Hypnosis is a mind-body approach which uses mental processes to change physical processes. Other mind-body techniques include biofeedback and meditation.
There has been an interest in the therapeutic potential of hypnosis for centuries. Franz Mesmer, an 18th century Austrian physician, used a technique called mesmerism to relax his patients.
Magicians and vaudeville performers have popularized hypnosis. However, they have used it for entertainment, not therapeutic purposes, claiming to be able to control people’s minds.
There has been some acceptance of hypnosis by the medical field. In the 1950s, it was deemed a valid medical treatment in both England and the United States. Hypnosis has been suggested as beneficial for treating certain conditions, but many mainstream health professionals are hesitant to incorporate it into their practice.
While undergoing hypnosis, an individual is put into a trance-like state of focused concentration. While in the state the person undergoing treatment becomes very susceptible to suggestion. The suggestions made by the therapist during a session are of therapeutic value. A therapist may, for example, try to produce numbness when a patient is dealing with pain, or relaxation to help with anxiety.
While undergoing self-hypnosis, people make the therapeutic suggestions to themselves. Self-hypnosis tends to have better outcomes when the method is taught by a trained hypnotherapist.
The effectiveness of hypnosis can vary substantially. This can, in part, be attributed to variations in people’s susceptibility to hypnotic suggestion. Among the most responsive are young adults and children.
Evaluation in MS and Other Conditions
No large-scale clinical trials of hypnosis for the treatment of MS have been published. Individual case reports have been published which suggest that some individuals benefited from the treatment.
Autogenic training, a relaxation technique related to hypnosis, has been studied in people with MS. This technique uses suggestion to teach people to recognize the origins of their condition. In a study of 22 people with MS, autogenic training was associated with improvements in energy. People also appeared to be less limited by their emotional and physical difficulties.
In studies of other conditions, hypnosis reduced symptoms that also occur commonly in association with MS. These include anxiety, insomnia, and pain. Hypnosis has also showed some possible benefit for neurologic disorders, including strokes, spinal cord injury, and head injury.
Limited work has been done concerning the effect of hypnosis on immune system function. One study used suggestion to decrease immune response to a skin test for tuberculosis, which was effective for all four participants. More research needs to be done to determine if hypnosis can produce changes in immune function that are significant enough to alter disease processes.
Hypnosis is generally safe. People cannot be forced into hypnosis, nor can they be easily manipulated into performing undesirable acts while in the trance-like state. People with psychiatric disorders may have adverse reactions to hypnosis. Thus, those with psychiatric conditions should discuss hypnosis with their health care provider before pursuing treatment.
In general, hypnosis is well tolerated. Treatment is low to moderate cost and may be beneficial for MS-associated symptoms, including anxiety, pain, and insomnia.
References and Additional Readings
Bowling AC. Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis. New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2007, pp. 159-162.
Cassileth BR. The Alternative Medicine Handbook. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998:122–130.
Benham G, Nash MR. Hypnosis. In: Oken BS, ed. Complementary Therapies in Neurology. London: Parthenon Publishing, 2004, pp. 169–187.
Ernst E, ed. The Desktop Guide to Complementary and Alternative Medicine: An Evidence-Based Approach. Edinburgh: Mosby, 2001, pp. 56–58.
Hammond DC, Kabbani S. Neurohypnosis. In: Weintraub MI, Micozzi MS, eds. Alternative and Complementary Treatments in Neurologic Illness. New York:Churchill Livingstone, 2001, pp. 287–295.
Spencer JW, Jacobs JJ. Complementary and Alternative Medicine: An Evidence-Based Approach. St. Louis: Mosby, 2003.
Dane JR. Hypnosis for pain and neuromuscular rehabilitation with multiple sclerosis: case summary, literature review, and analysis of outcomes. Int J Clin Exp Hypn 1996;44:208–231.
Hall H, Minnes L, Olness K. The psychophysiology of voluntary immunomodulation. Int J Neurosci 1993;69:221–234.
Miller GE, Cohen S. Psychological interventions and the immune system: a metaanalytic review and critique. Health Psychol 2001;20:47–63.
Smith GR, McKenzie JM, Marmer DJ, et al. Psychologic modulation of the human immune response to Varicella zoster. Arch Intern Med 1985;145:221–235.
Sutcher H. Hypnosis as adjunctive therapy for multiple sclerosis: a progress report. Am J Clin Hypn 1997;39:283–290.
Sutherland G, Andersen MB, Morris T. Relaxation and health-related quality of life in multiple sclerosis: the example of autogenic training. J Behav Med 2005; 28:249–256.