Imagine a scenario where your mind had the power to cure debilitating anxiety, eliminate chronic pain or kick an addiction.
Adriana Barton reports on the growing scientific support for hypnosis, the mind-
THE GLOBE AND MAILLAST UPDATED: MONDAY, JUN. 12, 2017 11:16AM EDT
Last summer, at age 14, Sue Jones suffered from stabbing pains in her abdomen that got so intense, “I couldn’t walk.”
She spent three weeks in a wheelchair while doctors ruled out everything from digestive problems to appendicitis. Finally, after a four-
An honour student, Sue is thin, dark-
So, in early September, she visited Dr. Leora Kuttner, a pediatric psychologist who specializes in clinical hypnosis, a technique for leveraging the brain’s healing abilities during a trance state.
Kuttner’s office has a rumpus-
Sue pictured herself covered in “a golden, shimmery, transparent cocoon, floating up in the air above this beach.” For a few moments, she felt as though she had left the room. When Kuttner called her out of her reverie, “I was surprised where I was.” Another surprise: the pain was gone.
I thought of it as black magic, like witchcraft.
Sue keeps a recording of her “protection skirt” hypnosis handy on her phone – all 5 minutes, 56 seconds of it. She is still learning to keep anxiety at bay, but if the abdominal pain ever comes back, she says, “I know how to deal with it.”
Hypnosis isn’t just for hucksters and Hollywood villains any more. Neuroscience studies have shown that this mind-
In France and Belgium, anesthesiologists are offering hypnosis combined with local anesthetic as an alternative to general anesthesia in surgery. In North America, medical centres such as the Mayo Clinic have added hypnosis to their pain-
Hypnosis doesn’t work for everyone, notes Dr. Amir Raz, Canada Research Chair in the cognitive neuroscience of attention at McGill University and the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. But “in my opinion, it’s completely underused.”
That may be changing, especially in pediatrics. Over the past four years, Kuttner has been invited to teach hypnosis at the Mayo Clinic, Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary and the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. Kuttner, who developed her techniques more than three decades ago, says she’s “thrilled” by the uptake.
As with mindfulness meditation, hypnosis harnesses the brain’s natural abilities to regulate the body and control the random thoughts that ricochet through our minds, says Dr. David Patterson, a University of Washington psychologist who has studied hypnosis since the 1980s, in a series of clinical trials financed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
But, he adds, meditation can take weeks or months of practice before it helps patients dial down pain. With hypnosis, “the relief is just a lot quicker and more dramatic.”
Hypnosis reduces our awareness of what’s going on around us, even as it increases our attention and openness to new ideas. The brain’s command centre lets its guard down, allowing the therapist’s suggestions to embed themselves into the parts of our grey matter that regulate our thoughts, perceptions and physiology, Patterson says. “It’s as if you’re talking directly to the brain.”
I feel more secure and confident, and less vulnerable in my own head.
At Legacy Oregon Burn Center in Portland, Ore., Dr. Emily Ogden, a psychologist, uses hypnosis to help patients cope with the most excruciating injuries you can have.
In the facility’s bedroom-
Often, the pain of the burn itself pales next to the agony of having dead tissue removed in a process called debridement, or a patch of healthy skin shaved and grafted onto a wound. Then there are the dressing changes. Every day or so, nurses replace fluid-
Burn patients tend to be open to hypnosis, Ogden says, but they often add something such as, “I’m not going to squawk like a chicken, am I?”
After reassuring them that no, she won’t make them cluck, Ogden stands by the bedside and asks the patient to imagine stepping down a flight of stairs as she counts backward from 20. Once the patient is deeply relaxed, she gives a series of hypnotic “suggestions,” or instructions for the brain. For example, “When a nurse touches you on the shoulder, you will return to the feeling of relaxation you have now,” she might say. “During the procedure, you will have no feelings other than comfort and relaxation. Later, you’ll be surprised at how easily it goes for you.”
As simple as it sounds, the technique usually works, says Ogden, who began offering hypnosis six months ago. “It has proven to be such a beneficial and effective intervention.”
Hypnosis stimulates specific brain activity, according to a 2016 study from Stanford University. Researchers found three brain changes in adults who scored high in susceptibility to hypnosis and these changes occurred only while they were hypnotized.
