Coping with cancer - how hypnotherapy can help

Around one in three people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives (i). Cancer treatment has improved dramatically in the last decade. A cancer diagnosis now comes with hope for the future. People are living longer after diagnosis and increasingly we talk about living with cancer (ii).


The initial cancer diagnosis is for almost everyone, a dramatic shock. It usually comes out of the blue, to people who may look and feel healthy. Suddenly, thoughts swarm around inside your head about how life will never be the same again. Almost without warning life has dramatically changed. Now it feels dominated by a seemingly endless cycle of hospital appointments, treatment options and decisions to be made. People feel pressure to get treated and come out again the other side as the person they once were.

Everyone struggles with a diagnosis of cancer, feeling overwhelmed, confused and scared. They feel anxious about their future, what it will look like and how they will get there. Worry, fear and anxiety can become part of everyday life. Hypnotherapy can provide a way to cope with these strong emotions.

There is evidence that hypnotherapy can be used to benefit all stages of a patient's cancer journey from diagnosis, treatment and care. Hypnotherapy can be used with any other form of treatment and has no side effects.

How can hypnotherapy help with a cancer diagnosis?

Hypnotherapy can help to:

  • Manage anxiety and improve self-confidence – helping you to feel more in control of the cancer diagnosis and treatment process.

  • Help with some of the side-effects of chemotherapy such as nausea and vomiting (iii).

  • Provide support with managing pain and reducing treatment anxiety (iv). A randomised clinical trial of a brief hypnosis intervention to control side-effects in breast surgery patients found they suffered less pain, nausea, discomfort and anxiety than the control group (v).

  • Use suggestions of energy and alertness to manage the fatigue that is a common side effect of treatment (vi).

  • Visualising the immune system fighting and overcoming cancer cells may help patients to feel empowered and more in control of fighting the cancer.

Hypnotherapy can also help once the treatment is over. Many people recovering from cancer report feelings of profound loss and disconnection from the person they were before. Hypnotherapy can help them to manage their negative thoughts and feelings more easily. It can provide strategies for dealing with their fears about the cancer recurring and the picture of their future.

Using self-hypnosis, clients can be helped to stop blaming themselves and find acceptance and a way to care for themselves. It can help them to access their inner resources and their own relislience. And above all to understand their unique strengths and regain their confidence and belief in themselves.




(iii) LG Walker, 2004, hypnotherapeutic insights and interventions: A cancer odyssey, Contemporary Hypnosis, 21:35-45; J Richardson et al, 2007, hypnosis for nausea and vomiting in cancer chemotherapy: a systematic review of the research evidence, European Journal of Cancer Care 16:402-12

(iv) Carson and Bullet, 2008, Mind-body interventions in oncology, Current Treatment Options in Oncology,9 2/3 :127-34, Saadat et al, 2006, hypnosis reduces preoperative anxiety in adult patients, anesthesia and analgesia, 102:1394-6, Schnur et al 2008, hypnosis decreases presurgical distress in excisional breast biopsy patients, anaesthesia and analgesia,106: 440-4.

(v) Montgomery et al, 2007, Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 99: 1304-12.

(vi) D. M. Wark, 2006, Alert hypnosis: a review and case report, American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 48:291-3, reported the successful use of suggestions of being active and alert. Montgomery et al, 2009, fatigue during breast cancer radiotherapy: an initial randomised study of cognitive behavioural therapy plus hypnosis, Health Psychology, 28, 317-23, reported hypnosis with CBT as having a significant effect of reducing fatigue.

Hypnotherapy Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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