Hypnosis for Cancer Patients

Cancer diagnoses and the treatments that follow make for a lot of stress and uncomfortable side-effects. New research adds to the existing body of evidence that hypnosis is a powerful way to ease the journey through cancer treatment and recovery.

A cancer diagnosis can be a terrifying experience — one that 44% of US males and 38% of US women are likely to receive at some point in their lives.

Fear of pain, fear of major life changes, and even fear of dying all result in massive increases in stress after a cancer diagnosis. Adding to that stress is often worry. Worry about the implications of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

  • Will they be painful?
  • What will the side effects be?
  • Will any of this even work?

New patients often find themselves swimming in a sea of statistics and being bombarded with advice from every friend, family member, and co-worker.

Hypnotherapy can provide an anchor point through any journey with cancer. Working with a qualified hypnotherapist can be an effective way to reduce the racing thoughts that come with stress, to calm emotions, to improve sleep quality and duration, to reduce pain, and even to reduce or eliminate side effects from chemotherapy.

Hypnosis to Calm the Mind and Emotions

Newly diagnosed cancer patients are often faced with an overwhelming array of potential major life changes.

  • Will I be able to continue working?
  • Will I be around for my kids?
  • How will my spouse handle this?
  • Do I tell people, or keep this a secret?
  • How will this impact my income?
  • What about medical expenses?
  • Will I live or die?
  • What about my hopes, plans, and dreams?

All of these thoughts can make for a racing mind, anxiety, and insomnia from the worry that just won’t stop. Cancer forces us to re-evaluate our life priorities and raises existential questions about life and death. It’s no wonder that cancer survivors often say they were deeply changed by the experience.

Hypnotherapy can ease patients through these questions and be a powerful catalyst to finding answers, peace, and better sleep. Hypnosis is a state of consciousness that allows one easy access to increased creativity, problem solving skills, alternative perspectives, and even philosophical exploration. Working with a hypnotherapist, clients are able to dissolve fears and to develop strategies for managing the life changes afoot. A hypnotherapist can also teach the patient self-hypnosis, which can then be used as a self-help tool for on-going stress reduction, introspection, and problem solving.

Hypnosis and Fatigue

Fatigue is a common experience with cancer patients, not only from lack of sleep due to worry related insomnia, but also as a side effect of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. At a time in their lives when rest is more needed than ever, cancer patients can be left flat out exhausted.

With resolution of some of the psycho-emotional stress, hypnotherapy can help patients to sleep better at night. And we all deal with stress much better after a good night’s sleep. Thanks to recent research at the Mount Sinai Hospital showing the benefits of hypnosis with fatigue, more cancer patients are turning to hypnosis to help with the stress, insomnia, and the resulting fatigue related to cancer diagnoses and treatments.

Hypnosis to Reduce Stress and Boost Immunity

Holistic practitioners generally view cancer as a symptom of a weakened immune system. Our bodies develop cancerous cells all the time. In a body with a healthy immune system, the runaway cells are swept up without us even knowing it. But our immune systems can become compromised through poor diet, environmental toxins, and something nearly none of us can avoid — stress. So to receive a cancer diagnosis that throws us into a highly stressed state is to even further reduce our body’s natural ability to eliminate the cancer and return to health.

Hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis, which is similar to meditation, are not only well-established stress reduction tools, but also well-established techniques to boost immune function. Engaging hypnotherapy from the outset can smooth the bumpy ride of a cancer diagnosis and treatment program.

Hypnosis to Reduce Stress and Pain

Stress is not only a risk to our health, but also directly related to our comfort. Stress amplifies our experience of pain by adding a psychological component. While any stress-reduction tool can help with pain, hypnotherapy has been found more effective than other relaxation techniques.

Hypnotherapy is a well-established pain reduction tool, with multiple studies showing its effectiveness within a variety of pain scenarios. Working with a hypnotherapist can be a quick and effective way to calm the mind and body and increase one’s capacity for pain.

Hypnosis and Surgery Recovery

For those cancer patients undergoing surgery, hypnotherapy can be a powerful gateway for improving the experience and after effects of hospital stays.

More than one in three people undergoing major surgery experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after their hospital stay. PTSD can show up as anxiety and depression in the months and sometimes years following surgery. Hypnotherapy can be used prior to surgery to mentally walk the patient through the operation and recovery. Rehearsing successful outcomes helps the patient prepare psychologically and improves mood and outlook throughout the process.

Blue Shield of California has shown that by visualizing the operation in advance, the body and mind can make preparations that  result in 8% shorter hospital stays, 14% less pain medication, and at the time of the study in year 2000, an average savings of $2,003 per procedure. The results of this approach were so clear that Blue Shield of California now offers its patients pre-surgical guided imagery CDs in the weeks leading up to a major operation.

Hypnosis and Chemotherapy Side-Effects

The list of side-effects from chemotherapy is too long to list here, but we are all familiar with them. In addition to helping with the obvious anxiety that comes from such a difficult treatment and with the physical changes that result, such as hair loss, hypnotherapy has been shown to be effective in reducing anxiety, pain, nausea and vomiting.

Finding a Hypnotherapist Right for You

Whether looking for a hypnotherapist to support you or someone you love, it is important to find quality care. Some factors to consider are:

  • Where the hypnotherapist was trained
  • If they have a scientific or medical background
  • How long they have been practising

Most importantly, the hypnotherapist needs to feel like someone you can trust. Often a phone consultation is the best way to see if a hypnotherapist is a good fit for you.

A qualified hypnotherapist can be a powerful partner in any medical journey. Whether recently diagnosed or in the final stages of recovery, hypnotherapy can help to reduce stress, reduce costs, increase comfort, and increase chances of a successful return to health.

Andrew Gentile has a B.Sc. in Biochemistry and is a Certified Medical Hypnotherapist in Toronto, Canada. He sees clients locally in person, and globally by phone and Skype. His website, www.TorontoHypnotherapy.ca, compiles medical research on the efficacy of medical hypnosis and is a resource to health practitioners worldwide.


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