By Mark P. Jensen
How can hypnosis affect pain management? The results from three lines of research have combined to create a renewed interest in the application of hypnosis for chronic pain management.
First, imaging studies demonstrate that the effects of hypnotic suggestions on brain activity are real and can target specific aspects of pain. Hypnosis for decreases in the intensity of pain result not only in significant decreases in pain intensity, but also decreases in activity in the brain areas that underlie the experience of pain intensity. At the same time, hypnotic suggestions for decrease in the unpleasantness (but not intensity) of pain have significant effects on how bad the pain makes people feel, but not necessarily intensity. Interestingly, these suggestions result in decreases in activity in the areas of the brain responsible for processing the emotional aspect of pain, but not those areas that are responsible for processing pain intensity.
Second, research studies demonstrate that hypnotic treatments can save money. Hypnotic suggestions for reduced pain and improved healing have been shown to reduce the time needed for medical procedures, speed recovery time, and result in fewer analgesics needed — all of which not only result in more comfort for the patient, but save the patient and the patient’s insurance companies money. In a time of growing medical expenses, it’s nice to have a treatment that can actually result in cost savings.
Third, a rapidly growing body of research shows that hypnosis works. When hypnosis and hypnotic suggestions are combined with other treatments, those other treatments become more effective. When people with chronic pain are taught how to use self-hypnosis for pain management and improved sleep, they experience pain relief and sleep better. This research also reveals that hypnosis has many “side effects”, which are overwhelmingly positive. People who learn self-hypnosis can not only experience significant pain relief, but report a greater sense of overall well-being and control.
For all of these reasons, more clinicians are seeking to learn how to apply hypnosis and to teach self-hypnosis to their clients with chronic pain.
Mark P. Jensen is Professor and Vice Chair for Research of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Washington Medical Center. He has published more than 250 articles and book chapters on pain assessment and management, and is currently Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Pain. He is the author of Hypnosis for Chronic Pain Management: Workbook and Hypnosis for Chronic Pain Management: Therapist Guide, winner of the 2011 Arthur Shapiro Award for Best Book on Hypnosis, from the Society of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. He will be presenting a “Hypnosis for Pain Management” workshop on pain management at the 55th ASCH Annual Scientific Meeting and Workshops on 16 March 2013.
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Image credit: A pocket watch is going through a hypnotizing motion. Image by matt_benoit, iStockphoto. >