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Pre & Post Surgery Hypnosis

The use of hypnosis prior to, after, and even during surgery is certainly nothing new.  In fact while no doubt not the first use of the modality, medical documentation by surgeons date back to at least April 12, 1829 when Dr. Jules Cloquet utilized the services of a hypnotist to place a female patient under hypnoanesthesia so he could perform surgery for breast cancer.  The renowned surgeon Dr. Herbert Mayo in his account of the procedure described that while under hypnosis the patient “would converse with indifference about the contemplated operation, the idea of which, when she was in her natural state, filled her with terror” (American Hypnosis Association, 2012, p. 19).  He also recounted that during the operation she, “…exhibited not the slightest sign of suffering.  Her expression of countenance did not change; nor was the voice, the breathing, or the pulse at all affected” (AHA, p. 20).

Now almost two centuries later, medical advances have made chemical anesthesia much safer than in its early days, and while it is the modality most commonly used for invasive procedures, research shows that hypnoanesthesia as well as other implementations of hypnotherapy still have their place.  While hypnoanesthesia is perhaps most commonly associated with dental work, or child birth, it’s important to realize that its use is not necessarily always intended to be the sole means of anesthesia.  While it could be argued that chemical anesthesia is perhaps one of the greatest gifts modern medicine has given us, its side effects and dangers are also well known.  For that reason the anesthesiologist or well trained anesthetist will often find themselves trying to find a very delicate balance.  The anesthetist will not turn the patient over to the surgeon until they are confident that a proper depth of anesthesia has been obtained, but at the same time he or she will achieve this depth by administering the least amount of chemical anesthesia necessary as to not unduly endanger their patient.  This careful consideration also benefits the patient by allowing for less time needed to bring the patient out of anesthesia, less time in recovery, and fewer side effects.

With the aforementioned in mind, one can quickly begin to understand why research studies surrounding the use of hypnotherapy in the pre and post surgery environment are so favorable.  For instance as was noted by Dr. Mayo in the surgery many years ago, "hypnosis allowed the patient to remain calm and she could talk about the upcoming surgery with indifference when previously she was filled with terror."  Physicians are all too aware of how stress can exacerbate any illness or condition, and certainly it can be frightening to think of an invasive procedure while under anesthesia.  In fact the American Cancer Society states that, “Psychological stress refers to the emotional and physiological reactions experienced when an individual confronts a situation in which the demands go beyond their coping resources,” and cites health problems as a prime example.  This is merely one of the areas in which hypnotherapy prior to surgery can be so valuable.  Additional areas may include other well known areas for the use such as assisting the patient to quit harmful habits prior to surgery, or in behavior modification to follow the physician’s instructions to change diet, get more sleep, or begin an exercise regimen prior to surgery.  Another very useful area of which many are unaware is the use of hypnosis prior to surgery to combat side effects of the anesthesia such as nausea.  For post surgery use, hypnotherapy has shown to be useful in everything from restoring peristalsis (bowel functions) to simply re-engaging in daily activities such as getting out of bed, exercising, and following the doctor’s rehab orders.

One very complete research study that validated the use of hypnotherapy in events surrounding some very horrifying procedures was completed in 2007.  The National Cancer Institute found that “women (undergoing surgery for breast cancer) who received a brief hypnotherapy session before entering the operating room required less anesthesia and pain medication during surgery” (Montgomery et al., 2007).  The authors went on to state that the hypnotic intervention presented a “clinically effective means for controlling patients’ pain, nausea, fatigue, discomfort, and emotional upset following breast cancer surgery beyond traditional pharmacotherapeutic approaches.”  Additionally the study actually cited that on average the surgical procedures for women who were in the hypnosis group were on average about $770 less per patient than those who did not receive hypnosis.  This dollar amount may at first seem not only insensitive, but somewhat trivial in relation to what the women were going through until stopping to realize what the amount actually signifies.  In today’s society the dollar, though the actual value of it changes perhaps daily is a concrete and definable benchmark by which not only corporations, but the healthcare system uses for measurements.  While a patient can say that on a scale of 1-10 “my pain is as a 5,” that is still somewhat arbitrary as to what another patient may define the same level of pain to be.  In this situation however, the cost of the operating suite charged by the hour, the cost of the medication required by the patient, and all other costs related to the procedure were able to be accounted for, and over the course of researching and evaluating 200 patients, the researchers were able to document that the patients in the hypnosis group either through the need for less medication, chemical anesthesia, shorter surgery times, or other related procedural charges, needed approximately $770 less in treatment on average.

As with any medical type of case, hypnotherapy as an adjunct to surgery must always be coordinated with, and under the authorization of the physician in charge.  If however you or someone you know will be undergoing a surgical procedure, and you would like to speak with someone to have further questions answered about how hypnotherapy may be of benefit, contact us online or call the office at 469-225-9040 for a consultation.  Then if necessary we will help you coordinate with your physician to obtain a medical authorization.

William Carpenter holds a certification in Pre and Post Surgery Hypnosis, Emergency Hypnosis, and a dual certificatoin in Hypnosis and Pain Management from the American Hypnosis Association.



American Hypnosis Association. (2012). Hypnosis in history.Tarzana,CA: Author

Montgomery, G. H., Bovbjerg, D. H., Schnur, J. B., David, D., Goldfarb, A., Weltz, C. S., . . . Silverstein, J. H. (2007). A randomized clinical trial of a brief hypnosis intervention to control side effects in breast surgery patients. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 99(17), 1304-1312.

Segerstrom, S. C., & Miller, G. E. (2004). Psychological stress and the human immune system: a meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry. Psychological bulletin, 130(4), 601.