Edited from a Mayo Clinic Report.
From the Department of Internal Medicine and Division of Cardiovascular Diseases, Mayo Clinic College
of Medicine, Jacksonville, Fla.
Hypnosis in Contemporary
Medicine, by James H. Stewart, MD.
Hypnosis became popular
as a treatment for medical conditions in the late 1700s when effective pharmaceutical and surgical treatment options were
limited. To determine whether hypnosis has a role in contemporary medicine, relevant trials and a few case reports are reviewed.
Despite substantial variation in techniques among the numerous reports, patients treated with hypnosis experienced substantial
benefits for many different medical conditions. An expanded role for hypnosis and a larger study of techniques appear to be
Mayo Clin Proc. 2005;80(4):511-524
As alternative treatments for medical conditions become popular, contemporary medicine is being challenged
to take a more integrative approach. The National Institutes of Health is supporting clinical trials of complementary and
alternative medicine, which includes hypnosis. To determine whether hypnosis has a role in present-day medicine, this review
evaluates relevant clinical trials involving hypnosis. Some important case reports and reviews are included to give insight
into the current and past practice of hypnosis in medicine by professionals. This review pertains to the use of hypnosis for
conditions not believed to be primarily psychological (eg, depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorders, and phobias),
although the potential for a psychological basis exists for many of these conditions. The intent of this review is to stimulate
greater interest in and understanding of the art and science of hypnosis.
ACCEPTANCE OF HYPNOSIS IN MEDICINE.
Acceptance of hypnosis in medicine has evolved slowly. In
1847, the Roman Catholic Church indicated acceptance of hypnosis, noting that hypnosis was not morally forbidden, and in 1956,
Pope Pius XII noted its use for childbirth and indicated the need for proper precautions as for other forms of medical treatment.
Other religions (with exceptions) have shown acceptance, with ministers of different faiths trained in and using hypnosis
in their practices.
1958, the American Medical Association (AMA) published and approved a report from a 2-year study by the Council on Mental
Health. The report indicated that there can be “definite and proper uses of hypnosis in medical and dental practice”
and recommended the establishment of “necessary training facilities” in the United States. The British
Medical Association had issued its report on hypnosis in the British Medical Journal in 1955, with which the
AMA’s Council on Mental Health indicated “essential agreement. The American Psychiatric Association, in a position
statement approved by the Council of the Association in 1961, indicated that “hypnosis has definite application in the
various fields of medicine” and that physicians would be seeking psychiatrists for training in hypnosis. A National
Institutes of Health panel issued a statement published by the AMA in 1996 indicating that there was “strong evidence
for the use of hypnosis in alleviating pain associated with cancer.”
EVALUATION OF THE CLINICAL TRIALS.
Evaluation of clinical trials of hypnosis is complicated
by the nature of hypnosis. The gold standard of a randomized, double-blind, controlled trial is virtually impossible because
cooperation and rapport between patient and therapist are needed to achieve a receptive trance state. The few hypnosis trials
that were blinded involved suggestions delivered by audiotape during surgery while patients were under general anesthesia
(assumed to be a hypnotic-like state). Evaluation of these trials is limited by the lack of standardized techniques for hypnotic
induction, evaluation of the level of trance, delivery of suggestions, or number and length of sessions. Although the state
of hypnosis involves increased receptivity to acceptable suggestions, the methods of delivering the suggestions vary substantially.
In some trials, researchers gave suggestions only for relaxation or no suggestions at all. In other trials, researchers indirectly
suggested that patients allow a feeling or imagination rather than directing them to have a certain feeling, which relied
on patients understanding the intention. In some studies, researchers gave suggestions only to distract the mind during an
otherwise uncomfortable procedure or condition.
Thus, it is reasonable to consider the appropriateness of
judging hypnosis by the best or worst results, with use of averaging, or by meta-analyses. Indeed, although better
methods would be expected to achieve better results, many trials gave too few details about technique to allow comparison.
If the most efficacious hypnosis techniques were known, a more representative review of the state of the art may include only
trials using such techniques.
