Stress and pain are intimately related. Being in pain causes stress or being stressed worsens pain. Psychological therapies - including hypnosis, meditation, and relaxation - can help break the cycle. Pain management therapists consider these treatments, which focus on the relationship between the mind and body, to be mainstream. For other healthcare professionals, they may be considered alternative or complementary therapies. Regardless of how they are labeled, there is evidence that they work for many people.
If you are thinking of trying one of these approaches for pain relief, this is what you need to know.
For many, hypnosis brings to mind a parlor game or a late-night club act, where a man with a swinging watch gets volunteers to walk like chickens or bark like dogs. But clinical or medical hypnosis is more than fun and games. It is an altered state of awareness used by licensed therapists to treat psychological or physical problems.
During hypnosis, the conscious part of the brain is temporarily tuned out as the person focuses on relaxation and lets go of distracting thoughts. The American Society of Clinical Hypnotists compares hypnosis to using a magnifying glass to focus the rays of the sun and make them more powerful. When our minds are concentrated and focused, we are able to use them more powerfully. When hypnotized, a person may experience physiologic changes, such as a slowing of the pulse and respiration, and an increase in alpha brain waves. The person may also become more open to specific suggestions and goals, such as reducing pain. In the post-suggestion phase, the therapist reinforces continued use of the new behavior.
Benefits of Hypnosis
Research has shown medical hypnosis to be useful for acute and chronic pain management. In 1996, a panel of the National Institutes of Health found hypnosis to be effective in easing cancer pain. Studies subsequent to that have demonstrated its effectiveness for pain related to burns, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis and reduction of anxiety associated with surgery. An analysis of 18 studies by researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York revealed moderate to large pain-relieving effects from hypnosis, supporting the efficacy of hypnotic techniques for pain management.
Benefits of Hypnosis continued
If you want to try hypnosis, you can expect to see a practitioner by yourself for a course of treatments or attend a group session for another form of hypnosis. Your therapist can give you a post-hypnotic suggestion that will enable you to induce self-hypnosis after the treatment course is completed.
Alternatively, there are audio recordings which walk the listener through the steps necessary to achieve the benefits of hypnosis.
To find a therapist, speak with your doctor or contact the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis.
Meditation involves using a series of awareness techniques to help calm the mind and relax