By Wesley Anderson, DCH
Is one of the first thoughts you might have if you had to have surgery, “I better make an appointment with my hypnotherapist.”? Perhaps it should be.
When Alice T., a medical doctor, mentioned to her hypnotherapist during a sessions for weight control that she was going to have abdominal surgery for fibroid cysts, he suggested that she use hypnotherapy to help her prepare. Before surgery, she had a hypnotherapy session in which suggestions were given to relieve anxiety, reduce bleeding during the operation, and eliminate post surgical discomfort.
There is plenty of evidence that with hypnosis simple mental imagery and direct suggestions can assist in speeding recovery, and lessen the need for anesthesia during surgery. It is even possible to reduce or eliminate the need for pain medication after surgery. Hypnosis is also quite effective for soothing away presurgical anxieties. Although most hypnotherapists have some training in the techniques, it is best to use those certified in hypnoanesthesiology from the National Board of Hypnotherapy and Hypnotic Anesthesiology (NBHA). All NBHA certified hypnotherapists are extensively trained in techniques for presurgical preparation, painless child birth, and pain management.
Lessening the need for anesthesia during surgery is an important health consideration, because as any surgeon knows, there are risks associated with chemical anesthesia. The less a patient needs the better. The same is true for any pain medication. Fear and anxiety can easily increase the amount of anesthesia needed. As fear raises adrenaline levels, it takes more and more chemicals to overcome the natural “fight or flight” excitement of the body, and to produce anesthesia.
Hypnotherapists have found that the mind can lessen or eliminate those fears and anxieties easily and permanently with some simple hypnotic techniques. One of those techniques is “safe place” imagery, in which the client begins by imagining him/herself in a location that feels safe and secure. Once the “safe place” is established and the feelings of safety and security are anchored in, the client watches the whole process of the surgery repeatedly while maintaining the feelings of safety and comfort. Just rehearsing the event brings about a sense of familiarity, which makes things easier. Rehearsing with the anchored feelings speeds the process of familiarization, and ensures that feelings of safety and comfort will be associated with the prospect of surgery.
The body has an intelligence of its own that can be engaged through hypnosis to speed healing. For most, simple direct suggestions for rapid healing combined with positive imagery will activate the body’s healing intelligence to shorten recovery time, reduce bleeding during surgery, lessen post surgical swelling, and to reduce or eliminate post surgical pain. Ideally the person would have several sessions with the hypnotherapist. The repetition of positive suggestions amplifies the beneficial effects. That is one reason why hypnotherapists frequently make audio tapes of the hypnosis sessions for clients. Tapes are specifically tailored to the needs of the individual, and will typically include “safe place” imagery, a rehearsal of successful surgery and recovery, suggestions for comfort, rapid healing, and a positive attitude. For those who need the most reassurance, it is important that the rehearsals have the greatest detail. That way as the person goes through the event all of the details will be not only familiar, they will be reminding the person to feel “safe and secure”.
How does hypnosis can help control pain after surgery? At first it may seem like a rather mystical process, yet it’s quite simple. With hypnosis it’s the same as when someone deep in conversation bumps into a misplaced chair, noticing nothing until seeing a bruise later. The preoccupied mind just doesn’t notice the pain. The nerves sent pain signals, but they never registered in consciousness, and that’s how the unconscious treats post surgical pain. The “ouch!” never comes into awareness. Of course, post hypnotic suggestions are given so that some pain occurs if the person starts to do something that could cause damage.
Two weeks after the surgery Alice T. called her hypnotherapist and blamed him for her feeling guilty about not going back to work early. After all, she felt great. She reported that she had only had a few twinges of pain when she tried to overexert herself, and her doctors were amazed at how quickly she was healing. She also mentioned that she had never taken, or needed, any pain medication at all after the surgery.
Hopefully in the days to come as medical doctors are integrating the best of complementary healthcare into medicine, everyone undergoing surgery will have hypnotherapy for presurgical preparation as an option.