A deficiency of the trials reviewed is the lack of randomization
of patient and practitioner variables that may affect outcome. Patient characteristics such as fear, attentiveness, interest,
expectation, suggestibility, motivation, desire, and belief in hypnosis may alter outcomes. According to the literature, vital
practitioner characteristics include training and experience and the ability to induce trance, to properly word suggestions,
and to establish the necessary states of expectancy, rapport, and motivation (if not already present). Furthermore, results
from clinical trials may not accurately estimate the effectiveness achievable in an office setting with willing, expectant
patients. In clinical trials, many patients are likely to be unwilling, unmotivated, or skeptical about hypnosis. Hypnosis
appears to be “particularly useful and yields better results when it is specifically requested by the patient.”
Consequently, clinical trials may under-estimate the benefits of hypnosis compared with those obtainable by a proficient,
CLINICAL TRIALS OF HYPNOSIS.
or hypersensitivity reactions usually are not believed to be psychosomatic and thus are generally considered as unable to
be influenced by suggestion. These highly complex reactions involve IgE antibodies, activation of mast cells and basophils,
and release of chemical mediators of inflammatory and immune responses. Some early literature suggested that many allergies
might have an emotional basis and thus be treatable by hypnosis. Subsequent studies have shown that hypnosis
may alter the body’s physiological response to various stimuli. In a study of 18 volunteers selected for their hypnotizability,
immediate-type hypersensitivity reactions were suppressed in 8 of the 12 patients given brief direct suggestions in hypnosis.
In another trial, hypnotic suggestions for relaxation reduced helper/inducer cell percentages, helper/suppressor cell
ratios, and natural killer cell activity compared with prehypnosis baseline values. Other researchers have shown
the positive effects of social support on natural killer cell activity and cortisol levels and the adverse effects of stress
in patients with cancer, which has implications for cancer progression.
Skin prick testing for type I (immediate) hypersensitivity
and testing with purified protein derivative (in persons vaccinated previously for tuberculosis) for type IV hypersensitivity
were performed before and after hypnosis. Patients in the hypnosis group (but not the control group) who were given
suggestions for increasing or decreasing skin reactions were able to increase the flare and wheal reactions on 1 arm and decrease
the flare reaction on the other, with a significant difference between the 2 arms. The same authors later studied volunteers
selected for their high hypnotizability and evaluated their reactions to histamine pin pricks and laser-induced burn pain.
Hypnosis was associated with a significant reduction in both pain and flare reactions.
Anesthesia for Pain Relief.
studies have shown benefits of hypnosis for pain relief. In a study with experimental pain stimulation by pin prick and laser
heat, direct suggestions in hypnosis resulted in a significant decrease in pain, measured subjectively and objectively by
means of pain-related brain potentials. In another study, highly hypnotizable (based on susceptibility testing) volunteers
given painful electrical stimulation were able to increase or decrease their perception of pain as noted on event-related
The mechanism of analgesia from hypnosis appears to differ
significantly from a placebo effect and from induced endorphin production (endogenous opiates). The morphine antagonist naloxone
does not block the pain relief afforded by hypnosis. In a small study, pain was produced in highly hypnotizable volunteers
by inflating a blood pressure cuff on the upper arm to 250 mm Hg followed by exercise and leaving the cuff on for 10 minutes.
All patients reported a pain level of 8 or more (on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the most intense) before hypnosis. With
hypnosis, all reported a pain level of 0, and this relief was not altered substantially by administration of naloxone.
Hypnosis for pain relief in the clinical setting appears
to have similar benefit. In a randomized, double-blind (for the use of naloxone) crossover study, patients with neuropathic
pain were taught self-hypnosis. Considerable relief from pain was achieved by hypnosis, and this relief was not
reversed by administration of naloxone. In patients with low hypnotizability, hypnosis was equal to placebo for pain relief,
whereas highly hypnotizable people benefited more from hypnosis than from placebo. This finding indicates
that hypnosis involves at least 2 effects: a placebo-type effect and one in which suggestion distorts perception.
