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The Role of Hypnosis in the Treatment of Pain

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Choose a medical condition that interests you and research it. Write about the possible uses of hypnosis in the treatment of the condition as you see them. Introduction The role of hypnosis in the treatment of pain has been of interest to many over the years. It is clear that our psychological state influences the state of our physical health and vice versa ( Chrysalis module 8 notes) and more of a holistic approach to the treatment of pain has become more popular in recent years. In this essay I will discuss the possible uses of hypnotherapy for the treatment of pain and other symptoms within cancer sufferers. I have personally been affected by cancer as my younger brother was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2012 but has been in remission since the beginning of 2013. What is pain? Pain is defined by the online medical dictionary as ‘an unpleasant feeling that is conveyed to the brain by sensory neurons.’ There are many kinds of orthodox medicines used to treat pain as well as particular medicines used to block pain, which are called analgesics. Hypnoanalgesia is the use of hypnotherapy to block pain and, used alongside orthodox medicine, it can be a very valuable tool in alleviating symptoms such as physical pain within cancer sufferers.

It can also be used for enhancing coping strategies and increasing relaxation, which is particularly useful for reducing anxiety. Pain can be categorized into two types, acute pain and chronic pain. Acute pain usually results from disease, inflammation or injury and will generally come on rapidly, accompanied by anxiety or emotional stress. Chronic pain persists over a longer period of time and is aggravated by environmental and psychological states. Chronic pain can often be unresponsive to orthodox medicine but acute pain is treatable, although it can at times give way to chronic pain. ( Chrysalis module eight notes) Pain makes us fearful because of not only the physical sensations but also the emotions they bring, such as feelings of vulnerability and lack of control. The Greeks were the first to uncover the truth about pain and linked the nervous system to our perception of pain and later in the 1400’s Leonardo Da Vinci suggested that the ‘brain played a central role in our perception of sensation.’ ( Chrysalis module 8 notes) The brain plays an essential role in informing the body that something is wrong, both emotionally and physically. Cancer Cancer is a chronic disease and is caused when normal cells in the body grow in an uncontrolled way and this growth causes a lump called a tumour to form.

If the tumour is not treated, it can spread into healthy tissue and other parts of the body. According to Cancer Research U.K, some of the common, general early signs of cancer in both men and women are an unusual lump somewhere in the body, a cough, difficulty swallowing, being out of breath, coughing up blood, a croaky voice, unexplained and persistent pain, blood in the urine and weight loss. In addition, often, the reduction of red blood cells can cause extreme tiredness. Feelings of shock, fear and anxiety are common when a patient is initially diagnosed with cancer and these feelings are likely to continue for many reasons. Hadley & Staudacher (1996) observed that during a study of cancer patients and their emotional reactions, some of the feelings these patients experienced included fear of being alone and of dying, anxiety about medical procedures such as chemotherapy, dread of continuing pain, unhappiness due to changes in appearance, despair, uncertainty and depression.

According to the Lymphoma Association, patients can also feel out of control due to various reasons, including the decision making process involved in treatment choice and a lack of understanding about the condition. Treatment Many types of cancer are treatable but treatment can be extremely unpleasant. It is essential to understand the psychological and physical effects of the disease if successful treatment is to be obtained and hypnotherapy should not be used as a stand- alone treatment for cancer, although it can alleviate many of the side-effects involved with the illness. Cancer is usually treated with chemotherapy or radiotherapy, which involves frequent trips to the hospital. This is likely to affect the usual routine of the patient and can affect work life and social and family arrangements. Cancer sufferers are likely to have unpleasant side effects from the treatment, such as nausea and extreme fatigue. Hypnosis, according to Hadley & Staudacher ( 1996,p.127 )’can be applied to help manage the pain associated with specific organs, fatigue, irritability…and side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, such as nausea and vomiting.’

This can be done via suggestions given in a hypnotic state to numb the pain completely (anaesthesia), to change the sensation of it (substitution), to give the patient a complete separation from the pain (dissociation) or to shift the pain to another area of the body (displacement). As observed by Heap & Dryden (1991) a study was carried out by Walker et al in 1988, focussing on 14 patients who suffered from dreadful side effects from chemotherapy, in particular nausea and vomiting. During the study, the patients were trained in ‘cue controlled’ relaxation and were given a taped script to listen to at home. In addition, they received sessions of hypnosis where the suggestions focussed on increasing relaxation and confidence about chemotherapy. Alongside this, they were given suggestions that the side effects from the chemotherapy would become less of an issue and less frequent as they would have a greater degree of control day by day. Nausea was alleviated by using imagery and direct suggestion. There was a significant improvement in all patients and in particular nausea, irritability and anxiety were all significantly reduced. Waterfield ( 2002, p.336 ) believes ‘it is likely that there is some neural process which inhibits pain and which is switched on and off by hypnosis.’

