Managing pain with hypnosis
Hypnobirthing and hypnosurgery are buzzwords in today’s society as many people are opting to manage their pain drug-free. But how exactly does hypnosis work in the management of pain relief?
Hypnosis as a procedure involves different cognitive processes such as imagination, and by using these processes, a patient can be guided to respond to suggestions for changes in both their perceptions and sensations.
Modern technology now allows these changes to be measured, thus allowing scientific evidence to be brought to light. This has also led to a much deeper understanding of how hypnotherapy affects our cognition.
In a recent study in Sweden, volunteers who plunged their hands into ice cold water had their brains measured using a PET scan. Later, they were hypnotised and told the water would not seem as painfully cold despite the water being exactly the same temperature as before.
The data obtained showed no decrease in activation in the somatosensory cortex region which is involved in processing the sensation of pain. These results suggest that although the brain may continue to register the sensation of pain, hypnosis helps patients shift their experience of pain away from distress and suffering.
This means that although pain can often be a signal that something is wrong, by using the right techniques and reframing the situation, it is possible to manipulate these signals and turn them into something that might be of greater benefit to us in that moment in time.
An example of this process could be a bodybuilder lifting very heavy weights in a gym. As a result of training his/her mind, the bodybuilder is able to associate the pain with a positive association telling themselves that it is making them stronger and healthier. In another context, a person in this much pain might associate it negatively and feel they are being hurt or being put under unnecessary pressure causing them to avoid such pain or feel it a lot more intensely.
Top athletes learn to push past their pain thresholds. Runners call it ‘hitting the wall’. It’s this psychological ability to break through their barriers that helps them achieve greatness and in turn, break world records.
However, this concept does not just apply to sports, it can and should apply to all the areas of our lives in which we wish to grow and fully develop. Thomas Fuller was right when he wrote the analogy, ‘The darkest hour comes just before the dawn’.
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