Updated: Jan 17, 2020
Why hypnosis may be effective for pain'
BY ALBERT NERENBERG
When people ask me if hypnosis can help with pain I usually ask them a simple question: Does it hurt when you sleep? This is always an interesting moment, as I often see them look up and around. "No pain."
When people sleep they generally report afterwards they feel no pain, even if they are otherwise experiencing intense or seemingly endless chronic pain. They may feel pain as they fall asleep or it the pain may suddenly roar back as they wake up, but deep in sleep, it seems like it’s entirely gone. This is a tough question to answer with certainty. We’re generally unconscious when we sleep so not in a great position to judge anything. But even people in the most excruciating agony, after surgery, can often slip into momentary peaceful pain free sleep.
This is mind blowing because we experience pain as an objective fact.
Is it possible there’s a way of dialing it up or down?
This is where hypnosis comes in. The term hypnosis itself translates literally from the Greek as “like sleep” because early researchers saw commonalities in the states.
Depending on the style, in hypnosis, we often try to get people into what is called a somnambulant trance. This is a deep trance, where people actually look like they’re sleeping. This trance has a certain signature. People may slump slightly. People’s eyelids are often flickering, possibly a REM type state, and typically their muscles go limp. Stage Hypnotists often test this lifting a person’s wrist. A person in deep trance will feel limp without any tension But I know what you’re thinking. If sleep can turn off pain, could hypnotic sleep turn off pain too?
This phenomena was explored along time ago in depth by James Esdaille a British surgeon who pioneered hypnotic techniques while in India in the 1800s. Esdaille would frequently find himself dealing with patients who required immediate surgery and
sometimes without appropriate anesthetic. On one occasion, Esdaille had a patient who was suffering a botched operation on his testicles. Esdaille put the man, who was in tremendous pain, into a deep trance, and operated without anesthesia. It worked. Naturally, following that feat Esdaille became a legend in India writing: “I beg, to state, for the satisfaction of those who have not yet a practical knowledge of the subject, that I have seen no bad consequences whatever arise from persons being operated on when in the mesmeric trance,” he wrote. Esdaille’s techniques arguably lay the foundation for medical hypnosis, a specialized field where heavily trained hypnotists help dentists or doctor perform surgery on patients while in trance.
Why didn’t anyone tell me about his before, you ask? The understanding and application of hypnosis is still a fringe One of the signs that someone is deep in trance, if the flickering of the eyelids suggesting REM, and possibly a sleep state.
Major research has not yet been done, but if hypnosis is a kind of induced sleep state, it shows it incredible promise for pain. But not without some important consideration. The problem with hypnosis for pain is that it could be too effective. You can’t just go suspend pain as you would quickly learn we need pain to protect us. A 2015 French study of Somnambulants, people who sleepwalk, raised eyebrows. The study showed that sleepwalkers often injure themselves, precisely because sleepwalking turns off common pain sensation.
Pain it seems, may be managed if someone is put into a somnambulant trance. But the catch is that not everyone can go into this level trance. People who are more hypnotizable that can achieve this. Hypnotizability like many things in life, perhaps, can be improved with practice. What hypnosis may reveal is that pain is not an undeniable reality, but perhaps a signal the body gives the brain. And if that signal can be managed by the miracle of sleep, perhaps we can manage it with trance. Originally published in Live Pain Free Magazine