By Laura Casey Contra Costa Times
Stacey Meyer doesn’t consider herself a “new-agey” type of person. The Walnut Creek businesswoman was, however, stuck. Her doctor recommended a hysterectomy, but she was terrified of the surgery, so terrified that she put it off for a year.
“Your mind is often not your friend,” Meyer says.
The worrying and the anxiety eventually led her to an Internet search that suggested hypnosis as a possible pre-op coping strategy. “A week and a half before surgery I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got absolutely nothing to lose. What’s going to happen?’ ”
She visited Walnut Creek hypnotherapist Gerri Levitas for two sessions before the procedure.
“The messages I heard were — and I don’t know how this works exactly — but they were reaffirming that my body is strong, my body will be better, I will heal quickly, I will be better than before,” she says, adding that she was awake and conscious the whole session. “They were very reasonable, not whacked-out statements.”
Those sessions lessened her anxiety and made her feel more relaxed and confident about the surgery, she says. Meyer’s doctors said she had a minimal amount of bleeding during the procedure, and her recovery, now six weeks in, has been quick, trouble-free and relatively pain free.
Meyer’s story is not totally unusual. While hypnosis is often associated with smoking cessation and weight loss, it’s also being used as a way to alleviate patient anxiety surrounding medical and dental procedures.
The process, which involves deep relaxation and suggestion, is not just for getting people to cluck like a chicken. While the American Medical Association has no official position on hypnosis, and many hospitals prefer to use a similar therapy called guided imagery, hypnotists and their clients say hypnosis is a powerful tool that can help people feel more comfable in the operating room, even promote better healing and less pain after surgery.
“Medical hypnosis is a fabulous tool,” says Michael Ellner, a medical hypnotist from New York City and spokesman for the International Medical and Dental Hypnotherapy Association. “I am not describing treating clinical mental health issues. But hypnosis helps people to develop their coping skills and abilities to change their inner connections. It can help people change their reactions, so instead of producing negative stress, they can have a positive experience.”
How exactly hypnotherapy and hypnosis work remains a mystery, and there are certainly common misconceptions about the procedure. A modern hypnotist does not wave a pocket watch in front of a client’s face to put him into a “deep sleep.” Nor is the client put in a blackout state where she freely babbles her secrets.
“It’s not what you see on TV and in the movies,” Levitas says. “It’s a form of focused attention. In hypnotherapy, we quiet the conscious mind.”
Often in a session, a hypnotherapist — a term used in California to describe a medical hypnotist — will play some relaxing music, sit a client in a comfortable chair and then have a conversation with the client about relaxing the mind and body. Clients are often instructed to do deep breathing techniques and imagine safe places, such as the beach or home.
Seth-Deborah Roth, a Castro Valley-based nurse, anesthetist and clinical hypnotherapist, used hypnosis in the 1980s to relieve her back pain. She and other practitioners say all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. The hypnotherapist helps the client experience a deeply relaxed state through some blinking and eye tricks, breathing and guided talks. She says the frontal lobe of the brain dims and a person under hypnosis essentially goes into the alpha wave cycle, the drowsy, “relaxed awareness” state most people experience just before falling asleep or during meditation.
“Hypnosis is meditation with a purpose,” she says. “We are literally turning on the parasympathetic nervous system.”
While Roth’s specialty is helping people quit smoking, which she says she can do in one session that lasts two hours, she uses hypnosis on patients in the urology clinic she works out of to help them go through vasectomy and other procedures. Hypnosis has been shown to be effective in helping those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, bed wetting, premature ejaculation and impotency.
It’s also a powerful pain-management tool, say hypnotherapists. Meditation, deep breathing and mindfulness can play a role in reducing pain, according to work by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a University of Massachusetts Medical School professor who developed the widely recognized pain-reducing techniques called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Hypnosis taps into similar states of relaxation.
Studies at Harvard Medical School in 2000 and in Belgium in 2011 back many of the therapists’ assertions. They both found that people who used self-hypnotic relaxation techniques during surgery needed less pain medication, left the operating room earlier and had more stable vital signs during the operation.
