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Hypnotherapy as an Option for Pain Management


Sheena Walia

September 24, 2007






            In recent years, many patients and medical professionals have turned to alternative medicine for pain management.  One of the leading forms of alternative pain management is hypnotherapy.  For many patients, the current methods for treatment of pain have harmful, life-affecting side effect, including addiction, physiological effects, and more, not to mention the high costs of prescription drugs.  To avoid these negative aspects of pharmaceutical pain killers, many health professionals and patients themselves are turning to hypnosis—a more cost-effective treatment option without the risk of addiction.  It is yet to be determined; however, the extent to which hypnosis actually does alleviate chronic pain.



            There are two methods of hypnosis: heterohypnosis and autohypnosis.  Heterohypnosis is “hypnosis induced by or in another, as opposed to autohypnosis”  (  Autohypnosis is when the patient uses hypnotherapy on himself.  Under short-term conditions such as surgery or testing, heterohypnosis is often used; however, in situations of chronic pain management, autohypnosis is preferred for practicality and efficacy. Of course, the patient must undergo a period of heterohypnotic treatments until he or she learns autohypnosis. 

            When it does work, hypnosis sends a signal to the brain to reduce pain neurons.  What makes hypnosis so different from pain medication is that it requires active participation from the patient, and the patient’s “hypnotizability” is a major determinant of the effectiveness of the alternative treatment.  The individual has to be willing to release control so that the hypnosis can take over the senses; however, he or she must also beware of false positives.  That is, there is also a high risk of “placebo effect” results; the patient might not actually show any signs of change on the brain imaging scans, but could claim to feel all the difference from the therapy.

It is commonly believed that hypnosis works by calming the activity sensors in the brain and forcing the patient to ignore the pain; however, recently it has been seen that the activity center of the brain is used more in hypnosis.  It is therefore unknown exactly how hypnosis affects the brain and reduces pain.  New imaging technology is being used daily to record the correlations between pain, hypnosis, and activation of different areas of the brain.

Claims on Effectiveness:

            Hypnosis is becoming more widely used because of its many advantages over traditional medicinal treatments for pain management.  For many patients who cannot afford the increasing cost of prescription pain medications, hypnotherapy offers a more financially manageable treatment option.  Most importantly, there is no risk of addiction.  The high percentage of addiction problems that result from the use of narcotics is astounding.  Replacing these medications with alternative medicine could have impressive effects on the lives of the individuals as well as their family and friends.

            In addition to all the current incentives to hypnosis, there is empirical evidence that is an effective treatment.  Hypnosis was used in the nineteenth century in India as an anesthetic; however, with the discovery of ether, it soon became outdated.  Now, many hospitals are revisiting this technique.  It is commonplace in Europe for patients to undergo hypnotherapy instead of local or general anesthesia before surgery.  As more and more research is being done, it is becoming more prevalent in the United States as well.

            In some studies, it has even been seen that hypnosis is indeed more effective a majority of the time than administration of pain medication (Patterson and Jensen, 2003).  The hesitation from many physicians and patients towards this method of management comes from the common belief that hypnotherapy is nothing but a common magic act.  Many know little about the scientific basis for the alternative and are therefore hesitant to try it.


            More and more studies are showing a correlation between hypnosis and pain relief.  As technology continues to develop, researchers are examining the effect of hypnosis on the brain so as to see why it is such a useful tool and reiterate that there is no false positive occurring.  The results of the brain imaging tests do confirm that hypnosis affects the brain; however, scientists are still unable to see exactly which parts of the brain are affected, and so it has been concluded that hypnotherapy is a good treatment option but the explanation of its efficacy is lacking.

Who is Presenting the Evidence?:

            The evidence presented in favor of hypnotherapy highly outweighs the evidence against hypnotherapy.  What’s more, this evidence is being presented by health professionals who have completed scientific studies on the subject rather than persons who will receive any sort of gain, financial or otherwise, from the use of alternative medicine.


            Hypnotherapy is becoming a more utilized treatment for pain management.  It is becoming more common to replace addictive and costly prescription drugs with this age-old alternative method.  Hypnosis is much more cost-effective and practical, especially for those suffering from chronic pain.  Although the exact mechanism is unknown, a direct correlation between hypnosis and alleviation of pain has been documented numerous times in many clinical studies as well as in records from hundreds of years ago.  As more and more research is completed on the subject, alternative medicine will continue to grow as a viable treatment option for all patients.


Alvarez, Julia A., Tan, Gabriel. “Complimentary and Alternative Medicine Approaches to Pain Management.” (2006). Journal of Clinical Psychology, 62, 1419-1431.


Cuellar, Norma G.. (2005). “Hypnosis for Pain Management in the Older Adult”. Pain Management Nursing, 6(3),  105-111.


Coursen, Elizabeth L, Farris, Catherine D., Menario, Deanna J., Milling, Leonard S., et. al. (2007). “Response Expectancies, Treatment Credibility, and Hypnotic Suggestibility: Mediator and Moderator Effects in Hypnotic and Cognitive-Behavioral Pain Interventions”. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 33(2), 167-178.

Jensen, Mark, Patterson, David. “Hypnotic Treatment of Chronic Pain.” (2006). Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 29 (1), 95-124.  (image)  (image)


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