Hypnotherapy and the Management of Pain.
If you are reading this and you are coping with a pain condition please know that
hypnotherapists are compassionate people and you will be met with understanding and
kindness if you choose to try hypnotherapy to help you with your pain. If you do not see an
answer to your question here please do get in touch with us here at Clinical Hypnotherapy School and we will be happy to answer any questions you may have about hypnosis and hypnotherapy.
Chronic pain is an issue for many of us. It is a horrible experience that affects virtually all
aspects of our lives. It affects the quality of our sleep, our daily activities, or social life and,
of course, our mood.
If this is you, we feel for you and hope you find this blog helpful and hopeful.
Over 27 million adults in the UK report living with chronic pain, that’s between one third
and a half of all adults.
(source https://cks.nice.org.uk/topics/chronic-pain/background-information/prevalence/ )
Can hypnotherapy help with chronic pain?
The short answer is yes, hypnotherapy may well help someone manage their chronic pain.
Hypnotherapy is a well researched complementary therapy and evidence shows that many
people have found it helpful for their pain condition.
We encourage all our clients to talk with their doctor before having any complementary
therapy including hypnotherapy.
Chronic pain conditions can result from a range of causes, for example one may be left
with a pain condition following an injury or accident. Some illnesses cause pain, such as
degenerative conditions like arthritis or illnesses like irritable bowel syndrome or
inflammatory bowel disease. Conditions such as fibromyalgia, CFS and long covid may
also result in long term pain. The evidence-base for hypnosis in the management of
chronic pain is strong and also it seems that the effects of hypnosis may be far reaching
with many studies reporting additional improvements in sleep, emotional coping and
psychological well-being. The studies generally focus on pain associated with a specific
cause, but the overwhelming message is clear: hypnosis continues to be an effective way
of managing pain, almost always without negative side-effects and often with positive
additional psychological effects too.
Can hypnotherapy help with back pain?
Van Haudenhuyse and colleagues (2015) assessed the effectiveness of four treatments
for chronic pain: The results showed significant results for reduction in pain intensity were
found in the self-hypnosis group. In helping your manage your back pain your
hypnotherapist will most likely teach you self hypnosis techniques. This is a straightforward
thing to learn and your hypnotherapist is trained in teaching this technique.
Other techniques that may be used by your hypnotherapist include deep relaxation
techniques. Your hypnotherapist will discuss the techniques with you and together you can
decide what you think would work best for you.
Low back pain is a complex problem that benefits from a multi-disciplinary approach. You
will probably be looking at hypnosis for pain management whilst also working with your GP
and perhaps a physiotherapist (or similar practitioner) to address the underlying cause.
The research evidence shows of course that hypnosis is effective for pain management,
but that this multidisciplinary approach is the best way to keep the pain at bay.
Hypnotherapy is a complementary therapy, it works well within the framework of a team
approach working with you to help you find your solutions. (Tan et al., 2010).
How does hypnotherapy help with pain?
People often ask us
“does hypnosis work because the person is more relaxed and therefore less susceptible to
pain, or does it work because the person is distracted from the pain and therefore not
taking any notice of the pain?”
To answer this let’s look at some research.
A study by Kramer, Zims et al (2014) tested the hypothesis that hypnosis is not just
relaxation, but is instead a different state of mind, that enables pain to be tolerated better.
The researches looked at hypnosis and relaxation and the authors concluded that it was
the hypnosis that was affecting the pain perception, not the relaxation associated with the
hypnosis. So if hypnosis is more effective than relaxation, there must be something
happening within the brain where the pain is processed.
Does hypnosis work by being a distraction from the pain?
Another piece of research by Squintani et al (2018) was a study to see if distraction was
the mechanism by which hypnosis works to reduce pain perception or whether hypnosis
operates via a different neural mechanism. The participants in this study were living in
chronic pain and were given pain tests during a resting state (control condition), during
hypnosis, and during a period of distraction. What Squintani and his team found was that
the area of the brain particularly involved in pain perception showed a significant decrease
in activity during the hypnosis condition, compared with the control condition and the
Another study, this time by Thompson et al (2019) conducted a meta-analysis of 85 eligible
trials, consisting of research reporting on 3632 participants. The meta-analysis found that
hypnosis has an analgesic effect for all pain outcomes.
Will hypnotherapy help me with my chronic pain?
You are the best judge of whether hypnotherapy is helping you with your pain. The
research shows that hypnotherapy is effective in a wide range of pain conditions and yet
we are all unique. Your hypnotherapist will discuss the therapy plan with you and this
includes how you will both be measuring the success of your hypnotherapy sessions. As a
rough guide, you should notice that something has got better after each and every session
and the effects of hypnotherapy are often also cumulative, so a course of sessions may be
helpful to you.
One of the factors that influences the outcome of hypnotherapy may be hypnotisability, talk
with a fully qualified hypnotherapist to see if this might be suitable for you.
Can hypnotherapy help children with pain conditions?
The evidence for the efficacy of using hypnosis in children in pain is strong. In 2012, Tome-
Pires and Miro conducted a systematic review of papers reporting the use of self-hypnosis
for pain control in children with cancer. They reviewed the results of 12 good-quality
research papers, and concluded that hypnosis is extremely effective as a pain-
management technique in children with cancer, and that this should be a vital part of the
treatment plan for all patients under the age of 18 years.
Again the preferred hypnosis technique is teaching the child self hypnosis, this helps the
child in forming a ‘toolbox for coping’ and children who use self hypnosis for pain have less
anxiety ((Kuttner, 2012). Children can be taught self-hypnosis techniques for pain quite
well. We advise choosing a hypnotherapist who has undertaken further training in working
Can hypnotherapy help with cancer pain?
The research of Spiegel and Bloom (1983) looked at hypnosis techniques directed
towards helping people manage their pain, stress and anxiety related to their cancer
illness, including hypnotic suggestions and instruction in self-hypnosis and this research
finding reported that participants found they had an overall decrease in their pain. Always
ask your specialist nurse or oncologist before having hypnotherapy for your cancer illness.
Your hospital may provide hypnotherapy as part of their oncology services, so it is worth
checking whether this is available in your area
Many people feel trapped in a cycle of pain and taking pain killers then coping with the
unwanted side effects of their pain killers. As we have mentioned before, always chat with
your doctor about your medication first. If you and your doctor decide this is right for you,
hypnotherapy may well help you achieve your goal.
Some people worry that, though no fault of their own, their pain condition has led them to
becoming addicted to painkillers. If this is you, know that help is at hand, your
hypnotherapist will be compassionate and non judgmental, we know this is an unwanted
side effect of being in pain and we recognise that people are doing their best in life. Reach
out to your doctor and to us to see if we can help you.
Here is a quote from an article written by O’Keefe & Tracie, ”Clinical Hypnotherapy for
Stopping Drug and Alcohol Addiction: Building Resilience in Clients to Reduce Relapses
and Remain Clean and Sober.” Published in the Australian Journal of Clinical
Hypnotherapy and Hypnosis. (2020)