Hypnotherapy for Chronic Pain

Through brain-imaging technology, researchers are finding that clinical hypnotherapy significantly and consistently decreases the experience of chronic pain. Studies indicate that 75 percent of clinical and experimental participants with different types of pain can obtain substantial pain relief through hypnotherapy. Those patients who are most receptive to hypnotic suggestions receive the greatest and most lasting relief. People who are moderately responsive to hypnosis also show improvement. Another proven benefit of hypnotherapy is better overall outcomes for medical treatment and greater physiological stability. These benefits are increased when patients are motivated to use all of their treatment options to manage pain.

Benefits of Hypnotherapy for Chronic Pain

Well-controlled experiments have proven that clinical hypnotherapy for pain, called hypno-analgesia, decreases patients’ sensitivity to pain. Hypnotherapy works by enabling patients to alter the psychological components of their experience of pain. Hypnotherapy has proven to be especially beneficial for people living with cancer, fibromyalgia, headaches, backaches, temporal mandibular disorders, and mixed chronic pain.

Hypnotherapy produces significant reductions in ratings of pain, need for sedation or analgesics, nausea and vomiting, and length of stay in hospitals. During a session, a hypnotherapist might tell an arthritis patient that he or she can turn down the experience of pain in a way similar to turning down the volume on a radio. This process returns a sense of control to the patient who might have felt out of control due to the chronic pain. Hypnotherapy generally is more effective than other pain-management interventions, such as education and physical therapy.

How Hypnotherapy Works for Chronic Pain

Although hypnotism may not cure the underlying cause of pain, it usually helps patients manage it. Researchers doing brain scans of chronic pain sufferers while in hypnotic trances found that the patients’ brains showed significantly reduced activity in the area of the brain responsible for the experience of pain. This indicates that hypnosis treatment works because it actually produces a physical effect on the brain. Other studies revealed that hypnotherapy could, at times, be even more effective than other pain relief methods.

The exact way hypnosis works is not yet fully understood. There are, however, several possible ways to explain how hypnotherapy reduces, blocks or eliminates pain. Hypnotherapy may help the brain realize that even though the pain exists, it doesn’t need to include the experience of actually feeling pain. A second possibility is that hypnosis simply redirects the patient’s attention away from the pain. Hypnotherapy might also decrease the actual amount of pain signal that gets relayed from the painful location on the body to the brain.

What Happens During Clinical Hypnotherapy?

Clinical hypnotherapy is performed in the office of a licensed professional. The hypnotherapist will explain what hypnosis is and how it works to reduce pain. During the session, the patient is always in control of his or her responses to the hypnotic suggestions. The hypnotherapist will begin by using a series of relaxation exercises to place the patient in a deeply relaxed, hypnotic mental state. The patient’s heart rate and blood pressure will drop, and his or her brain waves will move into a different pattern.

Once the patient has reached a deep level of consciousness, he or she will be open to suggestions for managing pain that are normally beyond waking consciousness or control. The hypnotherapist will make suggestions for the patient to use to alter his or her perceptions, sensations, behaviors and thoughts to minimize symptoms and the experience of chronic pain. The patient is returned to normal consciousness, and the experience is discussed.

The hypnotherapist can also teach the patient self-hypnosis techniques so the patient can self-treat as needed. Sessions typically take onehour, and the majority of people begin to experience improvements after four to ten sessions. Pre-teen children tend to respond after only one or two visits because they are easily hypnotized.

What Other Considerations Exist?

People respond differently to hypnotherapy. About 10 percent of the population cannot be hypnotized.

Before considering hypnotherapy, be sure to obtain a clear diagnosis from a doctor to understand what is being treated. This can help ensure that pain signals from other sources are not masked before they themselves can be diagnosed. Chronic conditions may require a comprehensive plan that targets other aspects of health besides the pain. The patient may need help with instituting a better diet and an exercise program, and exploring ways to restore range of motion and proper body mechanics.

Clinicians using hypnotherapy need to keep current on other treatments for pain, be willing to consult with other specialists, and integrate various strategies to provide the most enduring and effective relief for chronic pain.

What is Chronic Pain?

Pain that lasts more than three months is considered chronic. The pain may be created by a specific condition, such as cancer, or it can arise even when no apparent reason exists, such as migraine headaches. Chronic pain can be a complex issue, and it seems to solidify neural pathways in the brain. It can become a habit that makes treatment complicated and difficult.

How Can I Find a Hypnotherapist?

Only a few states regulate hypnotherapy. When treating chronic pain, it is beset to find a licensed clinical hypnotherapist who is specially trained in both medicine and psychology. The American Psychotherapy and Medical Hypnosis Association provides certificates for licensed medical and mental health professionals who complete a six- to eight-week course. Also consider members of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) and the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis.

Additional Resources

American Association of Professional Hypnotherapists

American Pain Foundation

International Certification Board of Clinical Hypnotherapy

Fishman, Scott, and Berger, Lisa. The War on Pain.

© 2017 altMD, LLC. All rights reserved. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of altMD's terms of service and privacy policy and cookie policy and Health Disclaimer. The material on this site is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.