Hypnosis can help relieve acute pain. Explanation by Maryse Davadant, intensive care nurse.
A 71-year old man underwent open heart surgery without general anaesthesia. As incredible as it may seem, he had only a local anaesthetic and endured the operation while wide awake. He was under hypnosis. The events took place in 2007 at the Sacré-Cœur de Roulers Clinic in Belgium.
Despite popular belief, scientists have made it clear that there is nothing esoteric about hypnosis. It is an effective therapeutic technique to help patients face their phobias, free themselves from an addiction or treat an allergy.
The Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) uses hypnosis to relieve acute pain, such as from severe burns or in transplant patients. “At one point I had a young patient with burns on both legs,” says Maryse Davadant, an intensive care nurse at the CHUV specialised in hypnosis. “I asked him to explain his pain in detail. He told me that it felt as though he was being burnt with flames from a blowlamp. I told him to lower the intensity of those flames in his mind,” she says. “That didn’t work, but he spontaneously imagined blocks of ice on the blowlamps, which gave him some relief.” The nurse says that this initial analysis is absolutely essential. “When the person feels intense pain, you can’t ask them to take a mental journey because their suffering is too great.” In fact, the patient is already under hypnosis, overcome with their physical sensations. By playing on metaphors, Maryse Davadant manages to relieve their pain.
A 71-year old man underwent open heart surgery without general anaesthesia. As incredible as it may seem, he had only a local anaesthetic and endured the operation while wide awake. He was under hypnosis.
Metaphors are used throughout their care. “It is very unpleasant for severe burn patients to have their bandages changed and wounds cleaned. Their flesh is completely exposed.” The person is mentally transported to a place where they feel safe in order to focus their attention. The nurse offers suggestions so that the patient can experience something other than the present situation. “I know what step in the process will be difficult,” she explains. “I integrate the pain into images. If the patient chooses to be in a river, I tell him, for example, that he slightly scratched himself on some rocks.” Contrary to common misconception, people under hypnosis are in complete control of their body. They are even extremely focused. “It’s an altered state of consciousness.”
Neuroscience has proved that certain parts of the brain are activated under hypnosis. “When patients imagine themselves in a forest and smell mushrooms, medical imaging shows that the olfactory region of the brain is stimulated. That means that the patient is having the experience of being in the woods.” This state
of consciousness changes what the patient feels and their perception of pain to help them feel it in an acceptable way. Hypnosis also increases the patient’s independence. “The goal is to learn self-hypnosis,” says Maryse Davadant. “The patient understands that they’re acting
for themselves. They are no longer being subjected to treatment, but instead playing an active role in their care.”