Hypnosis for the Treatment of Pain

This therapeutic tool focuses on the attentional processes to relieve pain.

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In everyday life, and without realizing it, we experience a very specific natural process of the mind; for example, when we are absorbed watching a movie or reading a book, or when we are driving thinking about our things without being aware of the journey we make.

These states have a lot to do with hypnosis. This is in turn a technique that is increasingly used in clinical psychology to treat different problems or pathologies. In this article we will know hypnosis for the treatment of pain.

Hypnosis as a psychological tool

The state of hypnosis that we mentioned at the beginning of the article occurs spontaneously, but it can also be induced by psychological strategies.

The American Psychological Association (APA) in 1996 defined hypnosis as a procedure during which changes in sensations, thoughts, feelings and behavior arise.

Currently hypnosis is considered a scientific tool that is used by doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists… Through it we can work with those deeper and automatic aspects of the mind, to produce changes that help improve the health of patients and develop its potential.

Almost any aspect that involves the mind is susceptible to being treated by hypnosis.

Hypnosis for the treatment of pain

Pain is a mechanism of our body that warns us or indicates that something is not working well. But there are times when pain becomes pathological and dysfunctional, and that happens when it becomes chronic, and loses its warning or adaptation function. Chronic pain is one that persists for more than three months (Merskey and Bogduk, 1994).

The classification of chronic pain includes various pathologies such as: back pain, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis and headaches. In these, the current psychology is working to determine the psychological factors involved in its development, maintenance, chronification, treatment and / or recovery (especially the psychology of health).

In these cases, pain is added psychological and physical pain, as well as tension, which in turn feed back that same pain, producing a vicious circle.

This tool allows you to work in different ways, with the aim of reducing or eliminating chronic pain. In addition, it also allows to work with acute pain in those cases in which said pain does not present any use for the organism (it is not functional).

Hypnosis for the treatment of pain is based on the idea that pain is a biopsychosocial phenomenon where emotions, behaviors and thoughts play a key role. Thus, hypnosis can be used to promote changes on these factors and, consequently, reduce pain.

How is it used to relieve the discomfort?

Hypnosis, like relaxation, can be applied as an isolated technique or as an integral part of other therapies. When it is included within other techniques, the results tend to improve.

Hypnosis for the treatment of pain can help reduce anxiety, and thus indirectly act on pain.

On the other hand, hypnosis can be a mechanism with which the patient concentrates on some stimulus and leaves the painful sensation in the unconscious part. Sometimes, even, the belief that hypnosis will work can change the patient’s beliefs and a “placebo effect” can appear that reduces pain (Moix, 2002).


An element that should also be considered to apply hypnosis in therapy (and, specifically, in hypnosis to treat pain), essential for the development of it, is the practice of self-hypnosis to the patient.

The objective is for the patient to train and learn to apply hypnosis in order to alleviate pain wherever and whenever he wishes, beyond the situation of consultation.

Scientific evidence

Several scientific studies have shown the usefulness of hypnosis for the treatment of pain and for other types of problems or pathologies, together with enhancing or therapeutic options. Even in many countries this tool is included in public health.

The Mayo Clinic in New York conducted a meta-study on hypnosis in 2005, which highlighted 19 pathologies where hypnosis was favorable and indicated. It is also supported by several studies published in prestigious medical journals such as Nature, Science or Oncology.

On the other hand, hypnosis in the medical field is used in numerous hospitals and clinics all over the world. It is also a technique that is studied in most medical universities in the Saxon area. It is also used in Europe, in cities such as Belgium and France, and if the patient so wishes, as a psychic anesthetic or as a coadjutant to chemical anesthesia.

In the clinical field, in Spain hypnosis is currently used for pain, in the Pain Unit of the Hospital Universitari de Tarragona, in patients with fibromyalgia and through l’autohypnosis. It is also used in the Sleep Unit of the Rubber Clinic in Madrid and in the Hospital la pau in Madrid, in Oncologia (by a group of volunteers).

Myths and misunderstandings

There is a series of myths about hypnosis that we must demystify. Here we will talk about three:

1. Aggravation of physical or mental illness

Hypnosis itself does not aggravate or worsen physical or mental illnesses, but a malpractice of the therapy in a hypnotic process by the professional, could be harmful.

2. The hypnotist can do what he wants with the hypnotized

This is not like this; All hypnosis is really a self-hypnosis, and therefore the hypnotized person (or the patient) agrees to make things happen. If the hypnotist gave any instruction against his moral or will, the patient could simply not obey such suggestion, as well as get out of the hypnotic process whenever he wished.

3. Hypnosis does not require effort on the part of the patient

Although in the hypnosis session mental work can be experienced as automatic and enjoyable, the person remains in an active state that requires effort. In addition, its implication and willingness to be effective is necessary.