Pain relief afforded by hypnosis differs from that induced
by acupuncture. Twenty volunteers were evaluated for the level of pain caused by 2 different experimentally induced
methods and were treated subsequently with hypnosis, acupuncture, medication, or placebo. Hypnosis with direct
suggestions for pain relief produced significant pain relief compared with placebo (P<.001) and gave the best
results of all the treatments. The most favorable results with hypnosis tended to be in those who were highly hypnotizable,
whereas the results with acupuncture were not related to hypnotizability. Patients with head and neck pain studied in a single
crossover trial served as their own controls before and after treatment with hypnosis or acupuncture. Both treatments were
effective in relieving pain, although patients believed to have psychogenic pain fared better with hypnosis, and those who
were apprehensive about hypnosis had less benefit.
Many trials have evaluated hypnosis for pain relief for burn
injuries. A review of the use of hypnosis for severely burned children encouraged its use for pain and prevention of regressive
behavior and included case reports. Clinical trials have shown significant pain relief with hypnosis in patients
with burns, many of whom were taught self-hypnosis for pain control. In one trial, patients
were treated with a single session of hypnosis. Those with severe pain (but not those with less pain) noted significant pain
relief compared with controls. As in some other studies, younger patients tended to have better
results. Adult patients with recalcitrant temporomandibular joint pain treated with hypnosis with suggestions for jaw relaxation
noted significant pain reduction, which persisted at the 6-month follow-up.
A meta-analysis published in 2000 evaluated the use of hypnosis
for pain relief in the preceding 20 years. That review of 18 studies indicated that hypnosis
offered a moderate to large analgesic effect for many types of pain, which met “the criteria for well established treatment.”
Because hypnosis was noted to benefit most patients, a broader application of its use was advocated. A 2003 comprehensive
review of hypnosis for pain relief found it superior to placebo for acute pain and at times superior to pain relief achieved
by other means. Hypnosis for chronic pain was concluded to be a viable option, with the understanding that pain therapy requires
“multidimensional assessment and treatment.”
has been used as the sole agent of anesthesia for both major and minor surgical procedures. In the 19th century, John Elliotson
and James Esdaile reported their successful use of mesmerism for anesthesia in hundreds of operations, with decreased mortality
compared with other methods. Nonetheless, they were censored by the medical community at the time for unacceptable techniques.
Instead, chloroform, nitrous oxide, and ether won acceptance for general anesthesia.
The use of hypnosis as the sole agent for anesthesia has
been virtually abandoned because of the availability and dependability of pharmacological agents; nevertheless, a few such
cases have been described in contemporary medical literature. Hypnoanalgesia was described for repair of atrial septal defects
in 3 patients and for mitral commissurotomy in 4 patients, with hypnosis as the sole method of anesthesia for 1 of the patients.
The patients were able to open and close their eyes on command during surgery and to extubate themselves postoperatively.
An oral surgeon documented his own cholecystectomy performed with use of only self-hypnosis for anesthesia. He walked back
to his room after surgery and returned to work on the 10th postoperative day.
A 1999 review of more than 1650 surgical cases using hypnosis
combined with other methods for conscious sedation promoted the safety and patient comfort afforded by hypnosis. This
form of anesthesia was used instead of general anesthesia for a broad range of surgical procedures, including thyroidectomy,
cervicotomy for hyperparathyroidism, breast augmentation, neck lift, correction of mammary ptosis, nasal septorhinoplasty,
débridement with skin grafting, maxillofacial reconstruction, and tubal ligation. The authors concluded that hypnosis
prevents pharmacological unconsciousness, allows patient participation, and may allow a faster recovery and a shorter hospital
stay but requires some changes in the atmosphere of the operating room because of the conscious state of the patient. Other
studies support the multiple benefits of hypnosis as an adjunct to conscious sedation for many types of surgery.