He states that ‘inhibition of pain stems from the frontal and limbic areas of the brain, and is associated especially with the presence of theta brain waves.’ As we know, these brain waves are present during deep hypnosis. Patients who have experienced chemotherapy often become very anxious at the prospect of their next treatment. Heap & Dryden (1991,p.92) suggest that stress and anxiety ‘may produce psychological changes that contribute to pain’ and believe that tolerance to pain can be increased by using suggestions to relieve fear and anxiety. It is commonly known that stress can reduce the effectiveness of the immune system and although cancer patients cannot control the entire external world, they can decide how to react to their internal stress. Relaxation through hypnotherapy is an extremely effective way of relieving stress. According to Hadley & Staudacher ( 1996, p.128 ) ‘ the deep relaxing that occurs during the hypnotic induction may automatically reduce fatigue, irritability and insomnia.’

As observed by Waterfield ( 2002) it has been shown through numerous clinical trials that hypnosis helps to alleviate the pain felt by cancer sufferers and believes that hypnosis can help in three ways: relaxation reduces the pain, time seems to pass very quickly while in the state of hypnosis and therefore pain appears to pass quickly, and thirdly the anxiety accompanying the pain is reduced. Kraft (1990) as cited in Heap & Dryden (1991,p.98) believes that self hypnosis can help to alleviate emotional suffering as well as physical suffering in cancer patients and can enable them to take back control lost through the disease. It is vital that cancer sufferers believe that their own mental attitude can affect changes in their body and are determined to fully participate with their hypnotherapist in the treatment process. Hadley & Staudacher (1996, p.125 ) describe how a cancer patient managed to eliminate the disease through positive imagery within a healing induction and through use of the stress reduction induction and they believe that mental images, such as imagining healthy blood cells in the body fighting the cancerous cells, can strengthen the immune system and fight the infection.

Acute and chronic pain, such as pain from surgery or from a growing tumour can be controlled by hypnosis, but as pain is an indicator of the health problem, masking it can lead to major problems if the cancer is spreading. It is vital for a cancer patient to consult with their doctor prior to undertaking a course of hypnotherapy as a complete health programme is required to treat the illness. As stated by Hadley & Staudacher ( 1996, p.136) ‘hypnosis cannot function in isolation, but must be an adjunctive form of treatment, rather than a sole alternative.’ Group therapy for cancer patients Hypnosis has been very effective when used in conjunction with group therapy. Spiegel & Spiegel ( 2004 ) reported on the effectiveness of it during a clinical trial involving 85 breast cancer sufferers. During the trial, 50 of the women were given group therapy sessions once per week, which enabled them to express their emotions related to the illness as well as encourage them to form bonds with each other. These women were also trained in self-hypnosis. According to Spiegel & Spiegel ( 2004, p.332 ) ‘this intervention resulted in significantly reduced anxiety and depression, better coping ability, and less pain.’

Other issues Cancer patients are often prone to self-reflection and can be very self critical, focussing on that which has not been achieved and on past failures. Hypnotherapy can help to re-establish their self-confidence, empower them in their dealings with others, and extend their focus to what they want to do with the rest of their lives. They will be encouraged to think about their goals (in addition to recovery), and to consider these goals when in self hypnosis. Establishing the importance of a goal in the unconscious mind will result in much better motivation. Hypnoanalysis can also be used to aid the resolution of past events but should only be done if the therapist has the appropriate skills and training as this can be an extremely difficult process for the patient and emotionally taxing for the therapist. ( Chrysalis module 8 notes ) Conclusion It is clear to see that hypnotherapy can be used to alleviate unpleasant side effects experienced by cancer sufferers when undergoing treatment and that it can be extremely effective in relieving these side effects, such as stress, nausea and anxiety. However, hypnotherapy should be used as part of a comprehensive plan to control pain and not as a stand alone treatment.

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