Clinical hypnosis can be helpful in a range of ways – from changing habits (eg quitting smoking), treating anxiety, and in the management of chronic pain.
In fact hypnosis has long been utilised in the management of chronic pain in human beings, and today there is compelling evidence that the trance states induced by clinical hypnosis, are effective in treating both acute and chronic pain.
In the 19th century, Scottish surgeon James Esdaile, reported great success in utilising hypnosis even in operations, including amputations, tumour removals, and deep body surgery. All were done without chemical anaesthesia (as it hadn’t been discovered), with the patient in deep trance states established by Esdaile and his assistants using mesmeric induction methods. Esdaile reported that these operations were done without any sign of pain from the patients.
Even more fascinating is that Esdaile’s post surgical death rate dropped to about 5% at a time when the general death rate from post-surgical infection was 50%. Esdaile’s patients also suffered less blood loss, post-operative shock, and recovered more quickly than was expected for the time.
It might be thought that these results were misrepresented and are not to be trusted because of the state of science at that time. Certainly Esdaile was broadly attacked by surgeons of the day – most probably because he got better results and there was no good understanding of how this was done.
Scientific Evidence: Hypnosis for Chronic Pain
However in recent times there has been increasing scientific evidence which supports Esdaile’s early observations.
Trance has been proven to be an effective adjunctive intervention before, during, and after surgery, with major benefits for patients in pain management, calmer and more hopeful attitudes, shorter recovery times, lower post-operative infection and so on.
Beyond surgery there is sound research that hypnosis is an effective intervention for both acute and chronic pain. Tolerance for significant acute pain is increased when people are in trance states. There is reliable evidence that trance states are effective in helping delivering mothers cope with the pain and stress of childbirth. With echoes of Esdaile’s work, it has been found that trance has other benefits such as improving the newborn’s condition, reducing the length of labour, reducing birth complications and decreasing the rates of postpartum depression.
And yet, hypnosis for pain management fell out of favour with the advent of chemical anaesthesia in the 19th century; probably because hypnosis is not universally effective at eliminating pain in the way that a chemical approach can.
Can Hypnosis help me with Chronic Pain?
The effectiveness of hypnosis for chronic pain depends, to a greater or lesser degree, on the ‘innate’ susceptibility that a person has to being able to experience trance. Research suggests that the ability to experience a trance is largely within the individual.
However, we also know that trance ability can also be affected by motivational factors. For instance, research has shown that people with acute pain in emergency situations are generally more able to experience trance. Equally, if people have been exposed to the negative views about hypnosis it can be difficult for them to trust the trance induction process.
Numerous studies have shown that trance states, established by a variety of hypnotic techniques, can be a great help in reducing chronic pain in a variety of conditions including:
- lower back problems
- sickle cell disease
- temporomandibular conditions
- physical disability
- and mixed etiologies.
But clinical hypnosis offers much more than just relief from chronic pain.
Studies show there can be many additional benefits from using hypnosis, such as resolution of depression/anxiety related to suffering, more rapid recovery, reduced effects of analgesic toxicity, physical mobility, quality of life, and a more optimistic view. While some of these ‘secondary’ benefits may be due to the simple fact of pain relief, they may also be indicators of a general systemic benefit from the experience of hypnosis.
As a Clinical Psychologist with much research and experience in this area, I believe that hypnosis should be an integral part of any pain intervention plan.
While it may not be a ‘miracle cure’ for an individual patient every time because there are ‘built in’ limits to the effectiveness of trance, on the positive side there are no negative side-effects, numerous side benefits, and the majority of people can utilise trance effectively, to even completely eliminate their experience of pain.
It is well worth having an open mind to the idea of using hypnosis for chronic pain, because more likely than not, it will have a positive effect.
Author: Dr Alistair Campbell, BA (Hons), M Psych (Clinical), PhD.
Dr Alistair Campbell is a Clinical Psychologist working with individuals, couples and families. His favourite way of working with clients is using hypnosis and trance to enhance change processes, however he is trained and experienced in a wide range of evidence-based therapeutic approaches.
To make an appointment with Clinical Psychologist Dr Alistair Campbell, you can try Online Booking – Mt Gravatt or Online Booking – Loganholme, or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129 or Vision Psychology (Mt Gravatt) on (07) 3088 5422.