Can hypnosis and hypnotherapy really help with chronic pain?

The answer is a resounding yes. This should come as no surprise since it’s been used for centuries for treating pain; performing surgery (without anesthesia), for childbirth and dental procedures.

Mark P. Jenson, Ph.D., a researcher, author and professor at the University of Washington who focuses on the use of hypnosis in chronic pain writes:

How can hypnosis affect pain management? The results from three lines of research have combined to create a renewed interest in the application of hypnosis for chronic pain management.

First, imaging studies demonstrate that the effects of hypnotic suggestions on brain activity are real and can target specific aspects of pain. Hypnosis for decreases in the intensity of pain result not only in significant decreases in pain intensity, but also decreases in activity in the brain areas that underlie the experience of pain intensity. At the same time, hypnotic suggestions for decrease in the unpleasantness (but not intensity) of pain have significant effects on how bad the pain makes people feel, but not necessarily intensity. Interestingly, these suggestions result in decreases in activity in the areas of the brain responsible for processing the emotional aspect of pain, but not those areas that are responsible for processing pain intensity.

Second, research studies demonstrate that hypnotic treatments can save money. Hypnotic suggestions for reduced pain and improved healing have been shown to reduce the time needed for medical procedures, speed recovery time, and result in fewer analgesics needed — all of which not only result in more comfort for the patient, but save the patient and the patient’s insurance companies money. In a time of growing medical expenses, it’s nice to have a treatment that can actually result in cost savings.

Third, a rapidly growing body of research shows that hypnosis works. When hypnosis and hypnotic suggestions are combined with other treatments, those other treatments become more effective. When people with chronic pain are taught how to use self-hypnosis for pain management and improved sleep, they experience pain relief and sleep better. This research also reveals that hypnosis has many “side effects”, which are overwhelmingly positive. People who learn self-hypnosis can not only experience significant pain relief, but report a greater sense of overall well-being and control.

Today, the research continues to mount as we look for more effective and safer ways to treat pain. It’s clear that the current use of medications has some serious drawbacks.

As researchers and practitioners have learned more about neuroscience and neuroplasticity, we now know we can interrupt the pain signals with a variety of techniques and change how the brain perceives signals of discomfort.

We’ll talk more about this in future articles. In the meantime, feel free to check out our Research page to see studies that have been done regarding pain and hypnosis.