ONS 2014: Benefits of Hypnosis for Cancer Patients

May 5, 2014
Michelle Bragazzi, BS, RN
Michelle Bragazzi, BS, RN

According to a recent study, 89% of patients would be willing to use hypnosis to control side effects associated with cancer treatment. So, if patient are willing to try this, why are we not utilizing this kind of therapy more often? Myths associated with hypnosis are generally the reason.

The brain is a powerful tool in helping to reduce stress and minimize pain, so why aren’t we using it more with cancer patients?

Hypnosis is defined as the acceptance of suggestion by the subconscious mind. The “trance” oftentimes associated with hypnosis can be induced by a hypnotist or even self-induced with proper instruction.

This topic was presented at a session titled “Understanding Hypnosis: Uses and Benefits as a Complementary Therapy for Patients With Cancer,” by Bee Epstein-Shepherd, PhD, CHt, DCH, at the 2014 ONS Annual Congress.

“The vast majority of patients (89%) would be willing to use hypnosis to control side effects associated with cancer treatment,” wrote the study authors in an article published in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis. If patients are willing to try this, why are we not utilizing this kind of therapy more often? The lack of education and trained personnel, as well as the time it takes compared with administering medications are a few of the reasons why hypnosis isn’t used more often in the clinical setting, not to mention the fact that some folks still believe that it’s a form of “voodoo.” Myths associated with hypnosis are generally part of the reason

With the increased use of integrative medicine in oncology, practitioners may want to consider this kind of therapy for their patients. In order to do this, we need to start dispelling the myths.

Before offering this kind of therapy to patients, let’s consider hypnosis vs meditation vs guided imagery:

Hypnosis: Changes the mind, leading one into a trance-like state, creating focus and relaxation.

Meditation: Helps “clear” the mind (excellent for stress reduction and lowering blood pressure, but takes time to learn).

Guided imagery: A form of hypnosis without induction (quick fix for stress reduction, but short-lived).

What are the benefits of hypnosis?

• Relief of anxiety and fear

• Relief of pain

• May reduce treatment-induced side effects, such as nausea

• Controlled by the patient

• Lowers stress levels

• Not harmful to the patient

• May be more cost-effective when compared with medication use for pain, nausea, and anxiety

Face-to-face delivery or via audio are the most common ways in which hypnosis therapy can be delivered. For cancer patients who are at home, audio or self-hypnosis may minimize side effects and help with symptom management. For patients in the medical setting, audio or self-hypnosis may help before, during, or after a surgical procedure, as well as during infusion therapy. Offering this kind of therapy to patients upfront (at the point of diagnosis) may provide them with the tools necessary to cope with their diagnosis, treatment, side effects, survivorship, or even at the end of life.

A good quality of life is what we want for all of our cancer patients, but it’s finding that common ground on how to get the patient there that is oftentimes the issue. The research is there to support the benefit of hypnosis; we just need to have an open mind in order to offer it.

Would you suggest hypnosis for your cancer patients?