The Value of Medical Hypnosis

By London, Robert T. | Clinical Psychiatry News, December 2005 | Go to article overview

The Value of Medical Hypnosis


London, Robert T., Clinical Psychiatry News


It's been 30 years since I first began using hypnosis. For me, it's been a great therapeutic tool. As an adjunctive technique, hypnosis has allowed me to integrate several behavioral therapies that often formed the basis of my treatment strategy.

My early education in its use taught me that hypnosis is a method of sustained, focused concentration. Hypnosis allows the subject to process information in a manner different from the way it is processed in the alert state. Because of the power of hypnosis, when used with a behavior modification strategy, it can be used in various ways to treat many disorders.

Hypnosis allows patients to focus and sustain concentration so they can be taught a well-thought-out behavior modification program. Hypnosis should be viewed, however, as an adjunctive part of an ongoing therapeutic plan. For example, a dentist who uses hypnosis for pain or anxiety control is aiding his primary therapy--the practice of dentistry--in an adjunctive way.

This tool can help patients working on issues such as smoking cessation, weight control, nail biting, phobia mastery, insomnia, anxiety, and stress-related problems that might be rooted in such physical problems as hypertension, headache, or pain control.

An example that comes to mind involved a gentleman who had been stuck in an elevator for nearly 6 hours and subsequently suffered posttraumatic stress disorder with incapacitating flashbacks, agitation, and depression. Several traditional therapies--and one approach involving cognitive-behavioral therapy--failed.

However, as luck would have it, my approach worked. Using hypnosis and guided imagery, within a period of four sessions, I was able to get this man to project his flashbacks and anxiety onto a large movie screen. Essentially, we were able to get those memories out of his thoughts and onto the screen, which was linked with the imagery of pleasant association. I taught him this strategy so that, after our session ended, he could continue practicing it on his own. I believe the focused concentration that he developed through the hypnosis allowed this imagery to work. Eventually, he conquered the PTSD.

Those of us in psychiatry and psychology are best equipped to handle hypnosis, but other disciplines may be able to do this work as well. In general, the goal is the same, regardless of who is conducting the hypnosis: a positive therapeutic result, using the primary specialty as the basis of the treatment.

Patients should beware of the stage hypnotist who hypnotizes just for the sake of doing so. That's entertainment--not health care. As a formal procedure, medical hypnosis takes training and experience, and needs to be used by those who are aware of the appropriate uses, strengths, and contraindications. In the mid-1950s, the British Medical Association and the American Medical Association issued a policy statement that recognized hypnosis as a legitimate treatment in medicine and dentistry.

Theories about the use of hypnosis abound. …

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