Brief hypnosis has been documented to be beneficial for anesthesia
before excisional breast biopsies and invasive radiological procedures. Similar benefit was afforded to patients taught self-hypnosis,
which was used during radiological procedures. In a randomized trial, patients hypnotized before and during coronary
artery angioplasty required less pain medication and had a mild increase in tolerance to balloon-induced ischemia. Benefit
was observed, presumably from the relaxed state and from distraction, without specific suggestions given for not feeling discomfort.
trials have evaluated hypnosis for eliminating warts; however, evaluation is complicated by spontaneous remission rates of
20% to 45% and by accounts of warts being produced by suggestion. Fourteen patients with bilateral warts for at least 6 months
were given direct suggestions for only unilateral clearing of the warts. Of the 10 patients who were able to reach
at least a moderate depth of hypnosis (defined in the study), 9 (64% of the total group) achieved complete or near-complete
resolution of the warts at 3-month follow-up. The warts on the contra-lateral side were not affected except in 1 highly hypnotizable
person whose contra-lateral warts resolved 6 weeks later. Hypnosis was advocated to avoid pain and scarring, reactions to
anesthetics, and the need for wound care and special equipment. The technique may be particularly applicable for warts in
sensitive or inaccessible areas.
In a case report of 41 consecutive patients with predominantly
refractory warts, direct suggestions in hypnosis, followed by age-regression techniques for any non-responders, resulted in
a cure rate of 80% with no recurrences. In volunteers with warts on the hand, a significant difference was seen in the rate
of remission in those treated with hypnosis (50%) compared with that in the control group (12%). Hypnotizability was not found
to be related to successful remission, whereas low expectation for wart regression had a negative association. Volunteers
assigned to receive hypnosis had significantly fewer warts at the 6-week follow-up evaluation than did groups treated with
either placebo or salicylic acid.
Hypnosis has been used successfully for other dermatologic
conditions. Patients with atopic dermatitis noted decreased pruritus, scratching, sleep disturbance, and tension after treatment
with hypnosis. In many patients, improvements persisted at follow-up evaluations up to 18 months later. A review of the use
of hypnosis in dermatology supports its value for many skin conditions not believed to be under conscious control.
for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) has been studied extensively. A 1984 study in England showed significant benefits from
hypnosis. Thirty patients with refractory IBS and severe symptoms were randomly assigned to 7 individual sessions of hypnotherapy
or psychotherapy plus placebo pills. Although the psychotherapy group showed a small but significant improvement in some characteristics,
all patients in the hypnosis group had significant improvements (P<.0001) in well-being, bowel habits, distention
symptoms, and pain, with no relapses at 3-month follow-up. A subsequent report added 35 more patients to the hypnosis group
of 15 from the earlier study; those with classic symptoms and no psychological problems fared best with hypnosis, as did patients
younger than 50 years. Direct, specific suggestions for symptom relief were most successful. At 18-month follow-up, the 15
patients in the earlier hypnosis group remained in remission.
The positive results with hypnosis for IBS have been confirmed
in several other trials. It was concluded that “in addition to relieving the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, hypnotherapy
profoundly improves the patients’ quality of life and reduces absenteeism from work.” Use of audiotapes for self-hypnosis
at home, used in many IBS studies, was considered important for success. Other studies and reviews have shown similar results
Patients with peptic ulcer disease have benefited from hypnosis.
Thirty patients with recurrent peptic ulcer disease were treated with ranitidine and were assigned randomly to receive hypnosis
or ranitidine alone, initiated after healing was documented by esophagogastro-duodenoscopy. During 12 months of monitoring,
significantly fewer patients in the hypnosis group (53%) experienced relapse compared with 100% of patients in the ranitidine-only
group. The benefit may be from suppression of the secretion of gastric acid, as shown by a study of 32 volunteers who were
able to significantly and appropriately increase and decrease gastric acid secretion (compared with their baseline values)
from suggestive imagery in hypnosis. In a study of 126 patients with functional dyspepsia, those treated with hypnosis noted
improvement in quality of life and long-term symptoms, fewer physician visits, and less health care spending compared with
the group treated with medication.
