I teach my clients many different techniques for managing pain, so I was intrigued to read several articles published last week about how French and Belgian hospitals are offering hypnosis to surgery patients– and they successfully performed 8000 non-anesthetic surgeries! And an article published today in abc News cites that “those who underwent hypnosis with a local anesthetic experienced a faster recovery, a shorter hospital stay fewer painkillers.”
So last week I decided to put my practice where my mouth is (literally) and used hypnosis for a dental procedure (preparing a crown impression) that normally would have required Novocaine.
I learned so much from this experience that I decided share the three tried-and-true self-hypnosis techniques that helped me during this procedure, and that can help you or someone you care about to manage pain.
(Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. The techniques below are not medical advice; they are an introduction to mental strategies that might offer you a new perspective on pain.)
1) Neutralize the fear. When we react to pain it is often with a fight or flight response — and while this may be useful for outrunning hungry tigers, it is not at all useful for pain and inevitably makes it worse.
Wherever you are, stop what you are doing and breath. Notice where exactly the pain is located in your body. Notice its movement. Now focus on how you are really feeling about this pain. You may be completely freaked out about it but is there any part of you that is calm and unafraid? Allow this part of you to speak directly to your brain saying: “I’m going to be ok. My body is still functioning. My heart is still beating, my blood is circulating, my eyes are seeing, feet walking, etc.” (Fill in whatever body parts are working for you.) As you think these thoughts, do what you need to do to pay attention to the fact that you are breathing, and feel yourself calming down.
One of the most effective ways to neutralize fear is through a technique called EFT. Learn about how to do it by reading this:
2) Lose interest in the pain and focus on something else. What happens to a mother’s migraine as she sees her child falling? It disappears, in that moment. And I’m sure you can think of times in your life when you’ve been in pain and then forgot about it, only to have the pain minimize or disappear.
If you can’t bring yourself to sweep the floor, take the dog for a walk, call a friend, or organize your plastic containers, sit down and use your mind’s eye to think about doing something that you really love to do. This could be an activity that unfolds over time like a sports activity or your favorite walk; it could be making a mental home movie of you and someone you love doing something fun or silly; it could be reviewing an intense scene from a movie that really stuck with you. If you like music, get lost in it because it will give you something else to focus on. When I was in the dentist’s office I wandered in and out of many different mental movies while listening to Matt Jones’ new album– but any music you like will work.
3) Transform the pain into a metaphor or image. If your tooth is “throbbing like a jack-hammer,” begin by imagining the jack-hammer throbbing in as much detail as you can. Then imagine the image that will feel better now. Maybe you’ll turn the hammer in to a soft mist, or a waterfall; maybe you’ll imagine a cool cloth surrounding the area with comfort. Imagine whatever you see, hear, or feel as vividly as you can. And then imagine how great it will be when that pain is gone for good.
(This post is an introduction to techniques I have learned and implemented in both my life and in my work with clients. For more information on these techniques read Melissa Tiers’ book Integrative Hypnosis (available from Amazon) and Dr John Sarno’s book”The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mind-body Disorders” which you can order from your local bookstore.)
Hypnosis Before Surgery? Studies Say Yes (abcnews.go.com)
Interesting article on The Gate Control Theory of Chronic Pain
Article about pain control with meditation published in the Wall Street Journal