Research published in 2014 by the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland and carried out at the Department of Neurosciences University of Padua, and the Italian Center for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis in Turin Italy has demonstrated that clinical hypnosis can alter the perception of pain in surgery and help patients deal with surgical stress. The research recommends that in selected cases hypnosis can be as effective as anaesthetic drugs.

A female patient with extreme sensitivity to chemicals who had experienced previous reactions to local anaesthetic was admitted for the removal of a thigh skin tumour using hypnosis as the sole means of anaesthesia. The hypnotic intervention included hypnotically focused analgesia utilising a pre-operative pain threshold test to measure sensitivity to pain. After the induction of hypnosis, a wide excision was performed, preserving the deep fascia and the tumour was removed. Throughout this time the patient’s heart rate and blood pressure did not fluctuate. After the patient was brought out of hypnosis she experienced no pain and was discharged.

It is important that we look at when, and when not, to remove sensitivity to pain. Pain is a message that says, ‘please take care of this part of the body’. To remove the message when it is trying to tell us something important can be dangerous. Pain should only be removed altogether in cases of surgery and terminal illness. At all other times pain should only be reduced. This can be done in several ways, for example, numbing the degree of pain or changing the way it is perceived, for example, by transforming it into a warm sensation, or an itch. This then allows the patient to maintain awareness of the message while reducing discomfort. The cause of the pain can then be investigated and treated.

It should always be remembered that patients can also experience psychosomatic pain, which even though psychological, is still experienced as real pain by the patient. In my own experience, if I am able to move the pain around the patient’s body easily with hypnosis then the pain is usually psychosomatic. In such cases pain reduction can be used to reduce the sensitivity while psychotherapy is applied to resolve the issues causing the pain.

Stephen Brooks