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Hypnotic Analgesia: Clinical Implications of Recent Research Findings
Mark Jensen, PhD
In the past decade, there has been a dramatic increase in the number and quality of research studies examining effects of hypnosis on pain. Imaging studies have shown that hypnosis influences all of the cortical areas and neurophysiological processes that underlie pain. Moreover, recent well-controlled clinical trials have demonstrated that hypnotic treatment for chronic pain have specific effects on pain intensity over and above any effects based on placebo (expectancy) alone.
Two primary effects of this treatment on pain have been noted:
(1) a reductions in daily background pain intensity for many patients; and
(2) an increased ability to use self-hypnosis to experience temporary reductions in pain that lasts for several hours.
The findings from this research also indicate that the "side effects" of hypnosis are overwhelmingly positive, and that hypnosis influences a number of important nonpain-related quality of life domains. The findings from these studies have important clinical implications. Specifically, clinicians treating patients with chronic pain should:
(1) include hypnotic suggestions that impact all of the neurophysiological processes that may underlie a patient's pain;
(2) include suggestions that impact other key quality of life domains (e.g., sleep quality, well-being);
(3) include suggestions that improvements in daily background pain can become "automatic and
(4) train patients in the use of self-hypnosis to achieve immediate pain relief; and
(5) provide audio recordings of treatment sessions to enhance treatment effects.
Hypnotic treatment for chronic pain has proven efficacy, and should be offered to any individual who expresses an interest in this approach.
Mark P. Jensen, PhD, is a Professor and Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Dr. Jensen's research program focuses on the development and evaluation of psychosocial pain interventions, including hypnotic interventions. He has been awarded a number of grants from the National Institutes of Health and other funding sources to test and extend biopsychosocial models of chronic pain, and for his work on treatment evaluation. He is the author or co-author of over 250 articles and book chapters, and is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Pain. Current research projects include: (1) clinical trials of hypnotic analgesia for chronic pain conditions; (2) research to understand the effects of psychosocial interventions on pain-related brain activity; and (3) the development and evaluation of neuromodulatory interventions for chronic pain management. He has facilitated workshops, nationally and internationally, on the integration of hypnotic, cognitive-behavioral, and motivational approaches for chronic pain management for over 20 years.