem, and depression.
The Science Behind Hypnosis
Let’s dispel all rumors from now on. Hypnosis is not magic. And hypnotherapists, or hypnosis experts certified to use the technique to help relieve patients of their medical problems, are not magicians. But hypnosis is increasingly becoming a mainstream medical procedure, especially in the pain therapy department. It involves relaxing the mind and the body and being open to suggestions induced by a hypnotherapist.
A typical hypnosis session starts with clearing the mind of the everyday thoughts that bombard you all the time. This can be done by focusing on a single external or internal object and nothing else. The shiny, silvery pendant swinging in midair we associate with hypnosis may be a good object of focus, but so is a candle, a thumbtack attached to the wall in front of you, even the rise and fall of your own breath. Concentrating on this one thing helps you relax the mind and become more willing to accept suggestions about reducing pain or increasing your threshold of it. There is no recommended number of hypnosis sessions. Some people completely eliminate pain after a few sessions, while others need to undergo monthly sessions for regular pain management.
When NOT to Use Hypnosis
Because pain is largely a symptom that something bigger is happening to the body, it is not really advisable to get rid of pain completely. Otherwise, how would you know that something is wrong if the body has no other way of telling you about it? A football quarterback may undergo hypnosis to get rid of knee pain and allow him to continue playing during football season. In the process, though, his slightly damaged knee goes through a lot of wear and tear and he unwittingly further injures his knee. He may never get to play again if he does not let himself experience the pain for a while.
Managing Pain with Hypnosis
There are several pain problems that hypnosis can deal with. It is always best to include this technique as part of a bigger pain management program (yes, with the use of medication, physical therapy, and other conventional treatments) than to rely on it all on its own.
Hypnosis, when done properly and appropriately, can be helpful with:
- Chronic pain. A 2009 study published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis shows that hypnosis is more effective at reducing pain than progressive muscle relaxation, another mind-body technique that can actually be combined with hypnosis.
- Childbirth pain. Even acute pains like labor pains can be eased by hypnosis, according to a study done at Middlesex University in London. It also enhances the emotional well-being of soon-to-be mothers as well, boosting relief and self-confidence, increasing positive thoughts about the pregnancy, and bringing about more awareness of the stages of labor.
- Surgery pain. Hypnosis is becoming an alternative to anesthesia, a cheaper one at that. A hypnotherapist is usually present during the surgery to help a person focus on pain-free visualization. Patients usually feel the physical sensations of being operated on but can filter out the pain.