Before reading on, it is important to mention, that if you have been diagnosed with cancer or any illness, hypnotherapy is not a treatment in itself, and it should only be used under medical referral or supervision. In practice it is usually welcomed and encouraged by your Consultant or GP as an extremely useful adjunct to conventional treatment.
From the moment someone discovers a lump, or a change in their body, an altered state of consciousness can occur. It isn’t always the case, but from that moment on a powerful negative self-hypnotic trance state can result.
In the growing field of Psychoneuroimmunology, it is suggested that hypnosis and self-hypnosis can not only alleviate symptoms associated with cancer therapy, but also the outcome as well. (Spiegel,1979. The Lancet.) There are many studies currently underway to replicate Spiegel’s research results. Because of this work and similar findings, cancer patients frequently contact hypnotherapists for assistance, both to experience and to learn these techniques.
The premise being that it is almost universally accepted that the mind can have an effect on neuro-endocrine function. (Anderson 1996; Fife1996)
There are a number of areas in which Hypnotherapy can help;
By this we mean pre and post operative rehearsal. Anxiety levels are increasingly elevated, at least, 2-4 days pre-operatively and remain elevated for at least 2 weeks post-operatively. (Pennebaker,1977).
As many as 80% of all patients within the Oncology departments experience heightened anxiety or stress. Reasons may include; fear of the outcome, being confined within the MRI scanner, feeling abandoned, unfamiliar sounds, waiting and lack of information. For some, anxiety turns to panic, making treatment impossible.
Hypnotherapy and deep trance relaxation allows the patients perception of a situation to change. This is very empowering and can often have dramatic results.
Hypnotherapy helps patients with heightened suggestibility to reframe innocuous statements by health workers. For example, statements such as ‘You’ll never be the same after this’ may be construed in a positive or negative light. Either way, the patients response will exert a powerful influence over their disease progression or remission.
Effecting non-pharmacological analgesia is a much sought after skill and can be learned.
Hypnotherapy can also increase feelings of comfort and well-being with regard to repetitive invasive procedures.
Certain strategies can reduce the side effects of chemotherapy. The mind can easily be ‘infected’ by the language on the labels themselves. For example, try to stay calm and positive whilst reading:
‘Cyto-Toxic – Fatal if administered in any other way than intravenously’,
or to the nurses wearing special purple gloves, – A patient told me that when he asked why she had to wear them, he was told ” If we get it on us, it causes cancer”!! – to the reading and signing of forms that spell out some of the ‘possible’ side effects – the first one being ; Death! (Note next time you read the forms or information that accompany medication how little – if anything at all – suggests by taking the medication you might do well!).
I’d like to know how many people read the ‘possible’ side effects (where the mind has already turned ‘possible’ into definite), and said No thanks! Not many I’ll warrant – Because most people have by then put their trust in the Oncologist and don’t need their mind infected – the part of the mind that doesn’t judge, the part of the mind that can even destroy the host by ‘believing’ a suggestion. They want to hear they’re going to do well. Most people aren’t stupid – they understand there are no guarantees.
The mind is quite capable of producing side effect symptoms such as nausea as one enters the car park of the treatment centre – It doesn’t require the actual chemotherapy treatment to do that. If the subconscious mind ‘believes’ chemotherapy is ‘poison’ then it will attempt to overide the conscious mind that says, ‘No, it’s fine’ by producing symptoms that will attempt to prevent you going into the building. To have such an imbalance in the mnd is not only distressing but damaging to the efficacy of the expensive treatment.
Achieving a deep trance relaxation state reduces stress, heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. Further, by achieving a lowered metabolic rate the production of ‘free radicals’ are reduced. This is considered important, as ‘free radicals’ are highly destructive molecules that are increasingly implicated in the development of cancer.
So Hypnotherapy and related procedures such as relaxation training and guided imagery improve the side effects of chemotherapy, help patients adjust to disease, counteract pain and anxiety and alter mechanisms of immunity to improve prognosis. (Morrow and Dobkin, 1988; Genius, 1995).
In another study using hypnosis, intervention subjects had better immune function and reported experiencing more vigour, better coping behaviour and less depression than the controls. (Fawzy et al., 1993).
Imagine two people roughly the same age, sex, etc. both diagnosed with the same cancer at the same time and at the same stage. One develops a powerful negative self-fulfilling attitude – in effect gives up, whilst the other harnesses all their resources and is determined – perhaps for example, motivated to see their first grandchild.
Would you believe that their disease progression to be identical? If your answer is ‘No’, then it might be interesting to reflect why there isn’t a corresponding degree of effort and time devoted to the mental aspect of the disease as well. After all, is it such a dangerous notion to suggest that cancer isn’t merely a physical disease, but if allowed to infect thoughts and beliefs, might become even more pernicious?
This isn’t the same, as some detractors would have you believe, that the above view is just a wild claim of ‘thinking or wishing it all away’. It is merely an acknowledgment that the mental aspect, if targeted at the outset, can exert a very significant influence, thereby helping improve the efficacy of the primary conventional treatment.
Hypnotherapy is a powerful tool and can help reframe, re-associate, motivate, achieve a balance, reduce fear, reduce confusion, and marshal your own existing resources. I think it’s fair to say that conventional treatments targets none of these.
Although there is little, at the moment, in the way of empirical evidence to support these views, I believe that it says more about the lack of research than it does about the therapy. After all, 50 years ago, the ideas behind Psychoneuroimmunology were considered radical.
