Hypnotherapy for cancer - mind over matter
Are the mind and your physical health linked? Can hypnotherapy be used to heal physical illness?
One of the clearest pieces of evidence of this link is the effect of stress. Stress causes the body to produce cortisol and one of the effects of cortisol is to reduce the immune system response. Simply using this model, it can be seen that a relaxed person will have a more effective immune response compared to a stressed person. This was confirmed in an experiment carried out by Fawzy, et al. in 1990.
So, on the simplest of levels, hypnotherapy can be used to aid relaxation in the face of stress and prevent the reduction in immune response.
The fact that the mind definitely has some control over the body and specifically our health is certainly understood by the pharmaceutical industry. Whenever it brings a new product onto the market, it must test its efficacy against that of a placebo using double-blind trials. A placebo is something made to look like the medicine, but that is inactive, made out of a neutral substance without any curative ability whatsoever. Yet, when people are given a placebo, believing it to be the real medicine, a percentage of them recover over and above those that are given nothing. The fact that they think that something is helping them, seems to trigger a healing response within them.
It is this healing response which seems to be held within us, that may be able to be 'switched on' through the use of guided imagery within hypnotherapy.
Some years ago the BBC aired a programme entitled ‘Mind Over Body’. This programme provided good evidence that the mind has some control over the immune system and healing processes.
The programme showed that immune response could be lowered or raised by the mind using stress and conditioned adrenaline responses in controlled experiments. It then showed electron microscope scans of nerve terminals communicating directly with white blood cells. Lastly, and most significantly, the programme detailed a trial with cancer patients, where those that used relaxation and visualisations every day, if not cured, certainly lived longer with a better quality of life. During the trial, it was also found that those that used deep relaxation techniques suffered fewer side effects during chemotherapy treatments.
The following four trials corroborate these findings:
1) In 1989 Spiegel D, Bloom JR, Kramer HC and Gottheil E evaluated a trial using 86 patients with metastatic breast cancer. 50 of the patients were given a one-year intervention plan consisting of weekly support group therapy with self-hypnosis for pain. All patients had routine oncological care. At a 10-year follow up with only three of the patients alive, death records were obtained for the other 83. The average survival time for the patients that had had the weekly support was 36.6 months compared to only 18.9 months for those in the standard group.
2) In 1993 Fawzy N, Hyun LS, Elashoff R, Guthrie D, Fahy JL and Morton DL evaluated the results of a randomised controlled experimental study of 68 patients with malignant melanoma. 34 of the patients were given experimental sessions, shortly after their diagnosis and initial surgical treatment, to help cope with the situation and to reduce affective distress. Five to six years later, results showed that 13 of the 34 patients in the standard group suffered recurrence of the melanoma, compared to seven out of 34 in the experimental group whilst the death rate for patients in the standard group was 10 out of the 34 compared to three out of 34 in the experimental group.
3) In a long-term study of 63 patients with Lymphoma (with a mean follow up period of 13 years, nine months), patients who had been randomized to relaxation, with or without hypnosis, as an adjunctive therapy for chemotherapy side effects, survived significantly longer than those receiving standard supportive care. (Walker 1998, Walker et al 2000b).
4) In 1999 an experiment was carried out by Walker, Walker, Ogston, et al. upon a number of cancer patients. Guided imagery was used to increase immune response and it was shown that the more vivid the imagery used by the experimental group, the higher the NK (natural killer) and LAK (lymphokine activated killer) white blood cell activity after chemotherapy. This points to imagery on its own having an effect on immune response. Hypnotherapy is widely acknowledged as a tool to create vivid imagery.
From these results, it would seem that psychological treatments like hypnotherapy used in certain ways can have a positive impact on physical health and illnesses like cancer and should be considered to supplement standard treatment.