The Western Australian principal of the Australian Academy of Hypnosis says he would like to see hypnotherapy as a more sought after and accepted therapy for pain management.
John Vernes said he would like to see hypnotherapy used in more fields of therapy and in conjunction with other professional therapists instead of “being a last resort” when other options and treatments had failed.
“Hypnotherapy as a tool should be utilised, not just for smokers or weight loss but for things such as surgery recovery or drug addiction,” he said.
Mr Vernes specialises in treating patients coping with pain management, sickness, disease, or chronic pain.
He said he usually accepted more serious cases referred by GPs and other specialists.
“I prefer to specialise in the hard and the tricky,” he said.
“When specialists have exhausted their ways of helping they will refer on and seek a little further to get things sorted which i think is very healthy,” he said.
At a recent AAH hypnotic anaesthesia training workshop for trained hypnotherapists, Mr Vernes demonstrated an anaesthetic response in patients under hypnosis before inserting syringes through pinched skin on their forearms.
“Its interesting when you have a needle poking through your hand,” he later told InkWire.
“You can’t feel it, but you can still move your hand and see it.
“There’s no pain.
“It’s a very strange but effective technique.
“It feels exactly like anaesthetic.”
He said hypnosis was essentially defined by two main components being the “altered state” and the “role of suggestion”.
Academy of Applied Hypnosis executive director Leon Cowen is a Sydney-based hypnotherapist with 48 years experience in hypnosis education in Australia.
Mr Cowen opted to use self-hypnosis as an alternative form of pain management during his colonoscopy during his three-month recovery after coronary heart bypass surgery.
He said everybody can access and practice basic forms of personal suggestion and will, which are very similar to hypnosis.
“We all have the ability to do these types of things,” he said before mentioning South Sydney Rabbitohs’ player Sam Burgess’ performance in the 2014 NRL Grand Final.
Burgess fractured his cheek bone in two places during the first minutes of the game, and continued on playing to win the title of Man of the Match.
“That would be an exact case where he mentally was so focused on the game he just used his own skills set, which is hypnosis to get rid of the pain and keep going,” Mr Cowen said.
“Hypnosis is using that potential.”
Hypnotherapist Ian Last has worked with many women in child birth, and chronic pain sufferers.
He said hypnosis was able to influence the body’s automatic responses and change the way people perceive otherwise painful sensations.
“The subconscious mind can be viewed as our auto-pilot,” he said.
“It controls almost everything from regulating body temperature and blood pressure, initiating the flight-or-fight response during danger, or even causing our fingers to prune when wet.”
He said most medical professionals in WA were positive towards hypnotherapy, if a little too busy to be able to pay much attention to it.
“Most of them are actually quite open towards hypnosis,” he said.
“They know it takes time to do.”
Mr Vernes said time was a large factor in the therapy being under-used by medical professionals who “only had half an hour at best to consult with a patient”.
“A decent hypnotherapy session takes sometimes up to two hours,” he said.
Mr Cowen said medical experts often prefer to use anaesthetic drugs rather than hypnosis which does not work on 100 per cent of patients.
“Whereas drugs, they try to make for everyone,” he said.
During his heart operation, Mr Cowen said surgeons needed to cut through the breast bone of his sternum and open his ribs up to access his heart.
“Afterwards staff were surprised,” he said.
“They expected I would need drugs.
“They kept asking me if I needed anything and I kept saying: ‘no thank you I’m using hypnosis’ , but they kept checking.
“I had set myself up beforehand so I would not need any pain management medication, and so I would be comfortable.”
Ellen Kennedy suffered from breast cancer and received hypnotherapy for her pain management during chemotherapy and her breast removal surgery.
Ms Kennedy said it was the nurses during her operation who first noticed she was under hypnosis.
“When I woke up and they asked if I needed pain killers, I simply said: ‘no thank you, I don’t need any’.
“I was just all blissful and so relaxed.”
Mr Vernes said one of the best things about hypnosis for pain management was being able to reduce the volume of medication required to manage pain.
“A lot of the times we can pretty much get people down to 10, 20, or 30 per cent of what they were taking before, for the same effect,” he said.
“The frequency can be decreased and the effectiveness increased.
“Just getting the volume down can be a huge relief for people financially as well as health-wise.”
UWA obstetric anaesthesia chairman Michael Paech said psychological and physical therapies were incredibly important, especially for what was termed “chronic pain”.
Professor Paech said hypnotherapy had a very modest effect on post operative pain and across a broad population was “ineffective” against pain management for procedures such as child labour.
But Adelaide Women’s and Children’s Hospital senior consultant anaesthetist Allan Cyna who is also the South Australian Society of Hypnosis director of studies said hypnosis could be extremely effective in influencing the body and managing pain.
“The main use of hypnosis in anaesthesia is in adapting the techniques to effectively communicate with patients when they are distressed and unable to cooperate with their care consciously,” Dr Cyna said.
In 2013, Dr Cyna published evidence involving a trial study on hypnosis’ impact on pain in women following caesarians.
Out of 252 women who were surveyed, 77.8 per cent reported they were comfortable after previously reporting they had been in pain.
From the 196 women who reported comfort, only 7.4 per cent requested additional pain management.
“I would in rare circumstances, consider using hypnotherapy over anaesthetic drugs in surgery but would need another hypnotherapist to work with me to achieve this,” he said.
Professor Paech said few doctors and even fewer anaesthetists were trained or experienced with hypnosis.
“It may be effective in altering some behaviours,” he said.
“However in our society hypnosis is almost never used in hospital settings so we have no decent experience.
“From what is published about it and talking to the extremely few colleagues who are proficient at using it, it is not seen as useful for anaesthesia and has a limited place in pain management.”
Mr Vernes said hypnotherapy was increasing because people were now looking for therapy alternatives.
“It’s particularly good for people who may be allergic to anaesthetic or who are in danger from anaesthetic drugs,” he said.
Mr Last said hypnosis was a complementary discipline which should never replace medical care but instead work alongside it in the same way other therapists already did.
“All uses of pain management should only be used after a doctor’s referral, and any properly trained hypnotherapist knows this,” he said.