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Why Is Medical Hypnosis Important?

Use of this tool can can enhance patient outcomes substantially.

Key points

  • Any physical symptom can be caused or perpetuated, at least partially, by a psychological issue.
  • Patients can learn to feel better by engaging new thought patterns.
  • Without use of a psychological approach, treatments offered by traditional medicine are limited to use of medications and physical procedures.
  • The basics of hypnosis for a patient with medical issues can be taught in 1-3 sessions.

Based on my experiences as a pediatrician who has used clinical hypnosis for much of my career, I believe therapy with hypnosis should be an essential tool in the kit of every medical health care provider. Without use of this tool, or another way of addressing patients’ psychological issues, many patients may suffer needlessly.

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Why psychology plays such an important role in health care

The brain affects how people process information. For example, infants react negatively to painful medical procedures, and respond positively to being comforted, such as when they are caressed by their parent. These responses to physical sensations are processed in the brain.

The brain is an amazing organ that is designed to help guide us through life. As such, it is built to consider many inputs before it decides how to react. For example, if a patient is in pain, at the same time as he or she is being comforted, the brain can decide to pay attention to the comforting in addition to or instead of the pain. When this happens, the pain sensation can become less bothersome, and thus the patient’s reaction can change from becoming terrified to quiet acceptance.

As we grow older, our brains become better at guiding us, and consider more inputs before arriving at decisions. Thus, in deciding how to act, the brain not only thinks about physical sensations, but it also considers past experiences, emotions, thoughts about how life does and should work, and even spiritual matters (Garland, 2012).

When patients develop physical symptoms because of physical or psychological issues, these symptoms are what they report to their health care providers. A frequent reaction in our Western medical culture is to order a diagnostic test or treat the symptoms with a medication. And yet, we need to keep in mind that any physical symptom can be caused or perpetuated, at least partially, by a psychological issue. Therefore, clinicians can help patients by teaching them how to think differently about their discomforts. Sometimes, symptoms can resolve with a new thought pattern. And in virtually every situation, patients can feel better when they learn how to think differently.

Lisa Caroselli/Pixabay
Source: Lisa Caroselli/Pixabay

Is hypnosis a good psychological tool for medical practice?

There are many available psychological tools to help patients. Reassurance is a commonly used tool. Oftentimes, patients feel better after visiting their doctors, even if they are provided only reassurance. However, its effectiveness can be limited by the providers’ or patients’ feelings that reassurance is insufficient.

Examples of psychological tools that require guidance of a health care provider include biofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and talk therapy. Notably, psychological tools that often are most effective are ones that help patients help themselves. In this way, patients can treat themselves in an on-going fashion even in the absence of a health care provider. Some of these tools include art therapy, hypnosis, meditation, music therapy, and yoga.

I believe therapy with self-hypnosis is the best of these for many medical patients because it takes only a few minutes to teach, and a few minutes a day for the patients to apply to themselves. In two-thirds of my patients with chronic medical problems including asthma, headaches, and irritable bowel syndrome, such brief application for a few weeks has brought about significant relief (Anbar, 2001; Anbar, 2002; Anbar & Zoughbi, 2008). Often, these patients maintain their improvement even as their medications are decreased in dosage. With long-term use of hypnosis and associated counseling patients and their health care providers can achieve additional and sometimes amazing results. For example, some patients can remain largely without symptoms even after they discontinue all their medications.

In contrast, most of the other aforementioned psychological tools require at least several visits with a professional, and/or require patients to repeatedly allot half an hour or more at a time engaged with use of the recommended approach. Many patients do not want to or cannot spend that much time in taking care of themselves.

Importantly, self-hypnosis may not be the best option for a minority of patients who report physical symptoms, and also have serious mental health issues that require therapy by a mental health professional.

Source: Schäferle/Pixabay

How the practice of medicine is enhanced with use of hypnosis

Without use of hypnosis or another psychological approach, treatments offered by traditional medical health care providers are limited to use of medications or physical procedures such as physical therapy or surgery. With use of hypnosis patients learn to bring their own resources to help themselves. For some diagnoses, such as habit cough, irritable bowel syndrome, and vocal cord dysfunction, those resources can be more powerful than the medical treatments. With hypnosis, most patients feel better. How sad it is to realize that most medical patients in this country are treated without consideration of how they can help themselves psychologically.

When medical health care providers teach hypnosis to appropriate patients soon after they meet, sometimes there is no need for further medical testing or treatments as the presenting symptoms improve sufficiently (Anbar, 2002). This can save a lot of aggravation, discomfort, time, and money.

Call to Action

Ask your health care provider how you or your loved one can learn how to use hypnosis to help improve a medical or psychological symptom. If you are fortunate, your provider will know how to teach this skill. If not, they can refer you to a reputable clinician who can teach you the basics of this skill in 1-3 sessions.

Copyright Ran D. Anbar


Anbar, Ran D. 2001. “Self-hypnosis for Treatment of Functional Abdominal Pain in Childhood.” Clinical Pediatrics. 40 (8): 447-451. doi: 10.1177/000992280104000804.

Anbar, Ran D. 2002. “Hypnosis in pediatrics: Applications at a Pediatric Pulmonary Center.” BMC Pediatrics. 2:11. doi: 10.1186/1471-2431-2-11.

Anbar, Ran D, and George G. Zoughbi. 2008. “Relationship of headache-associated stressors and hypnosis therapy outcome in children: a retrospective chart review.” American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis. 50 (4): 335-341. doi: 10.1080/00029157.2008.10404300.

Garland, Eric L. 2012. “Pain Processing in the Human Nervous System: A Selective Review of Nociceptive and Biobehavioral Pathways.” Primary Care. 39 (3): 561-571. doi: 10.1016/j.pop.2012.06.013.