Hypnosis for the treatment of pain: what it is and how it works

In everyday life, and without realizing it, we experience a very specific natural process of the mind; for example, when we are engrossed in watching a movie or reading a book, or when we drive while thinking about our things without being aware of the journey we are taking.

These states have a lot to do with hypnosis. This in turn is a technique increasingly used in clinical psychology to treat different problems or pathologies. In this article we will know hypnosis for the treatment of pain.

    Hypnosis as a psychological tool

    The state of hypnosis that we talked about at the beginning of the article occurs spontaneously, but can also be induced by psychological strategies.

    The American Psychological Association (APA) in 1996 defined hypnosis as a procedure in which changes in sensations, thoughts, feelings, and behavior occur.

    Hypnosis is currently being considered a scientific tool used by doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists… Through it, we can work with these deeper, more automatic aspects of the mind, to produce changes that help improve patients’ health and develop their potential.

    Almost all aspects involving the mind are susceptible to hypnosis.

    Hypnosis for the treatment of pain

    Pain is a mechanism in our body that alerts us or indicates that something is not working well. But there are times when pain becomes pathological and dysfunctional, and this happens when it becomes chronic and loses its warning or coping function. Chronic pain persists for more than three months (Merskey & Bogduk, 1994).

    The qualification of chronic pain includes various pathologies such as: low back pain, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis and headaches. In the latter, current psychology strives to determine the psychological factors involved in its development, maintenance, chronification, treatment and / or recovery (especially the psychology of health).

    In such cases, to the pain is added the psychological and physical suffering, as well as the tension, Which in turn fuel that same pain, producing a vicious cycle.

    This tool allows you to work in different ways, with the aim of reducing or eliminating chronic pain. In addition, it also allows you to work with acute pain in cases where this pain is of no use to the body (it is not functional).

    Hypnosis for the treatment of pain is based on the idea that pain is a biopsychosocial phenomenon where emotions, behaviors and thoughts play a key role. Thus, hypnosis can be used to promote changes in these factors and hence reduce pain.

    How is it used to relieve discomfort?

    Hypnosis, just like relaxation, it can be applied as a stand-alone technique or as part of other therapies. When included in other techniques, results usually improve.

    Hypnosis for the treatment of pain can help reduce anxiety and thus indirectly act on pain.

    On the other hand, hypnosis can be a mechanism with that the patient concentrates on a stimulus and leaves the painful sensation in the unconscious part. Sometimes even the belief that hypnosis will work can change the patient’s beliefs and a “placebo effect” can appear and reduce pain (Moix, 2002).


      An element to consider also to apply hypnosis in therapy (and, in particular, to hypnosis to treat pain), essential for its development, is the practice of self-hypnosis in the patient.

      The goal is for the patient to practice and learn to apply hypnosis be able to relieve pain where and when you want, beyond the consultation situation.

      scientific proof

      Several scientific studies have demonstrated the utility of hypnosis for the treatment of pain and for other types of problems or pathologies, coupled with improvement or therapeutic options. even in many countries this tool is included in public health.

      The May Clinic in New York conducted a meta-study on hypnosis in 2005, which revealed 19 pathologies where hypnosis was favorable and indicated. It is also supported by various studies published in prestigious medical journals such as Nature, Science and Oncology.

      On the other hand, hypnosis in the medical field is used in many hospitals and clinics around the world. It is also a technique studied in most medical universities in the Saxon field. It is also used in Europe, in cities like Belgium and France, and if the patient wishes, as psychic anesthesia or in addition to chemical anesthesia.

      In the clinical field, pain hypnosis is currently used in Spain, in the pain unit of the University Hospital of Tarragona, in patients with fibromyalgia and by self-hypnosis. It is also used in the Dream Unit of the Rubber Clinic in Madrid and in La Paz Hospital in Madrid, in Oncology (by a group of volunteers).

      Myths and misunderstandings

      There are a number of myths about hypnosis that we need to debunk. Here we are going to talk about three:

      1. Aggravation of physical or mental illness

      Hypnosis itself does not worsen or worsen physical or mental illness, however poor practice of therapy in a hypnotic process on the part of the professional, it could be harmful.

      2. The hypnotist can do whatever he wants with the hypnotist

      This is not the case; all hypnosis is in fact self-hypnosis, and therefore the hypnotized person (or patient) agrees to make things happen. If the hypnotist has given instructions against his morals or his will, the patient might simply ignore this suggestion, In addition to getting out of the hypnotic process whenever you want.

      3. Hypnosis does not require effort on the part of the patient

      Although during the hypnosis session you may experience the mental work as automatic and pleasurable, the person remains in an active state which requires effort. In addition, their involvement and a good predisposition are necessary for it to be effective.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Merskey, H. and Bogduk, N. (1994). Description of chronic pain syndromes and definitions of pain terms. In: Classification of chronic pain, 2nd ed. Seattle, WA: IASP Press
      • Moix, J. (2002). Hypnosis in the treatment of pain. Journal of the Spanish Pain Society, 9,525-532
      • Jensen, M. and Patterson, DR (2006). Hypnotic treatment of chronic pain. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 29, 95-124.
      • Moix, J. and Casado, MI (2011). Psychological therapies for the treatment of chronic pain. Official College of Psychologists of Madrid: Clinic and Health, 22 (1), 41-50.

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