Hypnosis for Pain (cont.)

In a study by Spiegel and Harvard psychologist Steven Kosslyn, PhD, published in the August 2000 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, subjects were hypnotized and told that the black-and-white pictures they were looking at were color. Blood flow increased in the part of the brain that processes color vision. In other words, although the subjects were viewing black-and-white photos, their brains behaved as if they were seeing colors.

Hypnotizing Yourself

For my antimigraine campaign, the idea was to create an experience of calm. At my appointment with the hypnotherapist, I listened to his voice saying that the muscles in my body might begin to lengthen, that I could discover just how comfortable I could become. "How pleasant it is to have a moment when doing nothing is the right thing to be doing," he said. He suggested that when I became completely conscious, I would discover that I could enjoy all of these comforts, even with my eyes open.

I suspect my sessions allowed me to incorporate a deepened sense of relaxation into my daily life, which alleviated the stress that was partly responsible for triggering my migraines. People often picture specific images to achieve a goal. To soften a headache, for example, I might have conjured up an ice pack on my head. For general pain relief, says Lynch, "you might focus on a part of the body as a control center. Then you turn down pain as you would turn down the volume of a radio."

Clinicians use a variety of tests to determine susceptibility to hypnosis, but chances are that if you can immerse yourself in your imagination -- if you easily get absorbed in novels, for example -- you can be hypnotized. The technique employs powers of attention similar to those involved in watching a film. "When you enter a theater, you're aware of the other 200 or 300 people," says Levitan. "But when the movie begins, you concentrate on it and lose track of the audience. You choose to switch your focus." Motivation plays a key role in hypnosis, and the best way to find out if it will help you is to try it. "My experience has been that most people who need hypnosis for pain control can use it successfully," he says.

It's possible to induce a hypnotic state in yourself and conduct your own session -- which is the goal for many people. A licensed practitioner can facilitate learning the technique, however. "Most people do better the first time with someone helping," says Lynch. But he stresses, "All hypnosis is really self-hypnosis. The hypnotherapist is guiding you to do something for yourself."

For me, that something was reclaiming my time. Finally, I could delve into my books without the fear that advancing hammers would chase me through the pages.

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Last Editorial Review: 1/30/2005 11:14:47 PM


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