Medical hypnosis (My Doctor)

Hypnosis is a state of mind in which a person is highly susceptible to suggestions, making him or her change their way of acting, thinking and feeling.
The premodifier ‘medical’ means that hypnosis is used for medical purposes, i.e. to relieve and eliminate psychological and psychophysical problems, and is performed by a professionally qualified therapist, usually a doctor or psychologist having passed additional training.

Maja Zajc

The cuneiform script preserved from the Sumerian period, from 4000 B.C., gives evidence of the fact that hypnosis was known and used back in that era. The Ebers Papyrus (Ancient Egypt, 1550 B.C.) is one of the oldest medical papyryi. It explains the methods of hypnosis, which are surprisingly similar to the ones used today (inducing hypnosis using a shiny metal disc).

In the Antique Period, the Ancient Greeks used hypnosis to heal people in sanctuaries. In the Middle Ages, the Church did not recognize hypnosis, so it was only used by stage performers. At the time, it was associated with the occult (secret powers). 

The founder of modern hypnosis was the Austrian physician Franz Mesmer (1734–1815). He was followed by the Scottish physician James Braid (1795–1860), who was the first to use the term ‘hypnotism’ as the abbreviation for neuro-hypnotism (nervous sleep). James Esdaile (1808–1859), a Scottish surgeon, operated on a number of patients subject to a pain-free hypnotic state (Esdaile State – state of deep hypnosis). After ether was discovered, hypnosis became less frequently used. 

During the First World War, hypnosis was used again to induce analgesia due to the lack of ether. After the war, hypnosis was developed and used in the US. 

After a long history of rejection and scepticism shown by doctors regarding hypnosis, the British Medical Association introduced the study of hypnosis in 1955 and adopted hypnosis as a medical discipline. In 1958, hypnosis as medical therapy was approved by the American Medical Association. 

Hypnosis for medical purposes is used all over the world today. The pioneer of medical hypnosis in Slovenia is Professor Marjan Pajntar. 

Professor Pajntar, you were the first in 1962 to use medical hypnosis to reduce pain during childbirth. What lead you to choose this method? 

At the time, analgesics for pain relief in labour were rarely used. Most of them were opiates, and they affected the foetal condition (oxygen deficiency). Many physicians were afraid, even too afraid to use these medicines, and so the women in labour rarely had their pain relieved. I read in the literature that pain in labour can be managed using medical hypnosis, which is completely risk-free both for the mother and the baby. First, I learned from books, and subsequently attended several workshops around Europe. Then I started to use hypnosis for childbirth. 

What is the difference between medical hypnosis and conventional hypnosis?

Hypnosis is a state in which a person is highly susceptible to suggestions, making him or her change their way of acting, thinking and feeling. When different types of therapies to manage pain and relieve various psychosomatic problems are used in a hypnotic state, this is called medical hypnosis. This hypnotic state can also be used to work with clients in other areas. There are different types of hypnosis, such as stage hypnosis, hypnosis in sports, hypnosis for education and learning, hypnosis for business achievements. 

What are the benefits of medical hypnosis?

Those in Europe who use hypnosis in thousands of cases as a method of anaesthesia (Belgians, Danes, Swedes) say it is much cheaper and, more importantly, much safer than chemical anaesthesia, particularly for patients who could be adversely affected by chemical anaesthesia due to their disease. 

In which types of therapy can medical hypnosis be effective?

Hypnosis is particularly effective in diseases where the psyche (emotional tensions) affects the development and course of the disease. These include psychosomatic diseases, adjustment and personality disorders, while hypnosis is also used to manage pain and increase stimulation for being cured. 

You have advocated that clinical hypnosis should be more broadly used. Recently, a patient was operated on under hypnosis in Slovenia. What do you say about this? Is the development going in the right direction? 

Yes, it is. With joint efforts, this case, reported in the media, was well-planned, implemented, commented on and documented. Considering our situation, this is essential. Even though such operations have been performed thousands of times elsewhere, various guardians of conventional medicine standards never cease to request evidence that the method is appropriate and effective. The same happened to the English surgeon James Esdaile in India, who performed over 300 major and 1,000 minor surgeries in a hypnotic state before chloroform and ether were introduced. However, when he presented his achievements to his peers in London, they contested him without checking the authenticity of his findings. 

In January 2016, the first surgical procedure under hypnosis, without anaesthesia, was performed in Slovenia. It was conducted by Professor Uroš Ahčan, PhD, MD, Consultant in Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery. 

Professor Ahčan, you recently resected a skin growth under medical hypnosis. What lead you to choose this method? 

In several centres, medical hypnosis is a well-established practice used in different surgical procedures. There are technical papers published on this topic that clearly demonstrate that this method is safe, reliable and patient-friendly if used in a properly selected population. The patient is known to have undergone six surgical procedures and all of them were performed under medical hypnosis. Therefore, I believe that surgeons and healthcare professionals in general, should take a look at the larger picture and start introducing new techniques which open up new opportunities and perspectives for people. Before this surgery, we obtained the opinion from the National Medical Ethics Committee. A detailed protocol was prepared, and the procedure was part of a defined research project managed by reputable anaesthesiologists, who had invited me to participate. I was pleased to respond to the new challenges. 

Did the course of the procedure differ from the procedures for which anaesthesia is used?

The surgical procedure was performed in exactly the same way as if the patient had undergone general anaesthesia. On the well-innervated region, a section was made through the skin into the subcutaneous tissue, the skin tumour was resected, haemostasis was achieved – the bleeding was stopped using bipolar tweezers, and the subcutaneous tissue and skin were sutured. The patient – study subject, who was at the same time the main holder of the research project, did not move a millimetre, so the conditions for surgical work were the same as in general anaesthesia. 

You are a consultant in reconstructive and aesthetic surgery. Would you use medical hypnosis for more demanding surgeries as well?

Hypnosis can certainly be used for major surgeries too, which has been described in detail in the scholarly literature. It has been used in different fields; however, the patient should be monitored by a qualified person. In our case, anaesthesiologists were present. However, we cannot expect to use hypnosis to perform major heart surgeries on critically ill patients or patients with comorbidities. 

In which procedures would medical hypnosis be an appropriate solution for your patients?

Hypnosis would be suitable for children, for whom each surgery is a major stress. It could also be used in aesthetic surgery, which usually involves healthy people, and where the time for preparation is longer; in critical burns, notably dressing, which is very frequent and requires a great deal of effort from both patients and personnel, as well as in many other fields. 

Many people are afraid of anaesthesia. Do you think hypnosis could successfully replace anaesthesia?

In certain cases, hypnosis could absolutely replace conventional anaesthesia, but proper monitoring is required by an anaesthesiologist with knowledge and experience to manage and monitor patients during surgery. Surgeons should focus on surgical work and our attention should be devoted to splitting up and suturing the tissue, while monitoring should be performed by anaesthesiologists. Anaesthesiologists are those who look for new solutions in anaesthesia and new possibilities for the patients, and surgeons are here to help them.