Behavioral Medicine:  The Value of Clinical Hypnosis for Mind/Body Health

According to findings of The American Academy of Family Physicians, two-thirds of all office visits to family physicians are due to stress-related symptoms, as reported by the American Psychological Association.  Common estimates are that 50%-60% of patients coming to primary care physicians appear to have symptoms associated with emotional or psychological causes, based on a 1994 review of numerous studies by the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis.  Very brief psychological therapy can significantly reduce the number of medical visits.  In particular, short-term hypnotic interventions often accelerate therapy and provide rapid and brief treatment for many conditions.

There is accumulating evidence supporting the value of using brief hypnotherapy as an adjunct to more traditional methods of health and mental health care.  Like any health care strategy, hypnotic techniques will not be effective for every problem.  However, 4 out of 5 people in the general population are moderately to exceptionally responsive to hypnosis.  And the 20% who are not responsive will know within a first or second hypnotic induction that this would not be a treatment approach to pursue.

Impact of Stress on Mind/Body Health

In a mid-September 2008 survey by the American Psychological Association, 80% of Americans responded that the worsening economy was a significant cause of stress, up from 66% in April 2008.  Money, the economy, job stability, housing costs, and health problems affecting families are the highest sources of stress.  Women are reporting higher levels of stress than men, and reporting more physical and emotional symptoms, suggesting stress is having a significant impact on women.  And this is before the dramatic downturn in the economy and stock market in October of 2008.  And the situation seems no better today, at the end of 2011.

Stress-related physical and emotional symptoms reported by people included the following:  Feelings of irritability or anger (60% vs. 50% in 2007; fatigue (53%); lying awake at night (52% vs. 48% in 2007).  Other physical symptoms of stress include:  Headache (47%); upset stomach (35%); muscular tension (34%); and 20% or less reporting change in sex drive, teeth grinding, tightness in chest, feeling dizzy, change in menstrual cycle, and erectile dysfunction.  Other psychological symptoms of stress reported include:  Lack of interest or motivation (49%); feeling nervous or anxious (49%); feeling depressed or sad (48%); and feeling as though you could cry (40%).

Hypnosis and Stress Management

Self-hypnosis training teaches patients stress management skill.  Hypnotic inductions that focus on suggestions for physical, mental, and emotional relaxation, often provide rapid relief from anxiety.  Patients learn they can be in better emotional control and shift their states of mind to promote relaxation and calm.  This aspect of hypnosis is similar to integrative, mind/body health promoting approaches like Herbert Benson’s work on developing “the relaxation response” in patients and the use of “mindfulness meditation,” as developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn.  I have included a brief essay of the similarities and differences of hypnosis and meditation in this packet. Hypnosis as a part of a psychological therapy offers much beyond stress management techniques.

Applications of Clinical Hypnosis with regard to Medical/Behavioral Problems

Gastrointestinal disorders, in particular Irritable Bowel Syndrome, have been shown to be responsive to hypnotherapy.  I have included a review of research and outcome studies from 1984 to 2007,compiled by Olafur Palsson, detailing the efficacy of clinical hypnosis treatment for IBS.  I have treated 3 patients successfully using a 10-session protocol developed by Whorwell in 1984.  Other problems I have treated successfully with hypnotherapy include the following:  Insomnia; smoking and weight control; hypertension (related to anxiety and stress); tinnitus; chronic and acute pain, (migraine headaches, labor pain, chemotherapy side effects, arthritic joint pain, back pain); tics; trichotillomania; TMJ; bruxism: enuresis; substance abuse; difficulties with diet compliance, fear of swallowing pills.

I have also utilized hypnosis in my psychotherapeutic treatment of Anxiety Disorders, panic attacks, phobias, and OCD, and occasionally in the longer term treatment of Dissociative Disorders, PTSD, Bipolar Disorder, and Personality Disorders.  I find it a valuable technique to help people who feel unable to control discrete shifts in their states of mind and mood

In addition to my own experiences, hypnosis has been used for vascular control, as an analgesia for burn patients, preoperative suggestions to reduce anxiety and for post surgical analgesia and rapid recovery which has been shown to reduce the amount of pain medication required and reduced infections.  Asthma patients, responsive to hypnosis, experience diminished airway hypersensitivity and improved pulmonary function compared to controls.  Regarding smoking cessation, hypnosis, when using a 3 to 4 session personalized protocol is successful two-thirds of the time.


Referral of Patients

When you see patients whose complaints seem out of proportion to their organic pathology, or medical treatment does not yield results expected despite organic improvement, or new symptoms arise as old ones resolve, or a patient requires more time and attention than usual, or compliance with treatment is problematic, then it may make sense to consider a referral for adjunctive treatment. 

Bruce A. Levi, PhD
Licensed Psychologist - Psychotherapy, Clinical Hypnosis, Training, Supervision & Consultations
Treatment for Individuals, Couples and Families

20 Bay Street,
Westport, CT 06880

29 Birch Hill Road,
Weston, CT 06883

Ph. 203.246.3309