A few years ago, I attended a four-day workshop held by Dr. David Burns, who is a Stanford psychiatrist and the author of Feeling Good. It was his book that was the first step in pulling me out of tailspin into The Abyss of pain. I wanted to meet him and hear him in person. He was not only brilliant, but also inspiring. Of course, I was the only orthopedic surgeon in a room with 119 other psychologists and psychiatrists.
During one of the lunchtime presentations, I was introduced to the concept of medical hypnosis, by Jeffrey Lazarus, MD. Medical hypnosis isn’t at all similar to what you have seen in shows or on TV. The term represents different approaches that accomplish the goal of deep relaxation and focus. I had not realized how effective it could be until his talk. He presented a video of a young girl with a severe vocal tic. It was incredibly disruptive to a functional life. Her problem was severe enough that she was essentially housebound. Her parents were professionals and had sought out many solutions without success. She underwent a brief series of treatments with him and experienced one of the most remarkable turnarounds I’ve ever seen. The video showed her transforming from a wild-eyed withdrawn person to a pleasant, interactive young lady. I would not have thought this was possible, especially after only a handful of visits.
One of the main approaches to solving chronic pain is decreasing your bodies stress chemicals and deep relaxation is one of the strategies. A study was done in 2014 on 100 veterans with chronic low back pain (LBP). Three groups were taught self-hypnosis and one group had active biofeedback. All of the groups experienced a significant reduction in their pain and improvement in sleep, but the hypnosis groups had more improvement. The intervention was successful in as few as two visits. (1).
Dr. Lazarus has been kind enough to share his insights on what I feel is an under-utilized treatment. He is a board-certified, Stanford-trained pediatrician who is internationally known in the field of pediatric hypnosis. He has authored chapters and articles, has lectured extensively both nationally and internationally, and is the creator of “Keeping the Bed Dry®,” a comprehensive home video program that incorporates medical hypnosis for patients with bedwetting.
When I began learning about chronic pain, I didn’t understand the link between stress chemicals and the creation of physical symptoms. The essence of solving the anxiety created by mental or physical pain is to train your body to relax and decrease the levels of them. Medical hypnosis can achieve this goal quickly.
BTW, this is our cat, Sophia Rose.
The tragedy of my life is that I’m obsessed with this cat and she’s obsessed with my wife.
From Dr. Lazarus:
It is an honor to be included in one of these newsletters. I admire Dr. Hanscom and his enormous contributions, self-disclosures, openness, honesty, and humility.
Reading Dr. Hanscom’s recent newsletter about warts made me want to share my story with you. I had had plantar warts (warts on the bottom of my foot) and saw a dermatologist who used standard therapy, including freezing them and putting topical medications on them. After seeing the dermatologist every 3 weeks for 15 months, they were still there, unchanged. And I was frustrated.
Then I remembered I had taken care of a five-year-old boy who had had hundreds of warts on the backs of his hands. They were terribly disfiguring. He had been to several dermatologists and even saw a surgeon who wanted to put the boy under anesthesia and remove them. Then he went and learned self-hypnosis, and a month later, the warts were gone. So, I called the local children’s hospital, Rainbow Babies and Children’s, and was referred to Karen Olness, MD, a professor of Pediatrics. It turned out that she had co-authored the book on hypnosis in children, and she was very kind and agreed to see me as a patient.
We met one time and she taught me a technique commonly used in adults. It involved deep muscle relaxation, muscle group by muscle group. Then she told me, “When your body is relaxed, you can go to a place in your mind where you feel happy, safe, and comfortable. And when you’re in that special state of mind, you can tell yourself, ‘I will no longer feed the warts.’ And do this exercise twice a day and then call me in a month.”
To make a long story short, 3 weeks later, the warts were gone! Apparently I, too, was “done” and wasn’t going to put up with them any more! I called Dr. Olness and told her that I had to learn how to do this so that I could help my patients with problems that did not respond to traditional medicine. I have been fortunate to have received training from the top pediatric people and the top adult people in the field of medical hypnosis.
Principles of medical hypnosis
Medical hypnosis, also referred to as clinical hypnosis, mental imagery, guided imagery, visualization, or daydreaming with a focus, is a remarkably powerful tool. Unfortunately, when many people hear the word hypnosis, they think of the person with the swinging watch and mind control popularized in movies and cartoons. Of course, there is no such thing as mind control.
Hypnosis simply represents being in a highly-focused state of mind. Have you ever been “in the zone” playing your sport? Or been absorbed in a good book? Have your children ever been playing a video game, and when you called them, they didn’t even hear you? They weren’t being rude; they were simply engaged in their game.
With medical hypnosis, patients choose a specific therapeutic goal and then we help them to create an empowering experience, in their minds, that allows them to realize that they are able to do things that they previously were not aware that they could do. We call this “self-hypnosis” because the patient does this by him/her self. And, just like any other skill that needs to be learned and practiced, such as kicking a soccer ball, or playing the piano, the more you practice, the better you get at it. The more you practice, the easier it gets. The more you practice, the faster you get it. Permanent pathways
Medical hypnosis has been shown to be effective for many conditions (2), including:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Functional Abdominal Pain
- Performance anxiety
- Public speaking
- Test anxiety
- Sports performance
- Musicians, dancers, actors
- Tics and Tourette syndrome (3)
Of all the patients I am privileged to treat, I find those with tics to be the most rewarding. If a child is not yet dry at night, although embarrassing, it is private. If someone misses school or work due to a migraine headache, a friend might acknowledge this by saying, “Oh, we’re so glad you’re feeling better and are back today.” But having tics is physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. Plus, these patients feel embarrassed and are often ridiculed. So, helping patients with tics is my biggest joy, professionally, because it changes their lives so quickly and so dramatically.
There are two main types of tics: motor and vocal. Motor tics can be simple, involving a single muscle group, such as eye-blinking, or complex, involving more than one muscle group, for example, turning one’s head to the side. Vocal tics can be any sound, including coughing, throat-clearing, grunting, sniffling, etc. Tics are involuntary and occur intermittently. Patients with Tourette syndrome have tics that are present virtually every day for at least one year. When I treat patients with tics, it doesn’t matter if they have vocal or motor tics; the treatment is the same.
Typically, patients with the above problems have significant improvement after only 2 to 4 visits. Afterwards, they feel empowered and have increased self-esteem. For more information about medical hypnosis, you’re invited to visit www.JeffLazarusMD.com. To learn about how medical hypnosis can help cure bedwetting, you are invited to visit keepingthebeddry.com.
I am learning that most major cities do have resources to offer this deep relaxation technique. I am looking forward to learning more. My wife thinks I could use a bit of it!!
- Tan G, Rintala DH, Jensen MP, Fukui T, Smith D, and W Williams. A randomized controlled trial of hypnosis compared with biofeedback for adults with chronic low back pain. European Jrn of Pain. (2014) doi:10.1002/ejp.545.
- Kohen and Kaiser. Clinical Hypnosis with Children and Adolescents—What? Why? How?: Origins, Applications, and Efficacy. Children. (2014) 1(2), 74-98; doi:3390/children1020074
- Lazarus and Klein. Nonpharmacological Treatment of Tics in Tourette Syndrome Adding Videotape Training to Self-Hypnosis. J Dev Behav Pediatr. (2010) 1:498-504.