Hypnosis has been in the news a lot. For instance, NiagaraThisWeek.com recently had a report on the benefits of hypnosis on the child-birth!
With the birth of her second child, Milligan used a hypnotherapist, who she and her husband saw once per week for half-hour sessions. She learned how to relax her body using specific breathing techniques to put her body in a calm state, which produces a natural anaesthesia.
Milligan’s success story isn’t the first one to be told about the medical benefits of hypnosis. Children are subjects of some of the greatest case studies about the medical uses of hypnosis. But before reviewing one that I am particularly fond of, we should consider (or reconsider) our understanding of hypnosis.
Case studies, as a method for evaluating the potential effectiveness of a therapeutic method, can serve as a sort of catalyst for rethinking hypnosis.
Hypnosis and Case Studies
There are many misconceptions, I think, about hypnosis. Hypnosis is often characterized as a way in which the hypnotherapist gains psychological control over a participant. We’ve all seen demonstrations of people "being put under a hypnotic spell" with bizarre or anomalous behavior (i.e. barking like a dog, acting as if they are in love with someone else, and so forth).
There is another (more therapeutic) use for hypnosis which deserves more attention. One of the ways in which we can appreciate medical uses of hypnotherapy is by reviewing case studies. Understanding the benefits of hypnosis may help us to rethink several of the medical and societal paradigms we use.
An 8-year-old’s struggle with fear and anxiety
Laurence Sugarman’s "Hypnosis: Teaching Children Self-Regulation" (Pediatrics in Review, Vol. 17, No. 1, Jan ’96) is a superb example of the kind of lesson case studies can teach us. I say this merely because it is commonplace, if not standard, to evaluate the empirical worth of a therapy on the basis of its numeric or quantifiable data. Case studies give us another spin, another way to appreciate the same therapies, or even new therapies.
Sugarman discusses an 8-year-old suffering from "obstructive uropathy." Treatment required an 8-week hospitalization that effected her deeply on a psychological level. According to Sugarman, Karie’s (whose original name has been changed) fear and anxiety culminated in her (weekly) erthropoitin injections. Karie’s doctor realized that the time required to calm Karie down was too much (20 mins every time) and began to think about alternative ways to approach this.
How hypnosis can lead a child from fear and anxiety to ‘playful cats’
He advised Karie’s family to think about hypnosis. Hypnosis would "diminish her procedure-associated anxiety and facilitate adjustment to her disease." In simple terms: Karie associated her weekly treatment with the anxiety and fear-ridden experience of her hospitalization and (more generally) of her sickness. Hypnosis would dissolve that link and allow her to remain calm during treatments.
After her very first visit, Sugarman reports that Karie had learned how to use a past-memory of pain that didn’t yield anxiety and fear. She would "focus her attention while staring at a coin she held at arm’s length" as a medium for her to think about the memory of her cat playfully scratching her. Her focus on the coin motivated a memory of pain that Karie was at home in, that is, familiar with: the pain wasn’t associated with any fear or anxiety. The pain resulted from something Karie was fond of–her cat–and she would focus her mind on that while she was undergoing treatments.
Sugarman goes on to explain ways in which Karie modified and/or articulated her method of projection. Thus, instead of merely remembering her kitten scratching, Karie learned to modify herself such that the remembered (and imagined) cat was ‘being playful’. The benefits were manifest: Karie progressed rapidly from increased calmness to "I didn’t even feel a shot."
The moral of the story
Sugarman’s story tells us two things. One: children can be great candidates for hypnotherapy. This may be a result of their imagination. Two: Case studies of individuals who have undergone hypnosis for a medical reason can lead to a different way of understanding just what hypnosis does or (more importantly) what it can be useful for!