Can Hypnotherapy Really Help Cancer Patients?

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If you watched cartoons as a kid, you may be familiar with jokes about hypnotism, in which characters are put into a trance and unconsciously compelled to do wacky things they would not normally do, whether it’s getting into some mischief or quacking like a duck at the sound of a certain word. In all seriousness, though, hypnotism can be very valuable in a medical context, even for lung cancer and mesothelioma patients.

We know how difficult it can be to cope with the symptoms of cancer as well as the side effects of treatment. Pain and anxiety can significantly decrease your quality of life, and you may need to cast a wide net to find a medical regimen that works for you. Hypnotherapy may be the answer.

Hypnotherapy went from fraud to reputable practice
The idea of entering a trance-like state is centuries old, dating back to the rituals performed by religious practitioners, such as shamans, according to experts from the University of Maryland Medical Center. In the 1700s, an Austrian doctor theorized that disease was the result of imbalance in medical fluids in the body. He tried to use magnets and hypnotism to correct this imbalance, but the medical community eventually dismissed his theories as junk science.

However, hypnotism became prominent again about 200 years later, when psychiatrist Milton Erickson incorporated hypnotism into his practice. Subsequently, the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association considered hypnotherapy as a valid practice starting in 1958. About four decades later, the federal National Institutes of Health said that hypnotherapy can be used to alleviate chronic pain symptoms.

What can cancer patients get out of hypnotherapy?
Experts from UMMC describe hypnotherapy as a procedure in which therapists put patients into a deep state of relaxation. While in this trance, an individual’s conscious mind is less alert, while the subconscious mind is more alert. It becomes easier to focus on certain thoughts and memories.

However, unlike the cartoons, the hypnotist is not in control of the patient’s free will.

Because hypnotherapy allows patients to become more aware of their physical and mental responses, people with lung cancer or mesothelioma may find value in this treatment. The distress of living with a malignant disease can cause individuals to become anxious, and anxiety can compound other symptoms and decrease quality of life.

One review, published in the journal Chest, suggests that hypnosis can help alleviate several symptoms in lung cancer patients, such as pain, anxiety, phobias, vomiting and nausea.

“Selection of proper patients and qualifications of the hypnotherapist contribute to safe hypnotherapy. A small percentage of patients may experience dizziness, nausea, or headache,” the review authors wrote. “These symptoms usually result from patients being brought out of trances by inexperienced hypnotherapists.”

Work with a reputable practitioner
If you’re interested in hypnotherapy, you may want to first consult a doctor. Without a proper assessment, this form of therapy may make things worse.

There are several medical groups that certify training for hypnotherapists, including the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, American Psychotherapy and Medical Hypnosis Association, as listed by UMMC. Usually, those who want to be hypnotherapists are required to hold other professional degrees, such as doctorates in medicine and psychology, or master’s level of training in nursing, psychology or social work.

Hypnotherapy sessions usually last an hour. People may show positive results within four to 10 visits.

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