However, not everyone is susceptible to hypnotic suggestion. According to a 2007 article in the Journal of the American Dental Association, although hypnosis can be used in a dental setting, not everyone treated to the therapy has positive results. Mark Warner, a doctor and president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, says hypnotherapy, like music therapy and guided imagery, is great when people need it.
“Not everybody can do it. Not every patient responds well to hypnosis, and it takes a considerable amount of time to hypnotize someone,” he says. “It’s not something you do for every patient because most people don’t need that.”
Margaret Craig, a Walnut Creek-based obstetrician and gynecologist, often recommends that patients see Walnut Creek’s Levitas for sexual apprehension and dysfunction.
“She can help with anxiety,” Craig says. “It’s not necessarily a cure, but you begin to recognize (anxiety) and learn to go on without having to deal with it. In a way, (hypnosis) is kind of ignoring the anxiety.”
Christina Sainz, of Concord, took her 3-year-old daughter, Jayelle Sainz, to hypnotherapy with Levitas when the girl made it clear she was deathly afraid of dentists. Every appointment is recorded, so clients can listen to the hypnotherapy session again and again.
GET OVER THE FEAR
“Jayelle would listen to the CD while she was at the dentist, and that totally helped,” Sainz says. “I believe hypnotherapy completely helped her get over her fear of the dentist.”
Hypnotherapy is not covered by insurance and can cost around $150 per one-hour session. While some hospitals are using hypnosis in the actual operating room before a procedure — about 250 patients at the New Milford Hospital in western Connecticut have undergone hypnotherapy before surgery since the hospital began offering it in early 2010, according to the Hartford Courant — many hospitals and medical centers in the Bay Area do not offer hypnosis.
But some, such as Kaiser Permanente, John Muir Medical Center and El Camino Hospital in Silicon Valley, offer classes and materials on guided imagery, which employs many tenets of hypnosis.
UCSF surgical patients often are referred to the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine before surgery and meet nurse Teresa Corrigan, who prepares them using guided imagery. She walks them through their ideal surgery situation, having patients imagine feeling safe, peaceful and calm. The positive affirmations and subliminal suggestion about how the body will have minimal bleeding, for example, work.
SO THAT’S WHAT IT WAS
“Sometimes we uncover issues that people just can’t put their finger on, but when we go into these places and ask if there are any anxieties, stuff comes pouring out,” Corrigan says.
For example, one patient was terrified of having an anesthesia mask put on her face during surgery. The fear was initiated by a death in her family, and Corrigan then was able to work with the anesthesia department to make sure the patient was fully under using other techniques before the mask was placed on her face.
The difference between hypnosis and guided imagery is considered semantics by hypnotherapists, but Corrigan says hypnotherapy is usually a one-on-one procedure, while guided imagery can be done in a group. She adds that there is some worry that hypnotized people may go into too deep of a hypnotic state, one difficult to come out of.
“Guided imagery does not have those concerns,” she says. “I have found that certainly the guided imagery is more acceptable to some people. It doesn’t feel as threatening or something.”
The negative stigma of hypnosis certainly affected Meyers, the hysterectomy patient. She hid her appointments from her husband and didn’t tell her doctor she was considering hypnosis.
But once she got out of the operating room, she called hypnotherapist Levitas to tell her what a success the work had been.
“It not only exceeded my expectations, it exceeded them by 50 percent,” Meyers says. Now, she says, she’s opened up to her husband and doctor. “I would like people to not be embarrassed by it. It helped me not just a little — it helped me a lot.”
According to the most recent National Institutes of Health National Health Statistics Reports exploring Complementary Alternative Medicine 4.2 million adults used guided imagery in 2002 and 4.9 million used it in 2007. Hypnosis was used by 505,000 adults in 2002 and 561,000 in 2007. More than 27 million adults practiced deep breathing exercises and 13 million practiced yoga in 2007.
Original source: http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_1876469