Home / Advice / Does hypnosis for pain work? Yes, says the American Psychological Association

Does hypnosis for pain work? Yes, says the American Psychological Association

New clients of often ask me, ‘Does hypnosis work?’ It’s not surprising they are sceptical. It’s very unfortunate that hypnosis for clinical purposes is often confused with the stage entertainment you sometimes see on the television. My clients often worry that they are going to be made to look foolish or do something they do not want to do. On the other hand, some clients just don’t believe that they can use their own mind to make any significant changes.

So, often I give a bit of an academic lecture before we get down to using hypnosis. I want to prove to my clients that hypnosis is a respected, tried and proven technique which is used by health professionals the world over. And I want to show the evidence that it works for health problems such as pain.

The good news is, that there is increasing evidence of the benefits of hypnosis in clinical situations. I often quote this article from the American Psychological Association to my clients to help them decide if it is a technique which could help them.

The American Psychological Association article explains that hypnosis is not a therapy in itself, it is a technique which enables the therapist to better use their expertise and interventions to help the client. This is exactly how I use hypnosis in my pain clinics.

Health professionals use hypnosis

So, for example, I might use hypnosis to help a client better visualise a calming and relaxing scene which can distract them from their pain. Or I might help them change and fade the pain by imagining it as a colour which then changes and fades. I can also teach clients how to do these things for themselves, so they can get into control.

I am not alone in this approach. There is an increasing and welcome move for health professionals, such as doctors and nurses, to use hypnosis techniques as part of their work. As far back as 2003, an extensive clinical review showed surgeons reporting a higher degree of satisfaction among patients who had undergone hypnotherapy as part of their treatment.

The use of hypnosis for pain management has been well-researched, and I use a lot of this research in my everyday work.

Help with chronic pain

One example is looking after people with chronic pain, this is pain which has lasted longer than three months and often has no clear cause.

Often, the ongoing pain has led to the patient or client falling into unhealthy habits and unhelpful thinking patterns. For example, the thought ‘I cannot do anything about my pain,’ is common. Yet we can see from research that some people cope with chronic pain better than others. This can be to do with mental attitude, and I can help people with chronic pain to change these attitudes.

Hypnosis can be very valuable here. I can help you develop better thought habits, so you end up with a more positive mental attitude.

Behind this is my belief that like many things we do, our thoughts are habits and habits can be changed.

So, perhaps you have a habit of letting a voice in your head telling you there is nothing you can do about your pain.

Hypnosis can help you control that voice, you can turn it down for instance. Or you may prefer to change it; change its tone perhaps. Or you can go the whole hog and replace it with another voice. Often clients find it helpful to visualise their voice in order to change and control it. So, a pleasant little creature which speaks soothingly to you can make all the difference.

Another way hypnosis can help is to give you support to change behaviours which can make your chronic pain worse. One example might be drinking too much alcohol. Some people with chronic pain turn to drink as it seems to alleviate pain. And alcohol undoubtedly does have this effect. Unfortunately, it also has other effects which for some people can make pain worse. So, you may find you cannot sleep as well (a common pattern after you have had a few drinks is to fall asleep quite easily but then wake in the night and be unable to get back to sleep). Also, alcohol can make depression worse and that is not good. I often use hypnosis to encourage clients to find more helpful behaviours to achieve those same relaxation/analgesic effects.

So, if you are suffering from chronic pain then come to see me. If you are too far away to see me face to face I may still be able to help you so give me a call.

Next time I will look at acute pain.


This month’s honourable mention: The Arthritis Foundation


If you suffer from arthritis I would strongly recommend you take a look at the whole of this site, as it has tons of really useful information and sources of support. Today though, in line with our focus on hypnosis I want to highlight what they say on the subject.

“Hypnosis isn’t about convincing you that you don’t feel pain; it’s about helping you manage the fear and anxiety you feel related to that pain . . .the hypnotist will instruct you to imagine a pleasant place and describe it in detail, refocusing your attention from something that trigger negative emotions to something that will activate positive emotions.”

I can definitely agree with that.

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