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MRI claustrophobia: How can hypnotherapy help?

MRI claustrophobia can be frightening, debilitating and overwhelming. Patients often know that they absolutely need the investigation but are defeated when they see the scanner. The vast majority of MRI claustrophobics also struggle with lifts and elevators. At least half remember a clearly identifiable sensitising episode in their past. Parents, spouses and teasing siblings might be shocked to realise how much misery their thoughtless actions have created, so many years later.

Anxiety begins to build as the date of the scan looms. The fear builds as the dreaded day approaches. The emotional burden becomes intolerable and patients crumble in a misery of frustration and self-contempt. We should never underestimate how utterly distressing claustrophobia can be.

Fortunately, with effective hypnotherapy, the outlook is really good. Typically 75% of patients (who have previously abandoned the procedure) successfully overcome their fear and complete the scan. Moreover, they began to cope much better with a variety of other potential trigger locations (like lifts and elevators).

The best approach is to teach self-hypnosis tools for instant anxiety reduction. Visualising or “future rehearsing” a successful scan is helpful. Recordings, which include actual MRI sounds, are especially effective because you can become accustomed to this aspect of the experience. Some patients find time regression (back to their sensitising episode) of value.

I suggest that you allow yourself three weeks of hypnotic training before attending for your scan. Here are some more handy tricks:

  • By all means, ask your family doctor to prescribe an oral sedative or anxiolytic for the day (but make sure that someone is available to supervise your journey to and from the hospital).
  • Sleeping masks are usually available – some people like them but others find they don’t help. Ear protection is always provided.
  • Depending on what needs to be scanned, it may be possible for your head to remain outside the ‘tube’ – much nicer.
  • It is sometimes possible to enter the scanner face down or ‘prone’. For some reason, this can make the whole thing easier to tolerate.
  • Enlightened scanning staff now permit a suitable friend or a relative to join you in the scan room. I suggest that your partner puts a hand on your ankle so that you know they are there. It is reassuring to know that there are no X-rays in an MRI scanner – they are quite safe to humans (but tend to wreck watches, credit cards etc.)
  • If you have a recording, you may ask the scanning staff to play it over their scanner sound system.  Sadly, your mp3 player wouldn’t survive the magnetic fields in the scanner – and hearing anything can, in all honesty, be a bit of a challenge.
  • Practice, practice and practice!

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