New York Times Article
Using Hypnosis to Gain More Control Over Your Illness

Published: April 15, 2011
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KIRSTEN RITCHIE, 44, is no stranger to surgery — nearly 20 years ago, doctors removed four tumors from her brain. She remembers the operation and its aftermath as “horrific.”  So the news that she needed brain surgery again was hardly welcome. Determined to make her second operation a better — or at least less traumatic — experience, Ms. Ritchie, an insurance marketing representative in Cleveland, turned to an unusual treatment.

At the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine, she had four hypnosis sessions in the month before her procedure, during which she addressed her fear of the coming surgery. She also practiced self-hypnosis every day.

Eventually, she said, “I got to a place where I felt a sense of trust instead of fear.”

In February, doctors removed a plum-sized tumor from her brain. But there the similarity to her previous experience ended. Ms. Ritchie woke up from the procedure, she said, feeling “alert and awesome.” She ate a full dinner that night and went home in two days.

“My neurosurgeon was stunned at how little medication I required before and after surgery, and how quickly I bounced back,” she said.

Ms. Ritchie attributes her speedy recovery and calm state to her hypnosis sessions. Used
for more than two centuries to treat a host of medical problems, particularly pain management and anxiety, hypnosis is now available to patients at some of the most respected medical institutions in the country, including Stanford Hospital, the Cleveland Clinic, Mount Sinai Medical Center and Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.

Some critics find the research into mind-body therapies unconvincing, but their skepticism has not deterred patients like Ms. Ritchie. And there are researchers who say they believe that by helping patients feel in better control of their symptoms, hypnosis can reduce the need for medication and lower costs.

“It is an effective and inexpensive way to manage medical care,” said Dr. David Spiegel, director of the Center on Stress and Health at Stanford University School of Medicine and a leading authority on hypnosis.

A study by radiologists at Harvard Medical School, published in 2000, found that patients who received hypnosis during surgery required less medication, had fewer complications and shorter procedures than patients who did not have hypnosis. In a follow-up study in 2002, the radiologists concluded that if every patient undergoing catheterization were to receive hypnosis, the cost savings would amount to $338 per patient.

“When patients are groggy from anesthesia drugs, it costs more to recover them,” said Dr. Elvira Lang, an associate professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School and a lead author of both studies. “Hypnosis calms patients.”

If you have a medical condition for which conventional medicine is not working, or you’d like to try a gentle mind-body alternative, hypnosis may be worth considering.

THE THERAPIST There is no uniformly accepted definition of hypnosis, but most experts generally agree that it is an altered mental state in which a patient becomes highly focused and more receptive to social cues.

During a session, the practitioner guides the subject into a relaxed state and then makes specific suggestions to help change a behavior, a perception or a physiological condition. Someone who is trying to quit smoking, for instance, might be told under hypnosis that cigarettes are poisons and that it’s important to care for and respect his body.

Some patients find that hypnosis is a helpful adjunct to traditional psychotherapy.

“Talk therapy engages the conscious mind, which is overwhelmingly facile at creating blocks to avoid hurtful problems,” said Dr. Tanya Edwards, director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. “In hypnosis, the therapist is dealing with the subconscious mind and can get at core problems more quickly.

THE SESSION At your first session, the practitioner will discuss your condition and may administer a short test to assess how hypnotizable you are.

Most people are susceptible to hypnosis. But if someone is clearly not, then the therapist or doctor may try another technique or suggest a different approach to the patient’s problem. Most sessions last about 50 minutes.

Specific conditions — like smoking, a fear of dogs or flying or temporary insomnia — may require just one session. In 2008, the personal health columnist Jane E. Brody recalled in this newspaper that her husband was able to stop smoking after just one session of hypnosis.

“For very circumscribed disorders, hypnosis works very quickly or not at all,” said Dr. Frischholz.

If your problem is more complex, like post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, it may require multiple sessions. “I might spend the first two sessions taking a history and learning about someone’s background,” said Carol Ginandes, an assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School who uses hypnosis in her private practice. “Then I would work with the patient in a very individualized way.”

A session costs between $75 and $200, depending on where you live and the credentials of the practitioner.

Hypnosis Gains Credence As Influence on the Body;It Helps Control Pain, Fear and Habits​​​

Published: February 24, 1996

When Michael Tracy learned at the age of 15 that he had a form of cancer known as lymphoma, his world seemed to cave in on all sides. His father had just died of brain cancer, so as he dealt with the grief and fears for his own future, he faced a series of dreaded spinal taps, bone-marrow aspirations and chemotherapy treatments that would fill his weeks for the next two years.

"I'd be so nervous that I would walk into the hospital and just throw up before anything even happened," he recalled from his home in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn.

