Listen: To Heal Your Pain
By Julie Peters
The most powerful way that the body knows how to speak—especially when we haven’t been listening particularly well—is through pain. Each of our bodies has its own unique pain language.
It can often feel like our bodies are working against us. They aren’t! Our bodies are always trying to help us, always trying to communicate what they need. They don’t always do it very well or conveniently, but when we get better at listening we can help ourselves return to balance.
When we have some tools to understand the meaning of our pain, our treatments, whether they are prescription, holistic, or both, work more effectively.
You can read this beautiful article by Julie Peters at:
In 2013, a Finnish study mapped common emotions in the body, analyzing surveys with about 700 volunteers from Finland, Sweden, and Taiwan. The study found that most emotions are felt similarly in the body, even when those people came from different cultures.
Anger tended to be felt in the top half of the body: the chest, head, and shoulders. Sadness was felt around the heart. Anxiety was felt mostly in the stomach (the solar plexus chakra or kidney region in TCM) and happiness was felt all over the body.
This study shows that we can start to learn the language of our bodies through the sensations of our emotions—they are, after all, called feelings because we feel them.
The idea that our bodies manifest our emotional pain is well-established. In the 1990s, Kaiser Permanente joined up with the Centers for Disease Control for a major study on adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs. They found that when children are exposed to certain adverse events in childhood, health outcomes later in life are drastically affected.
The ACEs the study focused on are exposure to violence, neglect, or abuse; divorce; a family member attempting suicide or dying by suicide; and having a parent in prison. The more of these that children were exposed to, the likelier they were to experience not just mental health problems but also heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Further, when children were exposed to a lot of stress during their developmental years, the proper functioning of the nervous system and the immune system was often compromised.
It’s long been understood in forms of alternative medicine that a history of trauma can show up in the body, and now scientific studies are beginning to show the truth of this. Adults recovering from ACEs greatly benefit from modalities that address the nervous system, such as yoga and therapy, alongside medication and other health interventions.
The Body as Metaphor
Many authors have explored how to understand the symptoms in the body through metaphor. The idea is that our body is essentially a manifestation of our unconscious mind. Especially when we don’t appropriately express our emotions, we have no choice but to sublimate them into the body.
Dr. Gabor Maté has written several books on this topic, including one called When the Body Says No, which is all about how trauma shows up as physical symptoms that metaphorically express the unspoken emotion. For example, a patient of Maté’s suffered from a condition called scleroderma, in which the skin and connective tissue in the body thicken and harden, making movement difficult and, in some cases, affecting internal organs. For this patient, there was a history of feeling trapped, stuck inside herself, unable to speak up about what she wanted to say.
In her book Your Body Speaks Your Mind, Deb Shapiro goes over a long list of symptoms and issues and explores how to understand them metaphorically. A sprained ankle, for example, might indicate that you feel conflicted or unsure about the direction you are going in your life . A literal limp might be trying to help you metaphorically slow down so that you can consider where you really want to go. Even if you don’t believe a whit of body-as-metaphor, the practice of listening to your pain rather than ignoring it can be a deeply self-loving practice.
When we have pain or illness in our bodies, we can ask ourselves a few questions that might help us understand what the body is trying to tell us. Relaxing deeply into the hypnogogic trance state and then asking these questions you can often not only find profound insights and answers but also deep healing.
By asking questions like these you might gain insight as to where the dis–ease is coming from so that we can learn to heal ourselves (with the help of whatever medical practitioners we trust).
• When did this condition start?
• What was my emotional state at the time?
• When did I get the signal that something was feeling wrong in my body?
• How did I respond to that signal?
• What does this condition allow me to do or avoid doing?
• What is the purpose of the part of my body that is affected?
• How does the condition present itself? [For example, is it forcing me to lie down? Are the runny nose and teary eyes of a cold giving me a chance to physiologically cry without actually facing my sadness?]
Looking at our physical symptoms this way certainly doesn’t replace the need for evidence-based medicine, but our pain may very well have useful messages for us. When we can begin to see our pain and illness not as annoying inconveniences but as major signals from our body that something is going on, we can slow down and find a new way to listen to ourselves.