Using a brain-
He describes hypnosis as a “very powerful means of changing the way we use our minds to control perception, and our bodies.” If more practitioners had training to use it, hypnosis could make “a huge difference” in the opioid epidemic, he adds.
In a previous study, published in The Lancet, Spiegel and colleagues instructed patients in self-
But hypnosis has an image problem. Unlike mindfulness, it lacks Zen-
And let’s face it: For every credible scientist studying hypnosis, there are hundreds of charlatans touting self-
Adults tend to insist they are impervious to hypnosis, even if they’ve never tried it, Raz says. They think of it as “feeble-
But in fact, people who respond to hypnosis may have better co-
About 10 per cent to 15 per cent of adults are “highly hypnotizable,” meaning they can easily slip into a trance and act on hypnotic suggestions. The same percentage of adults do not respond to hypnosis at all, while the rest are somewhere in between. (Yes, there’s a test for that: Clinical trials generally use the Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale, originally developed in 1959.) The trait may be genetic, researchers say. But imagination also plays a role.
Responsiveness to hypnosis reaches its peak between the ages of 8 and 12, says Kuttner, who began using hypnosis in the mid-
Most children can easily imagine an invisible “magic glove” that keeps needles from hurting, or a fantasy world free of pain, Kuttner says. Concentrating on these beliefs can have analgesic effects. With a fond smile, she recalls a child with leukemia who spent her treatments in an imaginary land of candy.
It has proven to be such a beneficial and effective intervention.
A more recent patient, 17-
When Isabella received a diagnosis of OCD at the age of 13, Kuttner taught her how to focus on her breathing and picture herself in calm place, using a form of self-
She used to feel panicky at the idea of sleeping away from home. Now, she is graduating from high school with acceptance letters from both the University of British Columbia and Queen’s University. Knowing that the brain is strong enough to “transport you from the thoughts,” Isabella says, “I feel more secure and confident, and less vulnerable in my own head.”
Hypnosis techniques are relatively easy for health-
A lay hypnotist could fail to recognize the signs of psychosis, or encourage someone to regress to an earlier life stage filled with traumatic memories, “and they won’t have a clue how to help the person.” Kuttner recalls treating a patient who had gone to a lay hypnotist for headache relief but came away weeping and confused. Hypnosis needs to be in the hands of “someone who respects it, and knows what they are doing,” she says. “This is powerful stuff.”
In hypnosis circles, the word “powerful” comes up a lot. But it’s hardly an overstatement when you consider the work of Dr. Marie-
Hypnosis allows patients to avoid general anesthesia in surgeries ranging from mastectomies to heart-
The method appeals to patients who want to be “aware during surgery, but comfortable.” Patients do not get a dry run. Instead, Faymonville assesses their level of motivation and confidence in the surgical team, and their ability to co-
She emphasizes that unlike the cross-
The ability to be hypnotized is a talent, like an ear for music, researchers say. The easiest way to know if you have it is to give it a try. So, I ask Dr. Lance Rucker, president of the Canadian Society of Clinical Hypnosis, if he’ll hypnotize me.
A dentist by training, Rucker is tall, pointy-
Dentists need to learn the basics of hypnosis to “avoid abusing the trance state,” he says. People drift in and out of light trances throughout the day, whether they’re on “autopilot” for the daily commute, or so engrossed in an X-
Dental patients – triggered by memories of needles, drills and frozen-
Rucker emphasizes that reputable practitioners will not use hypnosis for purposes outside their medical specialty. He asks if I have a dental issue I’d like to resolve. An overactive gag reflex, perhaps? Or a fear of dental fillings?
I am definitely a grinder. That may not be easily fixed, depending on the root cause, he replies. But he’s willing to give it a go.
We sit in the front seats of his scarlet Acura, parked outside a cluster of big-
In a soft, calm voice, Rucker asks me to take myself to “an internal space, a creative space.” As I relax, he says, my inner awareness can let me know “what it’s all about, and has been all about – the clenching, the grinding.” A symbol or realization may come to mind. He pauses for a few moments. Then he suggests that I ask my inner self whether it can let the grinding go, “or whether there is some part of you that may wish to hold on to it.”
As his voice meanders, I have a clear picture of a big black dog with massive metal jaws. Could my clenching be a hard-