Category Archives: Medical hypnosis

The placebo effect–an update

I’m fascinated by the placebo effect, and hypnosis as a way of activating it, so I was particularly interested in reading about some of the current research in Cure, A Journey Into the Science of Mind Over Body, by British science writer Jo Marchant.

But first I should clarify what a placebo is. Here’s a very mainstream definition from “an inactive substance or other sham form of therapy administered to a patient usually to compare its effects with those of a real drug or treatment, but sometimes for the psychological benefit to the patient through his believing he is receiving treatment.”

Here it is in black and white, the prevailing assumption that physical ailments require dosing with a “real” medical treatment, and that “psychological” benefits from “sham” treatments affect the mind but not the body.

To me, the word “placebo” instead refers to the mind’s ability to activate the body’s natural healing abilities, including, for example, the immune system. This explanation makes so much more sense when I think about the way we experience everything in this life through the dual lens of our bodies’ experiences and our minds’ interpretations of those experiences.

Cure is a fascinating look at some of the cutting edge research into the interaction between our thoughts and our physical experience. In particular, the meaning, or value, we find in the experience or the treatment makes the treatment more powerful, and more likely to result in either a cure or a lessening of symptoms.

In some cases, the mind-body connection changes both our experience of our physical state and changes the underlying condition, as in IBS, for example, which responds well to hypnosis. In other cases, although the symptoms get better, the underlying condition stays the same. For example, the pain we experience from a slipped disk becomes less severe when we use hypnosis, although the damage from the disc injury is unchanged.

I loved the book—available at the Bellingham Public Library—and its thorough discussion of the current research that’s challenging the old model of a separate, mechanical physical experience and a separate psychological experience of the mind. I recommend it.

You say placebo like it’s a bad thing . . . .

I recently heard hypnosis described as a placebo-effect delivery system, which I loved, since it does reflect how I think about what I’m doing when I do hypnosis.

There are as many ways to talk about hypnosis as there are ways to talk about the weather—no doubt partly because it’s just as natural, and just as likely to be misunderstood. But rather than talking about what hypnosis is, or perhaps more importantly, what it can do, I want to take a moment to talk about how I see hypnosis—through the lens of how I use it.

My intention, my focus, in facilitating a hypnosis session—yes, I said “facilitating”—is to induce a hypnotic state that allows the people I’m working with to activate their own healing, expansive, growth-oriented abilities.

That’s it. I work with all kinds of people, who are dealing with all kinds of issues. As it happens, I’m privileged to work with many people who are dealing with weight issues, and so that has become a specialty for me—I love working with people who are tackling this complex problem.

I also have a specialty in working with people with medical issues. Working with these differing concerns, I use the same hypnosis techniques, and they work, because the power of hypnosis comes from the power of your mind, your body, your spirit. I’m there so that my voice and my words can become the trigger for the change that comes from your innate ability and your desire for well-being and good health.

Simple. And yes, it can seem magical. Placebo, anyone?


First responders using hypnosis?

I ran across this article “Should First Responders Use Acupuncture and Hypnosis During Disasters?” on  The article reviews a paper on whether emergency responders and rescuers should use alternative or complementary types of care. The paper was written by a retired Air Force Colonel who is currently Director of the USAF Acupuncture Center, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland; the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Samueli Institute, and coauthors.

You probably already know how I’m going to answer this very good question: Of course first responders should use hypnosis!

First responders are in a unique position to influence how their patients respond to whatever traumatic event they’ve experienced, because these patients are typically already in an altered state, highly focused, and therefore ready to respond positively to suggestions, just as they would in an induced hypnosis state. In this situation, a casual statement has power that an uninformed bystander may not be aware of—for example, a driver saying “we’re not going to make it,” referring to a yellow light, could easily be interpreted as “the patient is not going to live.” So very simple positive statements that will be received as true can have a huge effect on the patient’s progress. I’m thinking of statements like “I can help you,” and “you can just relax now.”

There’s only one study on this subject that I know of (please let me know of any others), a study from 1990, at the University of Kansas. One set of EMTs was trained in hypnotic suggestion, and another matched set received no training. After 6 months, the study compared outcomes for the patients these two groups had brought to the ER. The patients brought in by hypnosis-trained crews had lower mortality rates, shorter hospital stays, and fewer hospital admissions. Let me repeat that:

The patients brought in by hypnosis-trained crews had lower mortality rates, shorter hospital stays, and fewer hospital admissions.

In the case of burns, a little more training can have an even greater effect. Properly set up, a suggestion that the skin is cool and comfortable can interrupt the normal progression of a burn. (There’s a wonderful description of this in “Hypnosis in the Emergency Room,” an article in Roberta Temes’ Medical Hypnosis; An Introduction and Clinical Guide.)

By the way, the authors of the article reviewed on emphasized that the opinions and assertions are the authors’ private views “not to be construed as official or as reflecting the views of the United States Air Force Medical Corps, the Air Force at large, or the Department of Defense” (in case we were in any doubt!).

State of medical hypnosis–in France

A couple of brief articles from France caught my attention the other day—one in the UK’s Daily Mail and one in a French English-language news site—about hypnosis used in the operating room to assist surgeons in safely removing a tumor from a professional singer’s vocal chords.  Called “a world first,” the surgery took place near Paris at the Henri-Mondor hospital.  Alama Kante had only a local anesthetic, and sang during the delicate procedure, allowing the doctors to see how the surgery was progressing.  There’s a description of the procedure here, and the Daily Mail has an interview with Ms Kante 2 months post procedure.

I’d heard that emergency responders in France are trained in hypnosis, and that it is also used in French hospitals for treating pain from burn injuries.  The article says that hypnosis been used as anesthesia in French hospitals since 1992.  Maybe, a hundred-plus years since its introduction to Western medicine, hypnosis for anesthesia will make a comeback!