Hypnosis for Chronic Pain
By Jessica Levine
Jessica Levine, PhD, CHT, and longtime OPEN EXCHANGE lister, offers "Change Happens With Hypnotherapy."
The founder of modern hypnotherapy, Dr. Milton Erickson, suffered from polio as a child and learned to use hypnosis to control the muscular pain he experienced from post-polio syndrome. He went on to make a huge contribution to the field of pain management through hypnosis. In my own practice, I have seen again and again how hypnosis opens a space for changes in perception, so that suffering can be diminished or in some cases even eliminated. How does this work?
The altered state of consciousness that we go into during hypnosis is in itself pain-reducing. The trance state, also accessible through meditation, can create physical feelings of lightness and spaciousness, of melting or dissolving, which in turn work to dampen pain signals. I stumbled upon the pain-alleviating effect of meditation in my early twenties when I developed chronic pain after a surgery that left me with pelvic adhesions. As I began to practice meditation to manage the anxiety and distress caused by my situation, I learned that going into a trance also reduced my pain markedly.
Years later I discovered, as a student then a practitioner of hypnosis, that we can use the meditative state as a portal to hypnosis, in which we can further reduce pain and also promote healing. In a hypnotic trance, we are able to access the full potential of the imagination, with its ability to transform perception of bodily sensations. Here is an example: one client came to me with a chronic lower backache. Once he was hypnotized, I invited him to give a shape to his sensations. When he said he saw the pain as a stone with sharp points jabbing him, I gently encouraged him to transform this image. As he imagined a smoothing stream of cool water flowing over the rock, the jagged parts were rounded, and the pain softened. This process is extremely individual. Another client might have the same complaint and take the imagery in a different direction, for instance, seeing the pain at as an ugly color, which gets transformed into a pleasant one. Or (if the client's imagination is not particularly visual) she might assign the pain a number on a dial, and, by turning the dial down, reduce the intensity of discomfort. In the end, it is the client's subconscious that provides the healing key.
Clients have returned to me countless times saying something like, "I don't know if it's a coincidence, but I've been feeling much better." My hunch is that a constant perception of pain can get in the way of physical healing, whereas relaxation promotes blood and energy flow and thus repair. In short, when the nervous system calms down in its transmission of pain signals, not only is the client more comfortable, but actual healing begins to happen.
Although hypnosis may at times seem magical, it is in fact a process of mining the subconscious for its gifts and teaching the mind to use those gifts for healing.
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