A woman sitting on a sofa experiencing pain

Pain Management With Hypnotherapy

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Pain Management With Hypnotherapy

Hypnosis has been widely acclaimed as an effective method of pain control, and it usually takes one of three forms.

  • Direct suggestion to change symptoms and ‘remove’ the pain
  • Dissociative approaches: encouraging the subject to forget the pain
  • Resource utilization: a more Ericksonian approach

Pain is one of the few areas in which hypnosis can be used in the absence of broader treatments. A number of studies have looked at the effectiveness of hypnosis in dealing with pain, either when used alone or alongside Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). There have been a number of meta-analyses done to look at the effectiveness of hypnosis in treating pain both as a standalone treatment and in addition to CBT.

How can hypnosis treat pain?

Hypnosis can be used to treat acute and chronic pain, pain in childbirth, and anxiety brought about by dental or medical procedures. Hypnosis results in an ultra-relaxed state of mind, opening the subject to positive suggestions that can be used to modify the subject’s perceptions, emotions, and behavior. It is intended to assist in controlling undesirable responses or habits or help them to deal with a wide range of medical conditions.

No one knows exactly how hypnosis reduces pain in subjects, but there are some common hypotheses:

  • Hypnosis activates the pain-inhibitory pathway from the brain to the spinal cord.
  • It may divert attention in the brain towards other things, meaning you feel less pain
  • It reduces the automatic muscle tightening that is associated with a pain response through relaxation.

Acute Pain

Although we cannot be completely sure how hypnosis reduces pain, research points to it being a very effective treatment. Burn patients especially find it to be effective. A study by Ewin in 1978 reported that burns patients who embraced hypnotism were easier to treat and experienced faster healing.

One approach to treat acute pain with hypnosis is to have the patient rate the pain that they are experiencing from one to ten and then ask them to assign it a color and a shape. The subject visualizes a liquid in the color chosen which pours into its corresponding 3D shape. The client is told to constantly watch the shape and liquid to see movement and change. They are then asked to describe any changes while being told to watch the shape and visualize movement. After the liquid and shape are gone, the client is asked to open his or her eyes and again rate the pain. The pain is typically reduced to a manageable level. Clients can be taught to use this technique themselves.

During a hypnosis session, clients experience relaxation and a decrease in pain levels from the hypnotic state itself or from the relaxation techniques used by the hypnotherapist. Clients are usually given a post-hypnotic suggestion in order to recover for example putting their hands together or humming a certain tune.

Studies on Chronic Pain

A study conducted on 35 cancer patients saw them randomly assigned to three groups: hypnosis, cognitive behavioral training, and attention (placebo). The results showed the hypnosis groups had a significant decrease in pain from chemotherapy when compared with the other two groups.

A review of research studies on the use of hypnosis for the management of chronic pain by Elkins, Jensen, and Patterson (2007) found that it supported the use of hypnosis for pain reduction in patients with arthritis, cancer, fibromyalgia, back pain, and sickle cell disease.


This is just a small part of what we can teach you about hypnosis for pain management. For further insight take a look at our packaged courses which will explore this and much more in further detail.