For some time now, medicine has had an interest in the potential of hypnosis. Existing for hundreds of years, hypnosis has always seemed to have an intriguing and almost unbelievable hold on the mind, suggesting its capability to help the human psyche and body alike. But as hypnosis seems to become more relevant in medicine, used in psychological settings, as an alternative anesthetic and a way to reduce symptoms of disease, researchers are wondering if there is a way to test its efficacy. In a new study by researchers from INSERM, a team under lead author Bruno Falissard looked into how effective hypnosis has been in some of its popular applications. Among its many uses, researchers looked at hypnosis involving women’s health, digestive ailments, surgery, and psychiatry. They also looked into the potential risks associated with hypnosis.
According to the researchers, hypnosis exists in between sleep and wakefulness as a state of altered consciousness. When examining the effect hypnosis has on the brain, imaging techniques like MRIs have found that hypnosis creates a change; past researchers have observed differences in brain activity of certain regions of the brain when someone is undergoing hypnosis.
As of now, there are a few common uses of hypnosis in a medical setting. The first is hypnoanalgesia, or using hypnosis as a potential pain reliever. Others include hypnosedation, which uses both anesthesia and hypnosis to sedate a patient, as well as hypnotherapy which utilizes hypnosis in a psychiatric setting. Along with hypnosis, the researchers looked at Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EDMR), a form of therapy developed from hypnosis used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
Falissard and his team faced several obstacles when conducting their research; because hypnosis training in France can be offered both by universities and private organizations, the qualifications of hypnotists and who can be certified to become a hypnotist are not fixed. Keeping this in mind, researchers selected the conditions they sought to evaluate and looked at the results of 52 clinical trials, along with 17 trials involving EDMR therapy.
When examining the trials, the researchers first observed that hypnotherapy often yielded an improvement in symptoms for patients with irritable bowel syndrome; many reported the reduction of abdominal pain, bloating, and episodes of diarrhea. It then examined the results of hypnosis used in conjunction with anesthesia. Specifically, the team looked at surgical procedures like wisdom tooth extractions, breast biopsies, transcatheter procedures and pregnancy terminations, which were often accompanied by the use of painkillers. Overall, they found that when hypnosis was used along with surgeries, patients’ use of painkillers afterward was reduced.
Even though hypnosis’s benefit for PTSD patients is still questionable, many have previously found that EDMR therapy can be very effective. Out of all the other applications of hypnosis-based therapies, the researchers found that EDMR targeting trauma-centered cognitive behavioral therapies showed the most beneficial outcome. But, so far the team has only observed the potential of EDMR therapy in adults, because very few trials have examined children and adolescents.
Though the team had planned to examine how hypnosis impacts other medical practices, the trials they examined could not produce conclusive data. The INSERM team thus could not determine whether hypnosis was effective in pain management during childbirth, preventing post-partum depression, and helping those with schizophrenia.
When searching for safety repercussions, the researchers found some promising results in the trials; there were no serious, negative effects associated with hypnosis in these environments. They warn, however, that adverse effects are still a possibility, even though the incidence of them was observed to be low.
Though researchers found that medical practitioners are interested in hypnotherapy, the legal standards as they are now must be reexamined. Currently, French laws regarding hypnosis allow health professionals and non-health professionals alike to practice hypnosis. As hypnosis is already an unconventional practice, it is important that it be professionally and safely executed in a medical setting, especially when used in conjunction with anesthesia.
Study: Falissard B, Barry C, Hassler C, et al. Assessment of the effectiveness of hypnosis. 2015.