The HISTORY OF HYPNOSIS AND PAIN MANAGEMENT
by Barbara J. Davison
RNC, CASAC, C.Ht., DCH, BCH
Americans are embracing Integrative Therapies to the tune of about $14 billion a
year. Hypnosis has a clear advantage over all other mind/body techniques
because of its proven ability to influence psychological function. There has been
a growing sense on the part of patients to take more control of their own care and
complementary and alternative medicine is one way they can do that. Hypnosis is
one of the more refined and acceptable forms of the integrative therapies.
The mind/body connection is not a new concept. Its history dates back to Ancient
Greece, where physicians recognized hypnosis as a valid therapy. Beginning with
the 1960’s, the psychological and medical communities began to work together in
an effort to understand, qualify and harness the marvelous capacity of the human
mind to heal the physical body. In 1995, a National Institute of Health panel
endorsed hypnosis as a useful adjunct to conventional treatments.
Hundreds of published studies have helped educate doctors about the health
benefits of hypnosis, and medical schools including Stanford, Tulane, UCLA, and
Temple University offer hypnosis courses to their medical students and residents.
Part of the mind’s effect on health is direct and conscious. We can consciously
choose to take health-enhancing actions. These decisions control about 90% of
the factors that determine our state of health. The mind does not act only through
conscious choices. Many of its effects are achieved directly on the body without
any awareness on our part.
What ever upsets the brain’s control of the immune system will foster malignancy
and disease. This disruption occurs primarily by means of the “chronic stress
syndrome.” The mixture of hormones released by the adrenal gland as part of the
fight-or flight response suppresses the immune system.
Chronic pain afflicts millions of Americans and is estimated to be the costliest
health problem in the U.S. The annual cost of chronic pain is estimated to be $150
billion. Pain dramatically impacts all aspects of an individual's life including the
physical, psychological, spiritual, social and economic. Whether pain is due to
injury, disease, medical procedures or the
cause is unknown, pain can lead to a variety of consequences, including mood
USING HYPNOSIS FOR THE RELIEF AND MANAGEMENT OF PAIN
A basic conceptual model of hypnotic psychophysiology assumes that reality and
perceptual awareness is perceived from inside the brain rather than from outside
or physical environment. This model, “Right Brain/Left Brain,” portrays the mind
as having two divisions; the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere.
The left hemisphere deals with the analysis of input, logic and reasoning. The
right hemisphere deals with abstract thoughts, art music, imagery and
The two hemispheres of the brain are interrelated physiologically. The left brain
cortical portion reacts with the right brain or the subcortical portion.
Cortical input is sent to the subcortical part of the brain for validation of reality or
stored memory data. Subcortical centers then send information about memory or
data to the cortical centers, which instigate physiological actions or reactions. The
autonomic nervous system reportedly is part of the subcortical areas of the brain
control of the autonomic nervous system (also termed involuntary) has
substantiated the interrelationship of the conscious and subconscious mind.
There are two ways in which we can get our minds and bodies to communicate
with each other through emotion and imagery. Emotions and words let the body
know what is expected of it, and by vividly imagining certain changes we can help
the body bring them about. Both emotions and imagery are transmitted through
the central nervous system.
Therapeutic hypnosis allows the conscious mind to rest and narrow the focus of
concentration rather than analyze input to determine whether it is real or
imagined. When a suggestion is accepted a physiological response occurs.
There are four basic stages or depths of hypnosis:
1. Hypnoidal (pre-hypnotic)
2. Light Stage
3. Medium Stage
4. Deep Stage
There are three other conceptual theories that offer a basic explanation of the
psychophysiology of hypnosis for anaesthesia and pain management. These
theories also provide an explanation of the psychoneurological aspects of
1. The “ Control Gate” theory, which postulates those pain impulses, must
pass through a control gate or valve before reaching the command center in the
left brain. This theory assumes that physiological pain is ignored by the mind due
to an increase of the individual’s pain threshold.
2. The “Autonomic Nervous System” (involuntary) has two branches; the
sympathetic side is the fight or flight branch. The parasympathetic side is the
relaxation side. The ANS Inhibition Theory suggests that with hypnosis, the
parasympathetic or relaxation side can control the sympathetic branch. In other
words, the relaxation response can inhibit or ameliorate pain stimuli. With deep
relaxation pain can be interpreted as pressure by the mind.
3. The “Body is a Robot” theory assumes that only the mind can think and
the body is a robot controlled by the mind.
We now know that hypnosis is not the powerful mysterious force that people once
believed it was, rather is a powerful tool, a useful procedure that can have much
benefit in the control of one’s mood and any discomfort from pain.
THE WHO, WHAT, WHY & HOW HYPNOSIS WORKS
Research has shown that approximately 20% of the population are capable of
achieving a light stage of hypnosis and another 60% are capable of achieving a
medium stage, while only about 20% are capable of achieving a very deep stage.
Consequently, hypnosis can have a very profound and positive effect on a large
segment of the population.
Hypnosis has a unique advantage over other mind/body techniques above and
beyond its capacity to elicit emotions and make imagery more vivid and powerful
and that is , direct suggestion. The goal of hypnosis is to bring patients into a
trance, which is a deep state of relaxation, that people experience at a range of
levels that allows focused attention to the point that the subconscious mind
overrides the conscious mind. The subconscious mind is then more open to
receiving suggestions and images from the hypnotist that are specific to the
patients needs, whether it be handling the fear of the doctor or dentist, chronic
pain, or coping with such disorders as allergies & asthma, arthritis, back and neck
injuries, cancer, chemotherapy or radiation, cardiovascular disorders,
gastrointestinal problems, headaches, hypertension, skin disorders, AIDS & HIV,
diabetes, fibromyalgia, neurological disorders, only to name a few. Hypnosis is
also helpful in coping with miscellaneous medical procedures such as MRI’S,
spinal taps, blood draws, dressing changes, intravenous therapy, child birth,
preparation for surgery and post surgical healing and recovery. The many uses
of hypnosis are vast with minimal contraindications.
As with other treatments, some people respond better than others to hypnosis.
Certain factors help to predict how well a person will respond, namely, the ability to
identify a specific goal and the motivation to achieve it. A hypnotist cannot cast a
spell to rid someone of a self-defeating behavior or cure a chronic condition.
They can help one to tap the capacity of their mind to the fullest extent possible.
We now know that hypnosis is not the powerful mysterious force that people once
believed it was, but rather is a powerful tool, a useful procedure that can have
much benefit in the control of one’s mood.
No other hypnotic technique is as efficacious in creating comfort out of discomfort,
with none of the adverse side effects associated with medical treatments of
comparable efficacy. Using hypnotic approaches effectively in pain management
can only enhance any on going medical treatment and can be used alone or in
conjunction with other methods. Hypnosis compliments medical treatment by
allowing the patient to alter their perception of pain.
Barbara Davison is a Registered Nurse, certified in psychiatric mental health,
credentialed alcohol and substance abuse counselor, certified hypnobirthing
practitioner, and a certified advanced hypnotist. She has a bachelor and doctoral
degree in clinical hypnpotherapy from the American Institute of Hypnotherapy,
Santa Ana, California.
Barbara is a Board Certified member and certified instructor for the National Guild
of Hypnotists. She does many programs for New York State, Corporations,
Foundations, and Schools. She is employed by Northeast Women’s Health,
Samaritan Hospital as a clinical hypnotherapist and maintains a private practice in
Albany, N. Y.