Doctors hypnotize people before surgery to ease their pain and anxiety – New Scientist

Listening to hypnosis recordings can reduce pain and anxiety during a medical procedure. It may even reduce the need for patients to take sedatives and painkillers.

Putting people under hypnosis during surgery sounds like some kind of medical stunt, but it is already standard practice in hospitals in various countries, including the Netherlands, the United States, Australia and Canada.

The best-known examples of the use of hypnosis in medical procedures involve people undergoing major surgery without any anesthesia. But there aren’t many people who can be so deeply hypnotized. Therefore, such an approach will not be feasible on a large scale.


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Less painkillers

The use of hypnosis in addition to anesthesia is more widely applicable. With this, doctors can help people feel less anxious about procedures that keep them awake, such as a biopsy, where a piece of tissue is removed, or colonoscopy, where doctors look inside the intestines. This can reduce the amount of sedatives or pain relievers needed.

A randomized study of American women who had a breast lump biopsy found that hearing hypnosis recordings reduced pain and anxiety.

This approach can also be used before operations where people are put under general anesthesia. One trial examined children who had a catheter placed in the heart, a procedure that required general anesthesia. The children who listened to a nurse read a hypnosis script before surgery needed a lower dose of sedatives.

“It is not an alternative to anesthesia, but it is a supplement to manage the fear of surgery,” says anesthesiologist Samantha Blackwho helped develop hypnosis recordings for Britain’s Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCoA).

Customize curriculum

In addition to listening to hypnotic recordings or a healthcare professional reading a script, staff may also use more casual hypnotic suggestions. In doing so, they include key phrases in the conversation to help people relax, such as telling them that they feel themselves getting sleepy or that their limbs are getting heavy.

At a conference on “complementary medical hypnosis” held by the Royal Society of Medicine in London earlier this month, Black said doctors should also recommend that people listen to the recordings several times at home before the procedure. “Sometimes patients wait a few hours for their surgery,” said Black. “It’s very hard to relax in such an environment.”

There is no data showing how often anesthetists or other staff use these recommended hypnotic techniques, Black says. It is not part of standard medical training for anesthetists in training, but hospitals and physician professional organizations in many countries are increasingly offering training in hypnotic techniques. “It needs to be integrated into the curriculum of medical schools,” says Black.

Mammogram less painful

Just Elvira, a former radiologist involved in both trials, founded the Comfort Talk company in Boston. That company provides hypnosis training to medical personnel. In February she advised RIVM, which leads the population screening for breast cancer in the Netherlands, on how hypnosis can be used to make mammograms less painful. “If it’s less painful, women are more likely to come back,” she says.

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