Clinical Hypnosis & Pain Management

Miracle or Malarkey?

You might think hypnosis sounds like bullshit. For two reasons, clinical hypnosis works well for chronic pain management: body relaxation and true cognitive redirection. First, hypnosis only happens once a client has entered a state of relative calm or relaxation. Anything we can do to capture a state of calm—safely and naturally—way will likely reduce the impact of pain because stress itself amplifies our experience of pain. States of relaxation are associated with decreased activity of the parasympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, freeze, fawn), inhibition of inflammatory processes, and a decrease in cortisol levels. Achieving calm can reduce the impact pain has on us. 

Second, hypnosis allows the brain to alter reality by shifting the focal points of our awareness. Pain is a physical sensation, as well as a subjective experience. The good news is that parts of our subjective experience can be altered. We can remember to forget some parts of our pain, just as we can forget to remember the other parts of our pain. The neurons and the fibers which comprise our nervous system send and receive trillions of signals regarding our bodies and environment every moment of the day. These signals contribute to our subjective experience of felt sensations, like pain. Hypnosis can help direct our attention away from the pain signals. The clinical process depends on reducing the effect of the pain signaling, not merely reframing the experience of pain. 

Will Hypnosis Work For Me? 

Most people are hypnotizable but there are also individual differences in people’s hypnotizability, which is defined as a person’s ability to experience suggested alterations in physiology or subjective experiences. The degree to which a person is hypnotizable is remarkably stable throughout life. Professor David Speigal’s landmark fMRI study at Stanford University in 2012 found that hypnotizability is likely produced by a detectable brain structure. Folks who are highly hypnotizability are also likely to be intuitive and creative. Spiegel himself famously underwent shoulder surgery using self-hypnosis as his only analgesic. The more experience a person has using her imagination, the more likely she is to be hypnotizable. The Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale (SHSS) can determine your overall hypnotizability. 

What Outcomes Can I Expect? 

Depending on your overall hypnotizability, you can expect a meaningful reduction of average daily pain for up to 12 months after six to eight 50 minute sessions. Hypnosis treatment can result in sustained positive changes in how the brain constructs the subjective experience of sensory inputs. Surprisingly, clients report a high level of treatment satisfaction even if they did not achieve the pain relief they initially sought. This is especially true of clients who learn self-hypnosis. Clients often report that self-hypnosis produced other effects (positive affect, increased energy, relaxation) which were highly desirable and lasting, even if those clients achieved less pain relief than they wanted. Most importantly, clients typically report zero negative effects from hypnosis treatment when they are properly screened and given appropriate treatment. So hypnosis can reduce chronic pain, produce highly valuable and lasting side-effects, and rarely has any downsides to treatment.