Hypnosis conquers the operating room. No longer considered a mere experiment or a bizarre “medical stunt”, hypnosis has now become a reality in many countries, becoming a standard practice adopted by many hospitals.
Self hypnosis with headphones
In the UK, for example, just a few weeks ago the Royal College of Anesthetists (RCoA) urged healthcare professionals to offer patients self-hypnosis audio to listen to before undergoing notoriously cumbersome procedures, such as a mammogram or a colonoscopy. Even earlier the RCoA itself, together with the British Society of Clinical & Academic Hypnosis, has released four audio files that can be used to “hypnotise” patients.
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The cases in Italy: Terni and Cagliari
Other hospitals around the world, such as the USA, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands, also use hypnosis in clinical practice. While in Italy there have been individual cases, some of which have also attracted a lot of clamor. Such as, for example, the surgery to remove a brain tumor at the Santa Maria di Terni hospital on a patient who was awake but under hypnosis.
These are glaring cases, but which in any case can only be repeated on specific patients and in certain situations. On the other hand, the cases in which doctors use hypnosis in addition to anesthetic drugs are more frequent, generally before or after surgery. As happened last November at the Brotzu in Cagliari, where hypnosis was used to manage the entire post-operative phase, right from the awakening, of a patient who received a liver transplant under traditional anesthesia.
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Reduced pain and anxiety for women with breast surgery
The applicability of hypnosis can be even more extensive when used to make patients feel less anxious when undergoing particular procedures during which they remain awake, such as biopsies or colonoscopies. This can then reduce the amount of sedatives or painkillers that need to be administered. A randomized study of US women who had a tissue sample taken from a breast lump found that listening to “hypnotic audios” reduced pain and anxiety.
Reading a story to children as a pre-operative practice
A similar approach could also prove very useful before surgery requiring general anesthesia. As demonstrated by a recent study conducted in Canada, which involved 160 children about to undergo cardiac catheterization under general anesthesia. The results showed that children who listened to a nurse read a text from a script for hypnotic purposes in the pre-operative phase, needed a lower dose of sedatives.
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“Hypnosis is not an alternative to anesthesia, it is an adjunct, to manage preoperative anxiety,” he says Samantha Blackan anesthetist who helped develop the RCoA records, in an article published by the New Scientist.
In addition to listening to hypnosis audios or a script reading by a healthcare professional, staff can also use more informal “hypnotic suggestions”. In particular, they can insert some key phrases during the conversation with the patient, to help relax him. For example, they may tell him “you are very tired, rest” or “your eyelids are getting heavy”.
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Listen to audios that predispose to calm even before the intervention
At a conference on “adjunctive medical hypnosis” held at the Royal Society of Medicine in London in early April, Black also said patients should be advised to listen to “hypnotic” recordings several times before undergoing a medical procedure.
“Sometimes, patients can wait a couple of hours before being operated on,” he says. “It’s very difficult to relax in that kind of environment,” she adds.
There is currently no data showing how often anesthesiologists or other healthcare professionals actually use these hypnotic techniques, either nationally or internationally. It is not part of standard medical training, even for those studying to be anesthesiologists.
However, in many countries hospitals and professional organizations are increasingly offering training sessions on hypnotic techniques. Something that, according to Black, “should be integrated into the medical school curriculum.”