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Hypnotherapy is a great resource for adjunct medical support. The applications are wide yet effective and hypnotherapy has been used successfully for people with a variety of medical conditions as well as help manage and control pain:
- Chronic Pain
- Headaches / Migraines
- Overactive Bladder Syndrome
- High Blood Pressure
- Fears and Phobias about medical procedures
- Nausea and Vomiting associated with chemotherapy and pregnancy
- Gastrointestinal Disorders (Ulcers, IBS, Colitis, Crohn’s Disease)
- Dermatologic Disorders (Eczema, Psoriasis, Warts)
Also, the Arthritis Foundation has an entire web page dedicated to hypnosis for pain relief of arthritis.
Benefits for Pain Management
75% of clinical and experimental participants with varying types of pain obtained substantial pain relief with hypnotherapy.
– American Psychological Association
Other studies have demonstrated its effectiveness for pain related to burns, cancer and rheumatoid arthritis and reduction of anxiety associated with surgery.
The American Psychological Association published a review of 18 hypnosis studies that showed that 75% of clinical and experimental participants with varying types of pain obtained substantial pain relief – supporting the claims of the effectiveness of hypnosis for pain management.
There is growing evidence and established research to suggest that hypnosis:
- Has a greater influence on the effects of pain rather than the sensation of pain
- May be more effective or at least equivalent to other treatments for acute and chronic pain
- Have the potential to save both money and time for patients and clinicians, if the patient responds to hypnosis
- May be able to provide analgesia, reduce stress, relieve anxiety, improve sleep, improve mood and reduce the need for opioids
- Can enhance the efficacy of other well-established treatments for pain
“The body is designed to heal itself. Although this complicated process does work automatically, it can be accelerated and enhanced by hypnotic techniques. By directing the subconscious mind to focus energy on a specific system in the body, more of your natural resources will go there.
“That means if, for example, you were burned, your body will naturally begin the healing process which may take a week to complete. If you were to employ hypnosis to quicken this process, you may complete the healing in half the time. At the very least, hypnosis is extremely effective to decrease pain.”
Dr. John Ryder, Psychologist, PhD
Writing for Psychology Today
Aside from these conditions, many experts in the field of hypnotherapy believe that the reality is that candidates with just about any type of chronic or acute pain could see a positive outcome from hypnosis.
Pain Control with Hypnotherapy
Article by Ben Schoeffler
Hypnosis actually has a long history of helping people manage pain including being used in surgery! Not only to eliminate the pain of surgery but also to improve and accelerate the healing process after the operation.
A simple search on youtube will show a variety of videos of people undergoing procedures medical or dental without the use of any anesthesia.
So, if hypnosis can be used in surgery, can it be used in a person’s daily life to help manage pain? Absolutely!
Change your mind and change your pain
Most people are not aware but there are actually two parts that make up the whole experience of pain:
- Sensation: The physical act of the nerve ending firing and sending that pain signal to the brain.
- Suffering: A person’s emotional response to that pain.
Hypnosis can’t do anything about the first part of that equation, but it can change the second part and how much suffering a person experiences. Change your mind, and you change your pain.
A quick example to illustrate the point: I’m sure everyone has had the experience of playing as a child (or even as an adult!) where you are so involved in an activity that you cut or bruised yourself and you didn’t notice. In fact, it’s not until AFTER the activity is done that you saw that fat bruise or the blood trickling from your knee.
Simply put, your body still sent those pain signals from the site of the wound to the part of the brain that registers pain. The signal was still physically there, but your brain was so busy having fun that you didn’t notice the pain at all. Because of your frame of mind, you changed the suffering. You were still injured, but no pain was present.
Hypnosis takes this natural mechanism of the body to change how we suffer and helps put it under your control. We achieve this through mindfulness, positive suggestion, and hypnotic language tools.
By seeking out a certified medical support hypnotherapist you know that you will be helped by someone with the skills and training necessary to assist you. Over the course of a few weekly sessions you will be taught techniques that can provide you with relief in a few minutes.
By practicing these techniques on your own you can take charge of your suffering. You won’t always have to take a pill if you are in pain. Yes, drugs will still be available through your doctor, but having the freedom and options in order to choose WHEN you take them is a powerful thing. Less chemicals in your body means your body can concentrate more fully on healing, and you can concentrate more on living your life.