Postoperative gastrointestinal motility has been affected
positively by hypnosis. Patients scheduled to undergo abdominal surgery were assigned randomly to either a treatment group
read suggestions for an early return of bowel function and appetite or a control group given only general preoperative instructions
for an equal period. With their surgeons unaware of the study, patients who were read a 5-minute script
before surgery had a significantly earlier return of bowel function (P<.05). They also had a shorter mean
duration of hospital stay (6.6 vs 8.1 days) and a cost savings of $1200 per patient. Patients in the peri-operative state,
as well as patients treated in the emergency department, are alleged to be in a highly receptive or hypnotic-like state not
requiring formal hypnotic induction. The use of positive assertions during a situation in which the patient is
reliant on and receptive to the health care practitioner, but not in a formal trance state, has been termed waking hypnosis.
Hypnosis has been used alone or in combination as anesthesia
for liver biopsy, esophagogastroduodenoscopy, and colonoscopy. A gastroenterologist reported the use of only an anesthetic
throat spray and hypnosis for 200 upper gastrointestinal tract endoscopy procedures with a reduced overall duration of the
procedure. No complications were noted, and patients were able to leave immediately afterward. In another report, patients
with either anxiety or allergy to local anesthetics safely underwent liver biopsies with use of hypnosis. Half the patients
in a pilot trial reached a moderate or deep level of hypnosis before colonoscopic evaluations, with more than 80% noting only
mild or no discomfort.
Surgery or Injury.
trials evaluated the potential for hypnotic suggestions to facilitate faster wound healing after injuries or surgery. A pilot
trial of hypnosis for patients with non-displaced ankle fractures showed marginally faster healing, diminished pain, and increased
mobility and functionality. Eighteen presurgical patients were assigned randomly to a hypnosis group that received
positive suggestions for healing, a control group that received supportive attention to the patients’ concerns, or a
standard care group. Surgeons were unaware of their treatment group. Patients in the hypnosis group showed significantly improved
healing at 1 and 7 weeks postoperatively compared with the other groups (P<.02).
medical center reported favorable results with the addition of hypnosis for patients with hemophilia. Patients who were assigned
to receive hypnosis had a significantly decreased need for transfusions compared with controls (P=.01). A review
of this program described the methods and various benefits of teaching self-hypnosis to these patients.
studies have evaluated the use of hypnosis for hypertension. In 1 study of 44 patients, the hypnosis group had a significant
decrease in blood pressure compared with the control group. At 6 months, the hypnosis group had mean decreases of 13.3 mm
Hg systolic and 8.5 mm Hg diastolic below their baseline blood pressures.
Hypnosis has been used successfully for treatment of headaches. Patients with chronic (≥6 months) tension headaches were assigned randomly to hypnosis or a control group. The hypnosis
group had a significant reduction in the number, duration, and intensity of headaches. Instruction in self-hypnosis produced
significant benefit for tension headaches in other studies including a group of less hypnotizable patients. Hypnosis was compared
with propranolol use for children with migraine headaches in a prospective, randomized, controlled, crossover trial.
Patients taught self-hypnosis had a decreased frequency of headaches. In another trial, university
students with chronic headaches were studied. Hypnosis using imagery for relaxation and serenity was compared with an active
placebo that consisted of watching slides falsely claimed to contain potent subliminal messages for pain relief. Both
groups achieved significant (P<.05) and equal decreases in headache pain compared with controls. Hypnosis
did not outperform the placebo; however, the hypnosis group received no specific suggestions for pain relief, whereas the
placebo group was given suggestions to expect such benefit (waking hypnosis).
of hypnosis as a single treatment for obesity show variable and limited success. A critical review of hypnosis for obesity
in studies from 1958 through 1978 concluded that hypnosis may be of benefit but that standardization of methods was needed.
In a subsequent trial with 156 participants, results from participants who received 9 weekly individual hypnosis sessions
plus behavior-modification treatments were compared with results from those who received behavior-modification treatment alone.
On average, the hypnosis group had lost 7 kg of weight more than the control group at the 2-year follow-up. A meta-analysis
of trials in the 1980s showed significantly greater weight loss for those treated with hypnosis and behavior therapy compared
with those who received behavior therapy alone, and this effect persisted or increased with time (P<.05).
