Hypnosis for Headaches
Hypnosis is a state of relaxed, focused concentration. Although the word "hypnosis" conjures up images of stage performers or movie villains, hypnosis is a state of mind that most people have experienced without knowing it. Reading a book or watching a movie, and becoming so absorbed that the action seems real, is a hypnotic state. So is driving somewhere while being absorbed in thought, and then not remembering the drive. This state of mind, so common and easily overlooked, can be deliberately harnessed to provide pain relief for many common types of headaches. Just as a person in a movie theater loses awareness of the other people in the theater and focuses only on the action on the screen, a headache sufferer can shift attention away from pain and no longer feel it. In addition, patients can learn to control some of the factors, such as tension and blood flow to the head, which contribute to many common headaches.
Why Use Hypnosis for Headaches?
Hypnosis is an excellent method to manage chronic headaches; it is noninvasive, does not involve the use of any drugs, and has no side effects. It's also usually relatively inexpensive, since most people only need one or two sessions with a hypnotherapist to achieve pain relief from their headaches. And self-hypnosis, once learned, is free and always available in case your headaches do return.
What Happens During Clinical Hypnosis?
During a typical 30- to 60-minute visit to a clinical hypnotist, after discussing the condition of your headaches, you will sit in a comfortable chair. The health practitioner gives suggestions for relaxing in a slow, calm voice, often describing the patient's favorite place. You may focus on a particular spot on the wall, or may notice how heavy your hands and feet feel as they relax. You may feel warm and comfortable, so relaxed that you don't want to move. However, you are not asleep. Your mind is awake and focused, and it is in this focused state of concentration that the practitioner makes suggestions for improved health and pain relief. Under hypnosis, many people can control aspects of the body that are usually not under conscious control: blood pressure, muscle tension, heart rate, and blood flow. Many of these factors can contribute to headaches, so controlling them helps ease headache pain.
A patient can also learn to block out any headache pain so it's not felt. In some cases, the practitioner may use imagery to help a patient work with their pain, For example, the practitioner might suggest, "Visualize your headache pain as blue paint. See it flowing out of your head and into a bucket. Now see yourself walking to the ocean. When you feel ready, dump the paint into the ocean and see the blue paint disappearing into the waves. Your pain is gone."
When the hypnotic session is over, the practitioner reminds the patient to return to an ordinary state of mind. A health practitioner may teach a patient to do self-hypnosis, so treatment can continue at home. Learning self-hypnosis can be particularly effective for long-term management of chronic headaches, being accessible wherever and whenever it's needed.
Myths About Hypnosis
Popular culture promotes a variety of myths about hypnosis. Patients may fear that the hypnotist will control them, or that they will become "stuck" in the hypnotic state, or that they won't be able to remember what happened. However, it's important to remember that all hypnosis is essentially self-hypnosis. No one can be hypnotized against their will. A hypnotized person will eventually wake up, even if the hypnotist doesn't ask them to return to an ordinary state of mind. In addition, patients typically remember everything that happened during a hypnotic session.
However, because hypnosis is a state of heightened suggestibility, patients do need to find a hypnotist they trust, who is correctly trained, and who is a skilled health practitioner.
Hypnosis can be an effective method of pain relief, especially for headaches and migraines. The additional benefit of overall stress relief from hypnotherapy session can also benefit other aspects of your life, leading to healthier state of mind.
Who Practices Hypnosis?
Many health practitioners use hypnosis: doctors, dentists, social workers, nurses, psychologists, and others. However, most states have no laws regulating who can practice hypnosis, so it's important to spend time looking for a reputable practitioner. Good places to start are some of the professional organizations that certify hypnosis practitioners, such as the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, and the National Board of Certified Clinical Hypnotherapists. Local hospitals and pain clinics often use hypnosis with patients, and can provide referrals to reputable practitioners to assist in overcoming your headache pain.