Can hypnosis replace anesthesia?

Using a "modified state of conscious" to dull the pain of minor surgery is moving into the medical mainstream — at least in Europe

Hypnosis is increasingly being used in surgical situations so while a doctor is slicing into a patients skin, the patient's mind is concentrating on pleasant place.
(Image credit: Image Source/Corbis)

Hypnosis, once the stuff of parlor tricks, is being taken seriously by a growing number of medical experts. Not only can clinical hypnosis help to treat some diseases and health conditions, but it's also being used at a growing number of hospitals in place of anesthesia. Doctors are finding that using hypnosis in combination with local anesthesia can eliminate the need for general anesthesia for some surgeries, reducing costs and speeding recovery times. And procedures normally performed with local anesthesia can be done with hypnosis and less pain medicine. Here, a brief guide:

How does hypnosis work?

It has been described as a "modified state of consciousness." While the patient's mind is concentrating on a pleasant place or an enjoyable experience, it doesn't process some immediate physical sensations as painful or negative. So while surgeons are cutting into skin, for example, the patient might be thinking about being on a tropical beach with waves lapping at his feet, and wouldn't feel any pain. Hypnosis is typically performed by a professional hypnotherapist, who uses verbal repetition and mental imagery to get the patient into a pleasurable state of focused concentration.

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Where is clinical hypnosis being used?

It's increasingly used in mainstream European hospitals and clinics, and with considerable success. France, Belgium, Germany, and the U.K. have perhaps the highest number of clinicians who practice hypnosis. In fact, the French Society of Anesthesiologists last year created a new division in their group that's dedicated to clinical hypnosis. At some hospitals, roughly half of all operations involve hypnosis.

What conditions can benefit from hypnosis?

Besides minor surgery, hypnosis has been used to successfully treat anxiety, obesity, stress, nail biting, smoking addiction, chronic pain, panic attacks, and gastrointestinal disorders. Clinical hypnosis has been remarkably effective in cases of irritable bowel syndrome, with an estimated 75 to 85 percent remission rate. "This is a very, very high success rate," says Dr. Judy Coldoff, president of the Canadian Federation of Clinical Hypnosis, as quoted by Canada's Globe and Mail. "We don't know how it works; it just does."

Why isn't hypnosis used more in the United States?

Some experts say a lack of consistency with hypnosis is a concern. "It's not used routinely because it's not effective in everyone and it takes awhile," says Dr. Mark Warner, president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, as quoted by the Associated Press.

Sources: Associated Press, Globe and Mail, International Business Times, Mayo Clinic

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