In another trial, 60 obese patients with sleep apnea were assigned randomly to treatment with diet
alone or diet and hypnosis. Patients assigned to hypnosis (two 30-minute hypnosis sessions and a home audiotape)
achieved significant weight loss at 18 months (P<.02); however, the sleep apnea was not eliminated. Rather
than a sole treatment for obesity, hypnosis may be more helpful as part of a program that includes arousing motivation, dietary
counseling, and peer support.
as anesthesia for childbirth has a long, successful history supported by several trials. A large trial compared a self-hypnosis
group with a control group to study the effects of hypnosis on labor. The hypnosis group reported less discomfort
and shortened labor. The women’s volunteer status and the skill of the hypnotist were factors deemed important for success.
Pregnant adolescents were assigned randomly to individual sessions of hypnosis or to supportive counseling with the medical
staff blinded to their group assignments. At delivery, the hypnosis group had a significant decrease in complications,
fewer surgical interventions, and a shorter hospital stay. Additional positive findings not statistically significant were
a decreased need for anesthesia, postpartum analgesia, and infant admissions to the intensive care unit. In another trial,
the use of a single session of hypnosis (and encouraging home use of an audiotape) did not induce delivery in post-term women.
Patients with hyperemesis gravidarum have benefited from hypnotic intervention, according to 2 reviews with case reports.
often is associated with nausea and vomiting. Hypnosis has been studied for reducing these and other adverse effects. Children
receiving chemotherapy who were assigned randomly to hypnosis had less anticipatory nausea and vomiting and less vomiting
with chemotherapy compared with a control group. A later prospective randomized trial examined the effects of hypnosis
for the adverse effects of chemotherapy in children with a resultant significant decrease in anticipatory nausea and the need
for anti-emetic medications. Children who learned self-hypnosis techniques were believed to have gained feelings
of control over their situations.
Hypnosis has been used successfully in other areas of oncology.
Patients undergoing bone marrow transplantation treated with hypnosis experienced significantly less oral pain than control
patients. Patients with metastatic breast cancer benefited from self-hypnosis and from participation in group support.
Despite a lack of specific suggestions, the women benefited with significantly less pain and an increased duration of survival.
An untapped potential for hypnosis for cancer treatment is the reported ability to alter regional blood flow, which
offers the prospect of increasing the delivery of chemotherapy to a tumor or reducing blood flow to it.
with chronic tinnitus treated with hypnosis improved significantly in 7 of 10 disturbing symptoms compared with a group treated
with masking techniques or supportive measures (P<.05). These results support the findings from other trials.
trials have evaluated hypnosis for asthma. A study of 55 patients with asthma noted that patients assigned randomly to the
hypnosis group used bronchodilators less frequently and experienced less wheezing than controls. Those responding best were
younger, more compliant with practicing self-hypnosis techniques, and more easily hypnotized, and they developed a deeper
level of trance. Males responded as well as females, a finding not consistent in hypnosis trials. A large multi-center trial
of patients with asthma reported a significant decrease in the number of treatment failures and a larger number of patients
deemed “much improved” by independent assessment in the group taught self-hypnosis. Females in the
hypnosis group also had lower wheezing scores and less use of bronchodilators. A retrospective study of asthmatic patients
reported similar benefit, with 54% of patients treated with hypnosis having an “excellent” result and 21% becoming
symptom free and discontinuing medication.
Decreased rates of hospital
admissions, length of stay, and use of corticosteroids were attained with hypnotherapy during the year of study in patients
with refractory asthma who served as their own controls. Highly hypnotizable patients assigned randomly to hypnosis for asthma
treatment improved significantly in measurements of pulmonary function and noted improved symptoms and less use of bronchodilators
compared with a control group. A few cases have been reported of success with hypnosis in weaning dependent patients from ventilators. The report
indicates a potential benefit of hypnosis when other techniques have failed.
Numerous studies have reported various techniques and outcomes in the use of hypnosis for smoking
cessation, many with beneficial results. A 1970 study used a single 12-hour group session for volunteer smokers who had unsuccessfully
tried other methods of smoking cessation. The program achieved an 88% 1-year abstention rate. In a large trial involving 615
persons unable to quit smoking published the same year, participants were taught self-hypnosis in a single, individual, 45-minute
session. A 20% abstention rate was noted by questionnaire at 6 months, counting non-responders as failures (45% abstention
rate in the responders). Further studies patterned after this trial showed 31% to 40% abstention rates at 6 months.
