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Easing pain and improving recovery with hypnosis

A growing body of scientific evidence supports the belief that hypnosis holds therapeutic value, and recent studies have begun to illuminate how. Researchers are now likening hypnosis to the placebo effect, altering a patient’s expectations in order to lessen pain and fear and even improve recovery efforts.  The Wall Street Journal reports:

“We can teach people how to manage pain and anxiety, ” says David Spiegel, [MD,] psychiatrist and director of the Center for Health and Stress at Stanford University who has studied hypnosis for 40 years. “There’s been this mistake in medicine that if you have a certain amount of tissue damage, you should feel this amount of pain. But many things can alter how much pain you feel.”

Indeed, scientific evidence is mounting that hypnosis can be effective in a variety of medical situations, from easing migraine headaches to lowering blood pressure, controlling asthma attacks, minimizing hot flashes and diminishing side effects from chemotherapy.

One Stanford study asked subjects to imagine that they were eating, and their secretions of gastric acid increased by 70%. In a study from Harvard Medical School published in the Lancet in 2000, patients who had 15 minutes of hypnosis before surgery not only needed less pain medication afterward, but also took less time in surgery, saving an average of $331 each.

And, for those who associate the practice with performers prompting audience members to cluck like a chicken, Guy Montgomery, PhD, director of the Integrative Behavioral Medicine program at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, puts the power of hypnosis in perspective:

“It’s not mind control. We can’t make somebody rob a bank.”

Previously: More patients turning to hypnosis to help ease symptoms
Photo by John Hope

2 Responses to “ Easing pain and improving recovery with hypnosis ”

  1. Pete Says:

    I’m not sure using hypnosis for pain relief is really similar to the placebo effect. In regards to pain relief; my understanding is that the placebo effect actually involves the body generating its own natural pain killing endogenous opiates (Levine et al.,1978). Although studies are limited they suggest the mechanism by which hypnosis works does not involve that process (Barber& Mayer, 1977; Goldstein & Hilgard, 1975). Many studies suggest that hypnosis actually alters the way pain is processed in the relevant areas of the brain. Jensen’s ‘The Neurophysiology of Pain Perception and Hypnotic Analgesia’ provides and excellent review.

  2. David Newman Says:

    UC Davis Medical School as performed detailed investigation on using hypnoanesthesia and they found that indeed the area of the brain that is active under hypnoanesthesia to relieve pain are indeed different that a person who is not using hypnoanesthesia. PET scans shows exactly where the brains activity is.


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