What is Medical Hypnosis? How can a Psychologist help?
The term ‘medical hypnosis’ broadly pertains to hypnosis used in healthcare treatment for a range of health issues. The ‘medical’ part reflects the reality that many of these diagnoses and issues first present in a medical setting, such as a doctor’s office or hospital.
What are we talking about here? When patients seek out hypnosis for health reasons, the list of such diagnoses can be very long and broad. Examples might include headaches, insomnia, a range of gastrointestinal disorders (IBS, IBD, Crohn’s), fibromyalgia, and cancer.
As you might infer, the role of hypnosis in a medical treatment varies depending on what the diagnosis is.
Hypnosis for Health: Differential Treatment Pathways
In some cases, such as with psychosomatic disorders – where there is a discernible medical issue with a psychological cause or significant influence – medical hypnosis is used as a primary treatment technique. Oftentimes in such cases, the role of the medical hypnosis is to decrease reactivity. Mental/emotional and body/somatic reactivity are closely aligned, and oftentimes the mental/emotional reactivity is being expressed through bodily symptoms. In these treatments, hypnosis is used to directly (e.g. through direct suggestion and practiced techniques) and indirectly (e.g. through indirect suggestion and metaphor) decrease reactivity and symptom intensity.
In other cases, such as cancer, there is a clear medical diagnosis that is not primarily influenced by psychological factors. In these cases, hypnosis is used for secondary sequellae of the presenting diagnosis. For example, a patient with a cancer diagnosis might have secondary pain as a result of the cancer or cancer treatment. In such cases, hypnosis could effectively be used to reduce pain experiencing.
Why a Psychologist?
This is another question that I often hear from patients who have been referred by doctors for medical hypnosis. As I always explain, when I utilize hypnosis in such treatments, I am not providing a medical technique or treatment, despite the term. The more appropriate term is probably ‘clinical hypnosis’ or ‘psychological hypnosis.’ However, because I have an interest in health psychology and specialty in clinical hypnosis, I am often brought in as part of a larger interdisciplinary medical team and treatment process. Patients who are referred to me in such cases may often have neglected the psychological role in their medical diagnoses. Hypnosis provides a helpful pathway in integrating mind and body processes.
Medical Hypnosis for Health: More Information
Interested in learning more? There are a number of ways you can learn more about how medical hypnosis for health issues works. If you are in the Philadelphia region, I will be giving a presentation on this subject, entitled “Hypnosis & Your Health: Everything You Wanted to Know” at the Free Library of Philadelphia (Central Parkway Library location) on October 2nd. Interested in attending? RSVP here.
There are a number of local and national treatment resources for medical hypnosis. In addition to the materials and services through Attune, Philadelphia also is home to the Greater Philadelphia Society of Clinical Hypnosis (GPSCH), the local component section of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH). GPSCH has a directory of treatment providers, as does ASCH. ASCH is the go-to organization for national healthcare providers who utilize clinical hypnosis.
Eric Spiegel, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and practice director of Attune Philadelphia Therapy Group. He is the President of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) for 2018-2019, and has won numerous awards from ASCH, including their Early Career Achievement Award (2012). Dr. Spiegel is the co-author of the book Attachment in Group Psychotherapy, published by the American Psychological Association. He has also published journal articles and book chapters on subjects such as attachment therapy, hypnosis, group therapy, anxiety, trauma, and relationships.