In a 1992 meta-analysis of 633 smoking-cessation studies
involving almost 72,000 participants, hypnosis was the most successful cessation method, with a 12% to 60% success rate (mean,
36%), 3.5 times that achieved by self-care methods. More aggressive but less acceptable techniques that combined hypnosis
with aversion methods (rapid smoking with negative imagery and electrical shocks) for smoking cessation resulted in a 3-month
abstention rate of 86% in male volunteers and 87% in female volunteers. Another study that combined hypnosis with aversion
methods reported a 90% abstention rate (39 of 43 consecutive referral patients) at 6 to 36 months.
A 2000 review of 59 studies using various techniques for
smoking cessation indicated that, although some trials failed to achieve significant benefit, several showed a greater than
50% success rate, with 3 studies (200 participants total) documenting 12-month abstention rates of 63% to 88%. Nevertheless,
on the basis of the collective results, the reviewers concluded that hypnosis was only “possibly efficacious.”
Less benefit was noted in a group of 2810 persons unable to quit smoking (who had previously attempted smoking cessation an
average of 7 times) treated with a single 60-minute hypnosis session and encouraged to use a home audiotape. An abstention
rate of 22% was found for the previous month in a random sample of participants questioned several months later. In another
report, an experienced practitioner of hypnosis reviewed his experience and techniques with 4355 patients, citing an 81% success
rate for smoking cessation.
Two studies examined the effect of suggestions for smoking
cessation delivered during elective surgery. In a double-blind trial, 122 patients listened to audiotapes during general anesthesia
containing either simple, direct suggestions to stop smoking or simple counting without suggestions. After 1 month, significantly
more patients in the suggestion group (8 patients) had stopped smoking compared with no patients in the control group (P<.005).
No patient could actively recall the message on the tape. This study is one of several supporting the assertion that post-operative
behavior can be influenced by suggestions given during general anesthesia without conscious recall of the suggestions. In
contrast, another trial using a longer, complex message showed no difference in the smoking cessation rate between the treatment
and control groups postoperatively.
with refractory fibromyalgia (mean duration, 8.5 years) who were randomly assigned to receive hypnosis obtained significant
improvement compared with those assigned randomly to physical therapy alone. Benefits included improvements in morning fatigue
(P=.003), sleep (P<.001), muscle pain (P=.004), overall assessment (P=.04),
and use of pain medications, with results persisting for at least 6 months.
report from the 1960s indicated that surgical patients should be considered in a state of hypnosis and suggested that patients
were able to comprehend much of the conversation around them, even while under anesthesia. In the peri-operative state, the
patient is fixated on the forthcoming process and is in a receptive, compliant state of mind, comparable to the state formally
induced with hypnosis. The article further cautioned that patients in this receptive state may interpret comments made within
an audible range as having negative implications for them if these comments are not made correctly. More recently, it has
been emphasized again that health care personnel should be aware that patients under anesthesia have unconscious auditory
perception and tend to interpret comments negatively. The report also stressed that, along with the potential deleterious
effects of this awareness, came the opportunity for using “semantics of positive suggestion” (emphasizing comfort,
safety, and success) that should be “an integral part” of surgical and obstetrical care. It appears appropriate
to consider the use of suggestions for patients in the peri-operative period as a part of the practice of hypnosis.
The subject of awareness under
anesthesia is controversial. Much of the medical literature asserts that awareness under general anesthesia occurs only in
rare cases, is indicative of an inadequate level of anesthesia, and can cause psychological trauma, presumably from fear induced
during the awareness. A prospective study examined the possibility of patient awareness of events or comments occurring
during anesthesia that may not be recalled consciously. Patients undergoing coronary artery bypass grafting surgery
were assigned randomly to listen to either a personalized audiotape with specific instructions to be recalled postoperatively
or no tape (control) during surgery. Postoperative hypnosis demonstrated significant (P=.01 compared
with the control group) recall of material from the audiotape (as well as events during surgery) that was not recalled consciously.