With hypnosis you will be able to sleep better at night, enjoying that rest and digest phase your body has been craving. Your stress level will be lowered, which in turn boosts your immune system thereby helping you to heal more efficiently. Hypnosis helps to line up the reasoning half of the conscious mind, with the vast power of the subconscious.
What to do next?
Here is a simple step by step process that you can follow if you or someone you know is suffering from chronic pain:
1) Get seen by a doctor – This could be your family doctor, or someone through your insurance. It’s important to get checked out to make sure the main problem is the pain, and not an underlying serious issue that could threaten your safety. You may need to see two or three doctors of other specialists in order to properly diagnose your condition.
2) Develop a Plan – Work with those medical professionals in order to make a plan for your health. Figure out what lifestyle changes you can make, which drugs you will be taking, and what to do if the pain becomes too much to bear.
3) See a Certified Medical Support Hypnotherapist – The last step of this process is to find a certified medical support hypnotherapist in your area. Just like doctors, not all hypnotists are created equal. Do your research! Figure out where they have been trained, what approaches they use, and if they specialize in anything specific. It’s ok to call them or email them if you have any questions. You should be comfortable about the process. A proper certified medical support hypnotherapist will ask for a referral from your doctor or the ability to contact them with any questions.
4) Follow through! – One of the most important things to do is to follow the advice of the medical team you have brought together. That means following the advice of the doctor when it comes to when and how often you take your medication as well as any advice on lifestyle changes. Be sure to follow the advice of the hypnotist if they instruct you to do any mental exercises or self-hypnotic techniques. Never change when and how your take medication without first consulting your doctor.
Evidence for Hypnosis and Pain Control
One of the best endorsements of hypnosis is the summary of a paper by Mark P. Jensen and David R. Patterson of the University of Washington on the topic of using hypnosis for chronic pain. In fact, this research paper, as published in American Psychologist (the journal of the American Psychological Association) shines the light on every area of pain and how hypnosis can positively impact it.
“The empirical support for hypnosis for chronic pain management has flourished over the past two decades. Clinical trials show that hypnosis is effective for reducing chronic pain, although outcomes vary between individuals. The findings from these clinical trials also show that hypnotic treatments have a number of positive effects beyond pain control.
“Neurophysiological studies reveal that hypnotic analgesia has clear effects on brain and spinal-cord functioning that differ as a function of the specific hypnotic suggestions made, providing further evidence for the specific effects of hypnosis. The research results have important implications for how clinicians can help their clients experience maximum benefits from hypnosis and treatments that include hypnotic components.” 
Journal of the American Psychological Association
Beyond chronic pain, hypnosis is widely used in the area of natural childbirth. One study showed,
“Prenatal hypnosis preparation resulted in significantly less use of sedatives, analgesia, and regional anesthesia during labor and in higher 1-minute neonatal Apgar scores.” 
American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis
Hypnosis has been actively shown to reduce the pain associated with fibromyalgia.
“The patients experienced less pain during hypnosis than at rest.” 
European Journal of Pain
It’s really important to realize that pain is a multifaceted experience. This next study shows that different suggestions work on different parts of that experience.
“Consistent with the Malone study, we found that different hypnotic suggestions differentially affect the two dimensions of pain. Specifically we found that hypnotic induction plus analgesia suggestion reduced the intensity dimension of pain significantly more than it reduced the unpleasantness dimension.
“Conversely, hypnotic induction plus relaxation suggestion reduced the unpleasantness dimension of pain significantly more than it reduced the intensity dimension. This demonstration of different pain interventions affecting different dimensions of pain is consistent with a growing body of literature in which pain is studied as a multidimensional experience.” 
Journal of Pain and Symptom Management
Beyond pain there are other unpleasant sensations the body can endure. Often times during chemotherapy and cancer treatment, some of the other drugs given can cause severe nausea and vomiting. Hypnosis has been shown to actively reduce that.
“One of the first modern applications of hypnosis with cancer patients…[multiple] studies reported positive results including statistically significant reductions in nausea and vomiting.” 
CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians
Published for the American Cancer Society
In another study, the effectiveness of a 15-minute pre-surgery hypnosis session versus an empathic listening session in a clinical trial was tested with 200 breast cancer patients. The research showed that patients who received hypnosis reported less post-surgical pain, nausea, fatigue and discomfort. The study also found that the hospital saved $772 per patient in the hypnosis group, mainly due to reduced surgical time. Patients who were hypnotized required less of the analgesic lidocaine and the sedative propofol during surgery.
“Patients in the hypnosis group required less propofol and lidocaine than patients in the control group. Patients in the hypnosis group also reported less pain intensity, pain unpleasantness, nausea, fatigue, discomfort, and emotional upset. Patients in the hypnosis group cost the institution $772.71 less per patient than those in the control group, mainly due to reduced surgical time.
Hypnosis was superior to attention control regarding propofol and lidocaine use; pain, nausea, fatigue, discomfort, and emotional upset at discharge; and institutional cost. Overall, the present data support the use of hypnosis with breast cancer surgery patients.” 
Journal of the National Cancer Institute
Research has also shown the benefits of hypnosis for burn victims. Researchers at the University of Washington Medical School found that hypnosis before wound debridements significantly reduced pain reported by patients on one pain rating questionnaire.
“The authors found that the group receiving hypnosis had a significant drop in pain compared with the control group when measured by the McGill Pain Questionnaire. The findings suggest that hypnosis affects multiple pain domains and that measures that assess these multiple domains may be more sensitive to the effects of hypnotic analgesia treatments.” 
A journal of American Psychological Association
One study found that hypnosis could help reduce kids’ post-surgical pain or pain related to other medical procedures.
“Hypnosis was consistently found to be more effective than control conditions in alleviating discomfort associated with bone marrow aspirations, lumbar punctures, voiding cystourethograms, the Nuss procedure, and post-surgical pain.” 
Journal of Behavioral Medicine
This review article found that when it comes to labor and delivery-related pain, hypnosis was consistently shown to be more effective than standard medical care, supportive counseling, and childbirth education classes in reducing pain.
“Hetero-hypnosis (A hypnotic state that is created by another person, including the listening to of tapes or CDs) and self-hypnosis were consistently shown to be more effective than standard medical care, supportive counseling, and childbirth education classes in reducing pain. Other benefits included better infant Apgar scores and shorter Stage 1 labor.” 
Clinical Psychology Review
Hypnosis and Pain Relief in Children
This research study investigated if hypnotherapy decreased pain, anxiety, and stress in children with severe burns while they were having their bandages and dressings changed. 62 burn patients between the ages of 4 and 16 were selected for this study.
One group received hypnotherapy sessions and the second group received the standard care. Measurements included pain, anxiety, stress, and speed of wound healing.
“The patients in the hypnotherapy group had 70% lower levels of pain and 67% lower levels of anxiety compared next to the standard care group.
“By the time the third bandage and dressing change came around, the hypnotherapy group had a 90% reduction in pain levels and 84% power levels of anxiety.” 
Hypnosis and Post Surgery Healing
And the use of hypnosis to speed up the recovery time after surgery has been shown time and again. Two studies from Harvard Medical School show hypnosis significantly reduces the time it takes to heal.
The first study showed that six weeks after an ankle fracture, those in the hypnosis group showed the equivalent of eight and a half weeks of healing. That effectively demonstrates that using hypnosis helped that group heal bone fractures 41% faster. 
The second study focused on people having breast reduction surgery. The group treated with hypnosis healed “significantly faster” than supportive attention group and control group. 
Hypnosis often works on multiple fronts. In this next study patients that went through surgery saw a decrease in pain as well as better outcomes overall.
“Hypnosis has been demonstrated to effectively control pain and emotional distress and to improve recovery…results revealed a significant, large effect size…indicating that surgical patients in hypnosis treatment groups had better outcomes than 89% of patients in control groups.” 
CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians
Published for the American Cancer Society
Hypnosis reduces pain and speeds up recovery from surgery:
“Since 1992, we have used hypnosis routinely in more than 1400 patients undergoing surgery. We found that hypnosis used with patients as an adjunct to conscious sedation and local anesthesia was associated with improved intraoperative patient comfort, and with reduced anxiety, pain, intraoperative requirements for anxiolytic and analgesic drugs, optimal surgical conditions and a faster recovery of the patient. We reported our clinical experience and our fundamental research.” 
Revue Médicale de Liège
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