As part of this year’s FGID Patient Symposium, I had the opportunity to take a 2-hour workshop with UNC’s Dr. Olafur Palsson on Clinical Hypnosis and its applications in the treatment of functional GI disorders. It was truly one of the highlights of my trip and I came away with a stronger understanding of just how much opportunity for transformation exists in our subconscious mind (both positive and negative).
Hypnosis is often misunderstood because of what we’ve seen on TV and in comedy shows. In reality, it’s neither hokey nor magical. It’s just a natural mental state in which your awareness shifts from the conscious mind to the subconscious mind. What makes hypnosis powerful is how much easier it is to bring about changes in emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and physical functioning in this altered state of awareness where your critical-thinking mind is relaxed.
Most of us have experienced hypnosis in our day-to-day lives. For example, have you ever driven a familiar route and arrived at your destination with no clue how you got there? That’s called “road hypnosis” and it’s only one of hundreds of possible ways to induce this state of mind.
What’s required is simply that you:
- are physically relaxed
- have a narrow focus
- activate your imagination
- allow things to happen automatically
- remain open to suggestions
Clinical hypnosis is the process of purposely inducing this state and then adding targeted suggestions to help improve a specific condition. When clinical hypnosis is used to relieve symptoms associated functional GI disorders it’s called gut-directed hypnotherapy.
Now if this sounds likes “woo woo” mumbo jumbo to you, let me assure you that it’s supported by scientific evidence. In fact, the research for clinical hypnosis seems more impressive to me than the research for any of the drugs we’re currently using to manage functional GI disorders like gastroparesis.
In randomized clinical trials of those with IBS, for example, 70-80% of patients experienced at least 50% reduction in their symptoms with 12 weeks of gut-directed hypnotherapy. What’s more, the results were found to last for for several years with no additional hypnosis. The suggestions literally change the way the body functions. With no side effects, mind you, and it can be done in conjunction with other treatments. I don’t know of a single drug used to treat functional GI disorders that works for 70+% of people and has no side effects.
I asked Dr. Palsson about using this treatment specifically for gastroparesis and, while it’s not yet been studied, his opinion is that the results would likely be similar, especially in situations where pain is a prominent symptom. Clinical hypnosis seems to really excel when it comes to pain management. (Prior to the advent of ether in the 19th century, hypnosis was used as anesthesia during surgical procedures with good results!)
Aside from the benefits of hypnosis itself, I heard a few other things that really struck me as important for the GP community:
- One of the ways our subconscious mind learns is through repetition. Even if you think something is ridiculous, if you hear it enough times your subconscious mind will begin to believe it. So even if you initially believe that you can get better after a gastroparesis diagnosis, if you continuously hear (or read) that the condition only gets worse and never goes away, your subconscious mind will eventually believe that.
- We’re more susceptible to messages when we aren’t thinking with our critical mind. This often happens when we’re meeting with experts, including doctors and other healthcare professionals. We regard what they’re saying as fact, so our critical-thinking mind relaxes and we more easily absorb the messages on a subconscious level. That means if your doctor tells you, “there’s nothing we can do for you” or “this medicine probably won’t help” or “you’ll need a feeding tube someday,” that message is absorbed by your subconscious mind.
I’ve talked before about the Stress Responses that these kinds of messages trigger and how that impacts both the way the body functions and it’s ability to heal, but this feels even more insidious. Once our subconscious mind “learns” something, it’s very difficult to unlearn it and these these deeply rooted subconscious beliefs influence our choices and behaviors on a daily basis. That means they have a significant impact on our ability to live well.
Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.
For that reason, I think it’s vitally important to realize who you choose to surround yourself with and the messages that you choose to expose yourself to (this goes for support groups, Facebook pages, and message boards, too).
Fortunately clinical hypnosis can help us replace existing detrimental beliefs and emotions with more supportive ones. It can also bring about changes in physical functions within the body through targeted suggestions and visualizations. As the research has shown, this combination can have a significant impact on symptom management and quality of life for those with functional GI disorders.
Given what I learned in this workshop, I’m kind of astonished that clinical hypnosis isn’t recommended to everyone diagnosed with a functional GI condition, though there may be obstacles to obtaining the treatment. It’s not always covered by insurance, so finances may be an issue, and it does require a time commitment over the course of therapy. But all in all, it seems that seven sessions of hypnotherapy over 12 weeks in exchange for five years of symptom relief and improved quality of life is going to be less expensive and less time consuming than as many years of trial-and-error with drugs and diet.
One other hurdle can be finding a qualified gut-directed hypnotherapy practitioner. Dr. Palsson has a directory of hypnotherapists specializing in functional GI disorders on his website: www.IBShypnosis.com. If you live in an area that’s not currently being served, Dr. Palsson will share the protocol with any qualified practitioner, such as a hypnosis-trained clinical psychologist. It may then be necessary to work with your practitioner to tweak and tailor the suggestions to best suit your symptoms and goals.
Bottom line: I think clinical hypnosis could offer many GPers a significant opportunity for improvement in both symptom management and quality of life, especially as part of a comprehensive gastroparesis management/wellness plan.
Have you tried hypnosis? What were your results?