However there is increasing evidence that achieving deep relaxation boosts your ‘immune system’ by allowing your system to produce more of the cells that can ‘attack’ cancer cells. Further, and some say controversially, visualization and imagery techniques are usually incorporated to actively stimulate the body’s physiology. For example, imagining ones own healing resources working together with the ‘chemotherapy allies’ can exert a powerful influence on a treatments efficacy.
In a recent study undertaken by Professor Leslie Walker, cancer patients who received psychological support that included progressive relaxation techniques and guided imagery, showed an enhanced quality of life, better moods, helped existing coping strategies and crucially had an effect on the immune system by facilitating the multiplication of T-cells and B-cells.
Another benefit is that the patient has a structure to follow and actively participates in the treatment. This is very empowering.
By this I don’t necessarily mean religiosity or Spirituality. If you only relied on your sensory data your world would be very limited indeed. For example according to your senses you don’t have a car parked outside – you only believe you have. Beliefs allow you to have a much larger view of the world.
An important, if not crucial key to any disease progression or remission is your belief system. There are many aspects to a belief system. Once a hope or thought becomes a belief, it becomes ‘true’ for you and exerts a powerful influence over the course of any disease. – either negatively or positively.
All our beliefs are part of a system – they are not in isolation. so for example, if I believe that the fruit I eat will do me good because it’s healthy, this belief is bound up with the belief that the person who I buy my fruit from only sells organic produce, and so on. Of course any belief can be kept if one is prepared to adjust the rest of the system.
Beliefs can form who we are. in other words one might describe themselves as ‘ill’ or ‘diseased’ or link ourselves to a particular dogma or faith. We can bound ourselves so tightly that no new idea or suggestion has the temerity to seek admittance. Once our beliefs are ‘operational’ then even our choice of Newspaper becomes fixed and we enter the blurred world of whether the Newspaper reflects our beliefs or whether perhaps the Newspaper is influencing them.
Of course we weren’t born with our beliefs. We learnt them from experience, significant others, Peers, Media, etc. So it might be safe to presume that some of them are plain ‘wrong’.
Beliefs are sometimes thought of as a survival tool, but personally I feel they can be just as likely to cause a risk to survival. After all, the reward for belief, is eventually seeing what you believe – whether it be right or wrong!
I think it was Bertrand Russell, when asked whether he was prepared to die for his beliefs, said, – ‘Oh my God, no, I might be wrong’. (Badly quoted).
Power of your mind
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine cutting a lemon into quarters. Now, imagine sucking on one quarter, feel the juice on your tongue, you might already be experiencing an increase in your saliva production.
For the sake of space and your time, I will assume that one accepts the ‘condition’ of stigmata (wounds similar to those of Christ appearing on the body). Most scientific explanations usually come down on the side of a heightened form of self-hypnosis or auto-suggestion, rather than caused by a confidence trick, a new biological condition, or a true numinous experience.
Approximately 300 people have experienced this ‘condition’, from Francis of Assisi to Padre Pio in the 1960’s. So it is rare.
My point is that, between increasing your saliva production – lets call it point A, which took you no practice or prior skills, all the way to experiencing stigmata, call that point B, a line may be drawn.
We are all somewhere on that line. With assistance, support and guidance, we could all move further forward – sometimes dramatically. It is important to note here that this is not offering ‘false hope’ or a panacea.
The premise is, I believe, a reasonable one, namely that you can make a difference, and exert an increased influence by using your mind. By how much and by how far is not and never can be guaranteed.
As our world becomes ever more complex, it is even more crucial to our psychological well-being to achieve a balance between our inner awareness, that allows valuable insights to reach our conscious minds, and our outer awareness.
Many believe that with practice, our sense of spirituality is heightened leading to deeper understanding and to feelings of contentment.
I’m very aware that the language used in describing spirituality can often sound peculiar, hippyish or new ageist – However, what is in no doubt are the feelings one can access.
“In all things, it is better to hope than to despair”
You might find it of interest to click on this Hypno-Chemo programme link.
Below are some principles and ideas developed by William James.
I feel these ideas, although pertaining to a belief in God, can be related to hypnosis, the mind, cancer and ‘false hope’.
….James notes that the best investigator for scientific endeavors is one that is keenly interested in truth, but has a great deal of concern over being duped. Science, unfortunately, has made this concern over dupery into an technique–the method of verification. Science, James says, has fallen in love with the method. One can even say that science has ceased to seek for truth itself. It is only the truth that is technically verifiable which interests science. “The truth of truths might come in merely affirmative form,” writes James, “and she [science] would decline to touch it.”
The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy.
New York: Dover Publications, 1956.
…Biologically considered, our minds are as ready to grind out falsehood as veracity, and he who says, “Better go without belief forever than believe a lie!” merely shows his own preponderant private horror of becoming a dupe. He may be critical of many of his desires and fears, but this fear he slavishly obeys. He cannot imagine anyone questioning its binding force. For my own part, I have also a horror of being duped; but I can believe that worse things than being duped may happen to a man in this world….
Extract taken from The Will to Believe – William James
James is willing to go out on a limb, to risk being wrong, when this is the only way to place oneself in a position to know the truth.
James assumes that if God exists then the knowledge that God exists is an immensely valuable sort of knowledge in itself, whereas the knowledge that God does not exist, if God does not exist, is worth much less.
The Cliffordian suspends judgment because he would rather miss out on the truth than risk being wrong. James himself regards the value of being right about God’s existence as worth any risks that belief might bring with it. And so he believes: not on the strength of evidence, but rather simply on the strength of a wish to believe that God exists if God does in fact exist.