Surgical Hypnosis

by Paul Gustafson RN BSN CH

When people set aside the usual myths and misconceptions associated with hypnosis good things usually happen. Recently, hypnosis has been getting some positive national exposure increasing the publics general awareness of its health related benefits and its role as an increasingly popular frontline holistic healer. Hypnosis is non-invasive, soothing and once the client understands the process they may continue making healthy changes all on their own.

Hypnosis is the simple process of accessing subconscious thought. The subconscious mind has many important functions; it is where all our values, beliefs, habits and patterns reside. It also is the home of our body’s control center. It regulates our heart rate, breathing and coordinates every step we take.

Having the key to such a powerful place enables us to initiate positive changes supporting how our body responds to situations like stress, fear, pain, depression or even the trauma of surgery. Clients fortunate enough to be given the option of receiving hypnosis prior to, and after surgical procedures, sing its praises. Also, scientific research supports these claims with reduced complications and medication needs; more timely recoveries and shorter hospital stays, which is good for everyone.

“An average savings of $1,200 per patient resulted from this simple 5-minute intervention.” (Disbrow EA. Western Journal of Medicine. 1993)

Another study discovered that the hypnosis group did better than 89% of those who did not receive hypnosis. “These data strongly support the use of hypnosis with surgical patients.” (Hypnosis with Surgical Patients, Guy H. Montgomery, PhD)

Hypnosis isn’t magic, its nature. We all go in and out of hypnotic-like trance several times a day. We call it day dreaming or zoning out. Hypnosis is the process of enabling this dream-like state to occur and then offering helpful direction, which support the client’s specific goals.

Surgical hypnosis involves relaxation, improved immune response and circulation that minimizes infection and promotes rapid healing. By increasing endorphin production pain is minimized requiring less medication and the unwanted side effects that usually result. And because the imagination resides in subconscious thought, wonderful images show the client relaxed, comfortable and successful further reinforcing this positive plan.

This healthy direction creates a blueprint, which becomes reality. Surgical Hypnosis disconnects patterns of fear and worry. It puts the client in the drivers seat when need they need it most. In life we all follow the path of our most dominant thoughts and with hypnosis you get the unique opportunity to create the thoughts and images, which serve you best. What your mind conceives your body achieves.

In the mid 1840’s when John Elliotson and James Esdaile began using hypnosis in the surgical setting as an anesthetic with great success. Prior to their efforts mortality rate was 40%; with hypnosis it was 5%. In spite of their success hypnosis would soon take a backseat to either, nitrous oxide and chloroform by the late 1840’s. (Origins of Surgical Hypnosis. John F. Kihlstrom)

The 3 important keys to success with hypnosis are how open a client is to this type of relaxation, how motivated they are to make positive changes and how prepared the hypnotist is to offer the suggestions and imagery supporting the desired change. Hypnosis is a relationship of trust and co-operation. If a client believes the hypnotist is working in their best interest they are likely to be more open minded and accepting, ensuring positive results.

It is impossible to predict the outcome of any treatment option but when clients understand the technique, benefits and are involved with the process, results are consistently positive. Also, considering the mountain of research supporting clinical hypnosis as an effective compliment to traditional medicine, the time has come to open the door to this and other holistic options.

An advocate and practitioner of surgical hypnosis is Elvira Lang MD. Dr. Lang teaches at Harvard University and is the Director of Interventional Radiology at Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston, MA. Her study involved 241 patients receiving percutaneous vascular and renal procedures either received no special treatment, structured attention or self-hypnotic relaxation. “Structured attention and self-hypnotic relaxation proved beneficial during invasive medical procedures. Hypnosis had more profound effects on pain and anxiety reduction, and is superior, in that it also improves hemodynamic stability.” (Elvira V Lang The Lancet, Vol 355 2000)

Other studies reveal more positive results:

“Positive intraoperative suggestions seem to have a significant effect in reducing morphine requirements in the early postoperative period.” (McLintock TT. BMJ 1990)

“Patients in the hypnosis group had significantly less vomiting, 39% compared to 68% in the control group, less nausea and less need of analgesics postoperatively. Preoperative hypnotic techniques in breast surgery contribute to a reduction of both post operative nausea and vomiting and postoperative analgesic requirements.” Enqvist B. Bjorklund, Anaesthesiologica Scandinavica 1997)

“ypAnxiety before the operation increased significantly in the control group but remained at baseline level in the experimental (hypnosis) group. Postoperative consumption of analgesics was significantly reduced in the experimental (hypnosis) group compared to the control (non-hypnosis) group.” (Enqvist B. Fischer International Journal of Clinical & Experimental Hypnosis 1997)

“A significant correlation was found between anxiety and perceived knowledge of procedures. The results suggest that pre-operative hypnosis provides a quick and effective way to reduce pre-operative patient anxiety and anesthetic requirements for gynecological daycare surgery.” (Goldmann L. Anaesthesia 1988)

Through the early 20th century the debate was if hypnosis existed at all. The American Medical Association said it did in 1958 and since then hypnosis has been dissected and analyzed and the positive results are available for anyone to read.

Now the debate is over and the verdict is in. It may not be for everyone, but what is? Hypnosis is safe, relaxing and an effective option for clients going through the trauma of surgery. There are no side effects or allergic reactions and it costs next to nothing. Some also believe that it should be the client’s right, not the hospital’s option, as to which holistic supports are available. Someday soon it will hopefully be as simple as selecting ‘hypnosis’ on a pre-op check list.

Paul Gustafson RN, BSN, CH is a Clinical Hypnotherapist and practices in Burlington, Massachusetts. His 11 years of acute cardiac and hospice nursing experience offer a solid foundation supporting his clinical approach to hypnosis. Visit or call 888-290-3972 for more information.

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