I have come across a few people who initially react negatively when I tell them how beneficial hypnosis can be for cancer patients. The negativity is in response to the many 'healers' out there who make claims about curing cancer and the consequential fear that I am one of them. I promise you; I am not. I will never make any claims of being able to treat or cure cancer or even offer medical advice. I am a clinical hypnotherapist, not a doctor or medical specilist. This article discusses some of the evidence-based research that supports the use of hypnosis with cancer patients and its many potential benefits.
There are numerous studies that have shown the effectiveness of hypnosis for cancer patients and the different areas in which hypnosis can be very valuable. Sharma, (2017), evidenced both the physical and psychological benefits of hypnotherapy with cancer patients in a literature review of 55 clinical studies. Neron & Stephenson, (2007), studied the benefits of anxiety and pain reduction, as well as improved post-surgical outcomes for control groups of cancer patients who were treated with clinical hypnotherapy.
I am a licensed clinical hypnotherapist and a member of the Association of Hypno-Oncology Practitioners, which is founded on evidence-based techniques that have proven to be successful with thousands of patients in oncology settings. In his UK hospital-based study, Garry Coles, the co-founder of this association, demonstrated the positive effects of pre-surgical hypnosis on the recovery quality in breast cancer patients. Garry has been working with cancer patients in hospital settings for over 14 years and now trains other clinical hypnotherapists in his most effective hypnotic techniques and unique hypno-oncology therapeutic approach.
Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is a very interesting field of study that demonstrates the link between the immune system and mental health. Cancer patients undergoing treatment, such as chemotherapy, often develop a weaker immune system as their treatment progresses. PNI studies demonstrate how psychological distress, such as depression and anxiety, can negatively affect the body’s immune system and the effectiveness of the cancer treatment. Which leads to the opposing thought, that if a cancer patient receives support for their mental health through hypnotherapy, it could potentially positively boost the immune system and the body’s ability to heal from the cancer if the hypnosis has successfully reduced their levels of psychological distress. Hypnosis to boost a patient’s immune system and ability to heal from cancer is an experimental field and it is never recommended that a patient only rely on hypnosis. It is a complementary therapy that could potentially enhance the medical treatment and the body’s ability to heal.
I help my clients with a range of different issues they may experience during their treatment. From supporting their mental health, to helping with pain management, and overcoming the fear of needles and surgery.
Imagine having a phobia of needles and being told that your only medical treatment option is to undergo chemotherapy where you will have needles pretty much weekly for maybe 6 months or so. Eventually you will become somewhat desensitised to the fear but only after you have endured the psychological distress for the first month or so. Now imagine being able to have hypnosis prior to starting your treatment so that the fear of needles you used to have is now a distant memory in the past.
The day after I would take my mum for her chemo appointments, I would visit her again to inject an immune boosting needle into her stomach. This was an unpleasant surprise task that neither of us were looking forward to but the nurse pointed out the multitude of other patients and their carers who seem to handle the task perfectly fine and so should we. She even gave mum the option of administering it on herself, which she quickly replied "no way!" and I accepted my new job.
I haven’t been scared of receiving needles for a long time, as it was one of the first things I used self-hypnosis to fix when I started studying hypnotherapy, but never in my life had I actually had to give someone else a needle. I was trained in delivering an epi-pen but I never actually had to administer one. I didn’t realise how scared I was of giving a needle until the first time I had to do it. So, truth be told I felt sorry for my poor mum on the day of her first needle from an untrained, fake nurse Mel. The next day I used hypnosis to channel my inner nurse and let go of the fear. The more confident I became when administering the needles, the less pain and anxiety my dear mum experienced. Although I am sure she wished an actual nurse could have been doing it the whole time (and I don’t blame her!)
For a patient with cancer who is about to have surgery, the weeks and days leading up to their surgery date can become increasingly daunting. Fears can range from a fear that the surgery won’t be successful, that there might be complications, that they will discover during the surgery that the cancer is worse than the surgeon had predicted, the risk of dying during surgery and the fear of waking up in pain. Not every patient will experience all of these thoughts but even just fixating on one or two of them can be enough to increase the anxiety of anyone, however brave they normally are.
Now imagine you have your surgery date set and you have also booked a hypnotherapy session pre-surgery. You tell the hypnotherapist all your worries, fears, and concerns. They don’t judge you or challenge your fears by throwing contradictory statistics at you. Instead, they ask you “how would you like to feel instead?” We then work on building a strong mindset in hypnosis and leave you feeling like a champion athlete who is mentally preparing for an event, one in which they are confident they will come out on top and feeling like they have achieved their desired outcome. And the icing on the cake, the power suggestion, that the recovery after that event is going to be smooth and even faster than their doctor has suggested it would likely be. The body is always listening to the mind. It makes sense that a strong mindset will yield better results than a panicked and distressed one.
These are just a few examples of ways in which hypnotherapy can be helpful for cancer patients, and hopefully I have painted you a picture of the possibility of having an easier experience during your cancer journey. While it is by no means an easy journey, if you had the choice to potentially make some aspects of that journey easier on yourself or easier for your loved one with cancer, then why wouldn’t you give it a try?