Is your acid reflux medicine damaging your health?

Hypnotherapy can help

You might have noticed after the excesses of Christmas that you developed a bad case of heartburn.  Left unchecked heartburn can progress and become acid reflux or GERD, illnesses which cause stomach acid to move up into your esophageus. Acid reflux raises the risk of cancer of the throat, tonsils and sinuses in older people, a study has found.  Worryingly, taking remedies for acid reflux may further increase your risk of cancer. Research published last month revealed regularly taking heartburn pills could double your chances of getting stomach tumours.

GERD is thought to affect 10 to 30 percent of the population, more frequently in patients who are obese and elderly. And cancers of the respiratory and upper digestive tracts account for more than 360,000 deaths worldwide each year.  The scientists, from the University College of London and the University of Hong Kong found that using proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) which are freely available over the counter in the UK significantly increases the risk of contracting stomach cancer.

Often, physical conditions are exacerbated by underlying stress or anxiety.  By taking action to relieve the root causes of stress and anxiety in your life you may find that you experience a significant reduction in your acid reflux or GERD symptoms.  Hypnotherapy can be an effective treatment for heartburn and other stomach conditions.  A recent article in Medscape suggests that GERD is form of brain-gut dysregulation and that by working with the mind, researchers were able to reduce abnormal acid secretion under hypnosis.

Also, when you’re in the hypnotic state, a lot of defenses come down, and the brain does open up to the possibility of controlling symptoms better. That’s why we use hypnosis—because it gives that subconscious messaging.

The National Council for Hypnotherapy has a register of qualified practitioners from around the UK who can help.  Find a therapist near you and start to feel better.


Hypnotherapy provides effective pain relief

Around 30% of the UK live with daily, chronic pain, that’s around 28 million people according to research carried out in 2016.

For most of these sufferers, opiates are offered as the main treatment for their pain.) In America opiod prescriptions have quadrupled since the turn of the century, but the research shows that the relief offered by opiate medications actually isn’t so great.

The National Council for Hypnotherapy says: “Hypnotherapy is often highly effective in dealing with pain management.

In a study at Stanford University School of Medicine in 2016 scientists scanned the brains of 57 people during guided hypnosis sessions.  They found several changes that occur while the subjects were in hypnosis.  These changes included a greater connectivity between the brain’s executive-control network and the insula, a grape-sized region deeper in the brain that helps us control what’s going on in the body, including processing pain.

Further to this, it is becoming more widely recognised that the mind plays a role in the experience of pain.  Learning skills to change habitual thought patterns around chronic pain can significantly reduce a person’s distress and improve their quality of life.  Negative emotions can amplify the experience of pain, and a positive outlook can ease it.

Self hypnosis can help.  Hypnosis techniques can be taught to clients by an NCH therapist to help them manage chronic pain.  Patients suffering from a range of conditions including fibromyalgia, back disorders and pain from trauma such as car accidents or workplace injuries can learn to control their pain through practicing self-hypnosis.

 “Sleep was totally key,” says Deborah Gray, 53, whose chronic neck pain has disappeared since she began using guided imagery and hypnotherapy to fall asleep. 

When seeing a therapist for chronic pain, it is essential that the pain is checked out by a GP first for a formal diagnosis.  After you’ve had an assessment contact a hypnotherapist near you by using the NCH directory.


Christmas Research Snippet: Hypnotism & Babies

Christmas Research Snippet: Hypnotism & Babies

Donald Robertson, NCH Research Director

For personal reasons, I’ve been delving into the research relating to hypnotism and childbirth recently, an area that, I confess, I’ve largely overlooked before.  Throughout its entire history, hypnotherapy has been used in relation to childbirth.  Even James Braid, the founder of hypnotherapy, reports a case where hypnotic suggestion was used to induce childbirth early for medical reasons.  However, the largest and most systematic use of hypnosis for issues relating to childbirth occurred in the Soviet Union at the start of the 20th century, based on the Pavlovian approach to hypnosis and psychotherapy.  Tens of thousands of women received hypnosis and a surprising amount of data was collected on its use.  In order to make it accessible to  a wider audience, by being conducted in a group setting, the hypnotic method was replaced by a psycho-educational method termed “psychoprophylaxis”, meaning “psychological prevention” of pain and anxiety during childbirth.  The French obstetrician Dr. Fernand Lamaze visited Moscow in the 1940s to study the Pavlovian psychoprophylactic method from which he developed the well-known Lamaze method of natural childbirth that continues in popularity today.  The Pavlovian hypnotic approach, psychoprophylaxis and the Lamaze methods competed with Dr. Grantly Dick-Read’s “Childbirth without Fear” approach, and all of these co-existed alongside numerous other uses of hypnosis in obstetrics, e.g., in the work of William S. Kroger, one of the best-known authors in clinical hypnosis, who wrote Psychosomatic Gynecology (1951) and the self-help book Childbirth with Hypnosis (1961).

