Clinical hypnotherapy is an amazing study where a person is induced into a state of trance so he or she can better manage painful sensations or emotions. Therapists use this treatment to prepare for surgery, to recover from trauma or to deal with chronic pain related to cancer or something like fibromyalgia. Hypnosis meditation has been a popular study since the seventies, when New Age philosophy bloomed. Yet many maintain that it is this “occult” or “mystical” application that hurts the credibility of hypnosis as a legitimate scientific study.
Let us look at several clinical hypnotherapy studies regarding short-term pain associated with burn victims. Researchers found that the inflammation and healing process was greatly affected by the attitude the patient had towards the injury. Burn patients who accept suggestions that the wound is “cool,” “comfortable” and “decreasing in inflammation” healed quicker, had less infections and felt more optimistic (Chapman, 1959 & Ewin, 1978).
In another study, thirty burn patients were placed under different stages of clinical hypnosis: true hypnosis, pseudo-hypnosis and a control group under no hypnosis. The group that underwent true hypnosis showed pain reduction; in fact, a 46% decrease (1992, Patterson). This study proved that hypnosis meditation goes beyond using simple relaxation techniques.
Another type of clinical hypnotherapy is known as “hypnoanesthesia,” a practice which dates back to the 1800s, before modern day anesthesia was developed. In 1990, researcher Eron Grant Manusov found that hypnoanesthesia (without chemical induction) is feasible in only 10-16% of the population, but works surprisingly well in suggestible patients. Other tests showed that patients given chemical anesthesia were able to receive hypnotic suggestions while in a state of trance, so that they had reduced hospital stays, needed less medication and required less anesthesia in future procedures.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging has given scientists a clearer window into the inner workings of the mind. In the 1980s, Dr. Spiegel studied how clinical hypnotherapy could train a patient to put pain secondary in their awareness, leading to a lesser dependence on medication and a diminished perception of pain. In the nineties, it was discovered that a shifting of consciousness during hypnosis sessions was more likely responsible for the pain suppression, rather than the release of neurochemicals.
In 2005, researchers looking at MRIs saw that the primary sensory cortex, which is the brain’s pain center, showed decreased activity under hypnosis. Increased activity was discovered in the basal ganglia, which is associated with motor control, cognition, emotions and learning functions, and the anterior cingulate cortex, which is the center for heart rate/blood pressure regulation, as well as emotion, reward anticipation, empathy and decision making processes.