The word “hypnosis” makes some people nervous because of its connotations with stage shows or being out of control. In reality, hypnosis is simply an agreement between the hypnotist and client to participate in a psychotherapeutic technique based on the hypnotherapist providing suggestions for changes in sensation, perception, cognition, affect, mood, or behavior.
Common myths about hypnosis is that the client will be out of control, or stuck in hypnosis, or made to do silly parlor tricks. Hypnosis is actually just a heightened state of attention and concentration, like being lost in a movie and losing track of time.
Hypnosis is sometimes viewed as a new age, alternative therapy, but it’s been used for thousands of years. One of the earliest documented examples was April 1, 1829, in Paris, when M. le Docteur Chapelain used hypnosis as an anesthetic during mastectomy and axillary node dissection. This was prior to the introduction of modern anesthesia techniques. During the operation, the patient was calm and evidenced good pain control.
Cancer patients often have multiple symptoms that contribute to a decrease in their quality of life. These can include pain, nausea, fatigue, insomnia, or hot flashes. Hypnosis has been specifically employed in the care of cancer patients to reduce these symptoms.
When people receive a cancer diagnosis they may experience stress, anxiety, fear, and loss of control. Working with a hypnotherapist can help relieve these emotional stressors.
It makes sense that pain and anxiety are closely related. Most people who know they will be going into a painful procedure get anticipatory anxiety, which is not only contributes to stress and sleeplessness prior to the procedure, but can also exacerbate pain at the time.
Hypnotherapy is also very effective for building healthy habits that can help prevent cancer, such as weight management and smoking.
Hypnosis is the most frequently cited form of nonpharmacologic cognitive pain control. People who undergo a hypnotherapy session prior to surgery or before chemotherapy or radiation generally heal faster, experience less pain (and therefore need less pain medication), and are less anxious.