But Mount Sinai Medical Center, where he was treated, had recently added something else to its disease-fighting arsenal: hypnosis. Elsa Pelier, an art therapist and child-life specialist, used techniques of suggestion to help Michael relax. She then asked him to envision a "pain switch" during an injection. "I visualized a light dimmer that I turned down to make the pain less," said Michael, who is now 17 and whose cancer is in remission. "I felt my whole body calm down. It made a huge difference."

Hypnosis, that mysterious but highly touted technique of tapping the unconscious to accomplish all sorts of things, is quietly enjoying a period of prolific use.​​

Psychotherapists use it to try to snuff out phobias and addictions, while dentists employ it to tame the terror of drilling and filling. Hospitals from Mount Sinai to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center find hypnosis valuable for beating pain, and even paramedics, like those in North Tarrytown, N.Y., are using hypnosis techniques to calm trauma victims.

Though practiced for 200 years and officially recognized by the medical establishment in this country years ago, hypnosis has only recently been buoyed by the growing acceptance -- among doctors and patients alike -- of the relationship between mind and body.

"In the last 10 years there has been a noticeable increase in the use of hypnosis for pain control and habit control," said Dr. Herbert Spiegel, a retired clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University who taught hypnosis there for 22 years. "There's more sensitivity to the fact that the mind has great therapeutic powers."

The Office of Alternative Medicine, a Federal agency created in 1992 by the National Institutes of Health, is financing three studies on hypnosis. Bill Moyers's public television series, "Healing and the Mind," which generated a best-selling book in 1993, introduced a wide audience to such alternative approaches as hypnosis. And the enormous popularity of such spas as Canyon Ranch, which offers hypnotherapy at its resorts in Arizona and Connecticut, has exposed still others to the treatment.

Mary Mitchell, a 32-year-old publishing executive who lives on the Upper East Side, first tried hypnosis while vacationing at Canyon Ranch. Having struggled with her weight most of her life, she hoped that hypnosis could help her eat more slowly and stop using food as a substitute for relaxation.

The results were mixed. "I definitely noticed a difference in the beginning," she said. "There is some little alarm that goes off inside so that even if I don't stop eating, I stop and think about stopping. But it wasn't the magic bullet. Frankly, I was hoping it was."

That is exactly what most hypnotists, many of whom prefer the term hypnotherapist, want to get across: that what they do is not magic, that everyone has experienced a so-called hypnotic state before, for instance when lost in thought on an open highway, unable to recall what has just passed by.

In fact, many people who have undergone hypnosis express near-disappointment at not feeling transformed or out of control, as they had expected. What they do experience, they say, is a state of profound physical relaxation, and a heightened mental awareness that makes it easy to focus on the suggestions of the therapist. While not everyone responds, some people report dramatic changes.

"The only thing you are making use of is a semidissociative state, which is a very creative one," said Dr. Marianne S. Andersen, a psychologist and clinical instructor at Mount Sinai and a fellow of the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, a nonprofit organization in Indianapolis founded in 1949. "The magic lies within you, not in the therapist. You are not under anyone's control. All hypnosis is essentially self-hypnosis."

Another sign of its growing popularity is the number of medical professionals who are being trained in hypnosis. In 1990, when Dr. Anderson began conducting workshops at Mount Sinai for physicians, clinical social workers and psychologists, there were 15 students; her most recent class had 60.

The New York Milton H. Erickson Society for Psychotherapy and Hypnosis in Manhattan, which offers a one-year program chartered by the New York State Board of Regents, has 104 students registered this year, up from 10 five years ago.

But despite the great interest and the many studies conducted over the years, no one seems to know exactly how or why hypnosis works. "In terms of a real clear definition of hypnosis, we don't have it," said Dorothy Larkin, a registered nurse in Westchester County and president of the Erickson society. "It's a subjective experience. It's not really measurable."​​

Roughly 20 percent of the population are believed to be unhypnotizable, while another 20 percent fall readily into a hypnotic trance, although practitioners are not sure why some are more susceptible than others. Children 9 to 13 are considered the best subjects. "Children are of the world of pretend," Ms. Pelier said, "so you just join them in that world."

For Dr. Jeffrey M. Lipton, Mount Sinai's chief of pediatric hematology and oncology, hypnotic techniques are above all a way to make patients feel less helpless. "I don't think this is a substitute for analgesia and the new generation of anti-nausea and anti-vomiting medications," he said. "But it certainly allows us to rely less on those and to give children some control over what is going on."

Because of relaxation therapy and "hypno-analgesic" techniques like the pain switch, doctors can cut back on the amount of pain medication they require, whether general anesthesia or sedation, both of which pose a risk. "A spinal tap takes only five minutes," Dr. Lipton said, but he added that because of the pain medication, "the kid would spend the rest of the day -- hours -- asleep or not feeling quite right."


Deborah Bird, C.Ht., MBA
Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist and Health Coach
1501 SE Walton Blvd
Bentonville, AR 72712
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