Hypno answer to pain

Hypnotherapy for pain control is controversial and never far from the headlines. To give a new perspective on pain hypnotherapy, the following is a report from a therapist working in an NHS Oncology Unit. Garry  Coles, is a CNHC registered Hypnotherapist and a member of the CNHC Profession Specific Board (PSB) for Hypnotherapy …

For 13 years I have been working with the Foundation Centre charity, volunteering once a week at the Royal Surrey County Hospital’s Oncology Unit.

Helping patients through their cancer journey is not for everyone. The environment can be tough, especially when you lose patients you have built relationships with, but it can also be very rewarding.

End of Life healthcare

While working on the Unit I support patients through all aspects of their cancer journey – from diagnosis, to fears, phobias and anxieties, pre and post-surgery, treatment side effects and recovery. I am also involved with those going through palliative elements and end of life care.

To me, over the years, this was just ‘something I did, to give something back, because I could’. I am a hypnotherapist with a scientific and academic background, so can’t say I believe in concepts such as karma, but then again….?

I have learned a lot about cancer treatments as the hospital enrolled me on many specialist courses. These covered aspects of the full cancer patient journey, including overviews of cancer development and treatments, oncology emergencies, survivorship and life after treatment.

While studying for an MSc in Clinical Hypnotherapy, I was fortunate enough to become embedded in the Breast Cancer Multidisciplinary Team, enabling me to carry out research into the use of presurgical hypnosis.

The Breast Cancer Multidisciplinary team is a specialist team consisting of surgeons, radiologists, pathologists, oncologists, radiographer, chemotherapy and breast care nurses. They look at test results and formulate treatment plans for each patient. I was invited to join the team as part of my research and attended clinical discussions to ascertain patients who would be suitable for my hypnotherapy research.

Pre-surgical hypnotherapy

My research focused on presurgical hypnosis and its effects on the recovery quality in breast cancer operations.  It consisted of patients completing a gold standard psychological profiling questionnaire (SF-36) on the morning of surgery. Software scoring was then used to formulate a psychological profile and compare against the population norm.

When patients were considered psychologically as being borderline depressive, an intervention group was given scripted hypnosis immediately before surgery. This hypnotic session gave suggestions for relaxation, pain control, healing and wellbeing.

Seven days after surgery the patients completed the same SF-36 profiling questionnaire. They also completed a pain scoring profile with some additional questions. The results were processed with the same scoring software and were subject to additional statistical analysis. The intervention group was compared to a control group and also to previous research.

The control group was still scoring psychologically as borderline depressive, whereas the hypnosis intervention group had improved compared to the population norm in most psychological categories.

Additionally, those in the hypnotherapy group indicated that they were perceiving less pain. Further research indicated that in addition to patients perceiving less pain, the intervention group was generally prescribed lower dosages of pain relief medication.

From my research and experience I was able to devise treatment protocols, hypnotherapy scripts and techniques that were best suited to working with cancer patients. Since my research concluded, I have been invited to present masterclasses on my protocols and techniques and speak at conferences.

This volunteer role has given me so much and makes me question – does karma exist? Is this it in action? I have absolutely no idea, all I know is that just giving something back has had profound positive consequences for me!

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