Numerous studies support the contention that patients have awareness under anesthesia that can affect their postoperative
Because it may be harmful to make comments within the audible
range of surgical patients that may be perceived negatively by the patient, promoting good health by making comments of a
clearly positive nature appears warranted. The “opportunity for positive semantics” was investigated
in a randomized, double-blind study in which patients undergoing hysterectomy listened either to an audiotape with positive
suggestions or to a blank tape while under general anesthesia. The treatment group had significantly fewer bowel problems
(P<.03), shorter recovery time (P<.002), shorter hospital stay (P<.002), less
fever (P<.005), and a better recovery (by nursing assessment) (P<.002) than the control patients.
Other studies cited in the report indicated not only that “inappropriate or misinterpreted operating theatre comments
may have a harmful effect upon recovery,” but also that this peri-operative awareness “may instead be employed
to the benefit of the patient.” Compared with matched controls, patients listening to positive suggestions
before and during surgery had less blood loss and a shorter recovery.
for positive semantics for preoperative patients are similar to those applicable to emergency department patients. Persons
in both situations appear to be in a hypnotic-like state (receptive, focused, willing to comply) and thus are particularly
susceptible to remarks by health care workers.
Preoperative hypnosis is less controversial than the idea
of awareness during anesthesia, with benefit noted in many trials. Significant benefits include less anxiety and decreased
blood pressure, reduced blood loss, enhanced postoperative well-being, improved intestinal motility, shorter
hospital stay, reduced post-operative nausea and vomiting, and reduced need for analgesics. Substantial
but not statistically significant decreases in cost and length of hospital stay were observed in another study.
A 1991 review of clinical trials using hypnosis, suggestion,
or relaxation in the care of surgical patients found that 89% of the trials showed that these techniques produced a positive
outcome in facilitating physical or psychological recovery from surgery. The use of live therapists (rather than suggestions
from audiotapes) and positive and appropriate semantics (avoiding words that bring to mind undesired outcomes) at the most
receptive times were advocated to foster shorter hospital stays, earlier recovery, and improved patient well-being. A meta-analysis
published in 2002 evaluated hypnosis for surgical patients for its overall effect and benefits for specific clinical outcomes.
Hypnosis as an adjunct to surgery was believed to be “successful for the majority of individuals,” with benefits
such as decreased pain, anxiety, nausea, and recovery time.
medical literature from the 1960s indicated a strong potential for the use of hypnosis for impotence, and support for this
assertion has come from recent clinical trials. A review of the personal experience and techniques of an experienced practitioner
cited an 88% success rate using hypnosis for impotence in almost 3000 patients. The hypnosis techniques used in this trial
were studied in 2 randomized controlled trials of men with non-organic impotence. One trial that compared hypnosis with placebo
showed an 80% improvement in sexual function with hypnosis compared with 36% with placebo. The second trial compared hypnosis
with acupuncture and injected or oral placebo. The success rate (moderate improvement or “cure”) was 75% for hypnosis.
A review of developments in hypnosis reported its efficacy in augmenting other treatment methods for sexual dysfunction and
its potential for exploring contributing psychological conflicts.
In a trial of hypnosis for chronic (mean, 7 years) urinary
incontinence, 50 women served as their own controls. At 1 month, 58% were symptom-free and another 28% were improved,
with cystometric testing at 3 months objectively confirming the benefits.
The acceptance of hypnosis as a mode of treatment in
medicine is increasing as a result of “careful, methodical, empirical work of many research pioneers. Many important
trials reviewed here have helped to establish the role of hypnosis in contemporary medicine. These trials have established
the utility and efficacy of hypnosis for several medical conditions, either alone or as part of the treatment regimen. Nonetheless,
skepticism may prevail and hypnosis may remain underused because of the tendency to doubt or fear the unknown. According to
a recent study, health care providers changed their attitudes significantly and positively when presented with information
about the use of hypnosis in medicine. Through greater awareness and acceptance of hypnosis, additional training and research
can be inspired in pursuit of improved techniques and new areas of potential benefit.