Can hypnotherapy help manage pain?
In life, we will all have to cope with pain at some point, and although it is unpleasant it is also necessary for our survival. It teaches us to avoid certain things, unsafe environments and if we hurt ourselves we register the pain and learn not to do it again. However chronic pain serves no purpose and this is the type of pain that if left unchecked can lead to low mood and substantially poorer quality of life.
If you are a person suffering from any form of pain but particularly chronic pain, then hopefully this article might inform you on how best to manage and understand the actual concept of it better. In this article, I will discuss briefly how hypnotherapy was originally applied to manage pain and then the individual techniques themselves.
What is pain?
It is possible to break down the experience of pain into two categories: the actual sensory experience of pain, whereby we register the injury or irritation and this information is transferred to our brain, and the actual distress caused by the pain. This latter aspect is the suffering component, the physical and emotional response following the pain. In hypnotherapy, there are different strategies for dealing with both
There is also the concept of Psychosomatic pain whereby a person may be in a certain emotional state that manifests itself as physical pain, over time it may even evolve into serving a purpose for the person or re-affirming negative beliefs they may have about themselves. In this case, you would treat the emotion, not the pain, though please ensure any therapist completes a thorough assessment first before discounting any physical basis for the pain.
The history of hypnosis and pain
There remains a lot of scepticism around hypnotherapy for alleviating pain despite it being one of the oldest methods for treating the problem.
Hypnosis for pain goes back to ancient Egyptian times and "sleep temples", whereby people would be induced into trance to recover from illness.
James Esdaile was a Scotsman who studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh in the 19th century and he performed many operations painlessly, performing over 300 major and 1000 minor operations using hypnosis. Despite this, the medical powers that be at the time preferred and continued to advocate chemical anaesthesia.
The most famous hypnotherapist in managing pain though was Dave Elman. He was influenced to a degree by stage hypnotists and was known for bringing about trance very quickly and achieving deep levels of trance known as Somnambulism. In his career, he taught many doctors hypnotherapy and he was involved in the first-ever heart bypass performed without surgery. He believed that hypnosis was just another state of mind like mood and could be achieved instantly.
The basis for Elman's approach which made it so successful in treating something like pain was that he believed our conscious mind had a reality orientating function. This means it passes judgement on what is happening to it and around it. However, in trance, this can be bypassed and replaced by selective thinking. Selective involves having trust in what you believe in and are being told, and the unconscious mind is less judgemental than the conscious mind, so if whilst in trance you are told you will feel no pain, you will feel no pain.
There is a strong body of evidence demonstrating the benefits of hypnosis as analgesia. In the university hospital in Liege in Belgium, they have used Hypnosedation since 1992 and it has proven to be a safe and cost-effective alternative to medication. In a study that looked at fibromyalgia sufferers in America, it was found that hypnosis containing positive analgesic suggestions lead to a great effect on pain intensity. In the study, the use of indirect suggestion was used to depict a blue soothing liquid passing through the body to the affected parts.
There have been other studies that showed that talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy which are often recommended for chronic pain sufferers often work better when used in conjunction with hypnotherapy.
Hypnotherapy techniques for pain management
So what are the techniques that a hypnotherapist may use to help you manage your problem with pain? Well, there are many and they may blend different techniques together, but primarily the following approaches are the most common:
1. Direct suggestion
There is direct suggestion for pain. This entails giving direct commands to the client in relation to the affected area. For example, telling you that the affected area is becoming gradually numb until you can barely feel it at all.
They may also choose to alter the experience of the pain by making the area you experience it smaller and smaller until it is so small, it no longer bothers you.
The therapist may also convert the pain to a different area and in a more tolerable form such as a headache may now tingling in your toes.
2. Glove Anaesthesia
The other approach which could be used is Glove Anaesthesia. This involves a minimal amount of touch on the part of the therapist who should always gain your consent to do this, and it sounds exactly as described: suggestions are made that your hand is described as beginning to feel like a large woolly mitten, and how comfortable it feels on your hand.
The therapist will say this whilst stroking your hand, they then will describe any lingering sensation leaving this area until it feels completely numb. This approach although called Glove Anaesthesia can be applied to different parts of the body.
In summary, there is a wealth of history and evidence underpinning hypnotic approaches in managing pain, and that, as well as the actual physical pain that it can help with, there is also the psychological benefits that hypnotherapy can foster in those living in constant pain; ego strengthening and resilience building are often common approaches for dealing with any long term problem. Why continue to suffer when there is so much that can be done to help you live life to the full?