Perhaps the most important recent review in this area was published by Donald C. Brown and D. Corydon Hammond in 2007 in a Special Issue of The International Journal for Clinical & Experimental Hypnosis dedicated to reviewing evidence-based practice in clinical hypnosis.  Professor Hammond is a clinical psychologist at the University of Utah School of Medicine and former president of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis.  He’s well-known in the field of hypnosis for his many publications and as the editor of The Handbook of Hypnotic Suggestions & Metaphors (1990), a resource most experienced hypnotherapists possess and will be familiar with.

Brown & Hammond reviewed the evidence concerning the benefits of hypnosis in obstetrics, labor, and delivery, in relation to a range of issues, including,

  1. Reduction in use of analgesics and anaesthetics, i.e., reducing pain in labor
  2. Increasing enjoyment of labor
  3. Reducing the duration of labor
  4. Preventing preterm labor (PTL)

The review is quite wide-ranging and takes in many other benefits and applications of hypnosis, with reference to studies of varying age and quality.

The authors begin by reporting a previous review by Hoffman & Kipenhaur (1969) that found studies reported that hypnosis eliminated or substantially reduced the pain of childbirth for 50% (median) of women, with individual studies reporting success rates ranging from 35% to 90% of cases.  That suggests that the chances of having a painless childbirth with hypnosis varies enormously, depending upon the specific characteristics of the study, i.e., the way hypnotherapy is conducted and the characteristics of the women participating, including their level of motivation, expectations, etc.  Roughly half the women typically experienced substantial freedom from pain in these old studies.  There’s no mention of control comparisons, so it’s impossible to tell what percentage of these women would have reported painless childbirth without the use of hypnosis, i.e., their attitude and motivation to give birth naturally may explain their success to some extent. 

This ambiguity is addressed to some extent by a recent meta-analysis, identified by Brown and Hammond as the most comprehensive study to date on hypnosis for analgesia in childbirth.  The meta-analysis identified three randomised controlled trials (RCTs) where hypnotised and non-hypnotised women were compared (Cyana et al., 2004).  Across three studies, involving 142 women in total, they found that the hypnotised group were about half as likely to require pharmaceutical pain relief (analgesia) during childbirth compared to women giving birth without hypnosis.  More specifically, 62% of hypnotised women (mean) did not require analgesia compared to only 26% of non-hypnotised women (see chart).  This suggests, again, that more than half the women having hypnosis had relatively painless childbirths, although a large part of their success must be attributed to non-hypnotic factors.  (This is not a surprising finding and broadly consistent with research on other uses of hypnotherapy, and indeed psychological therapies in general.)

Although use of chemical analgesics, etc., is a more objective measurement, it does not necessarily reflect an accurate picture of the amount of subjective pain reported.  This has seldom been adequately reported in the literature, however, Brown and Hammond report a study by Mairs (1995) in which 28 hypnotised women subjectively rated their pain and anxiety levels, before (expected level) and after childbirth (actual level) , which were compared to ratings from 27 women in a non-hypnotised (control) group.  No differences were found between the hypnotised and non-hypnotised women in their anticipated levels of pain or anxiety before childbirth, however, after the birth the hypnotised women rated their pain as 5.41 on average compared to 7.58 in the non-hypnotised group, excluding those (n=7) who required caesarean sections.  By my calculations, that suggests that the women giving birth without hypnosis reported their feelings of pain as being about 40% higher during labour, on average, than the hypnotised group did.

In addition to these data, Brown & Hammond focus at length on the limited evidence regarding the potential of hypnosis in the prevention of preterm labour.  I’d suggest that anyone interested in the whole area of evidence-based practice in relation to hypnosis for obstetrics and childbirth, etc., consult this article for the wealth of information and useful references it contains.  Indeed, over fifty books and articles specifically relating to the use of hypnosis in childbirth were referenced by the authors.

Graph of Childbirth without Chemical Analgesia

Graph of Childbirth without Chemical Analgesia



Brown, DC; Hammond, DC    (2007).  ‘Evidence-based clinical hypnosis for obstetrics, labor and delivery, and preterm labour’, IJCEH, 55(3), pp. 355-371

Cyna, A.M.;McAuliffe, G.L.;Andrew, M.I.  (2004).  ‘Hypnosis for pain relief in labour and childbirth’, British Journal of Anaesthesia, 93(4), 505-511.

August Research Snippet: Hypnosis, Pain, Expectation & Placebo

The Role of Expectation in Hypnosis:
Hypnosis, Imagination & Placebo Pain Relief

James Braid defined hypnotism as focused attention upon an “expectant dominant idea”, to the temporary exclusion (“abstraction”) of other thoughts.  Since that time, researchers have pondered the role of expectation in hypnotic responses.  Most therapists, and even more so stage hypnotists, probably share the common impression that the expectations of clients/subjects are an important factor, shaping how they respond to hypnotic suggestions.  However, human beings have a notable tendency toward “reductionism” and so debates like this tend to involve back-and-forth between all-or-nothing viewpoints, e.g., “hypnotism is all just expectation” versus “expectation doesn’t matter.”  An alternative, middle-way, would be the position that hypnotism is partially determined (“mediated”) by expectation, but not 100% so.  As one of the most prolific researchers in our field Professor Irving Kirsch has famously pointed out in his “response expectancy” theory of hypnosis, this would suggest that hypnotism is fundamentally related to the mechanism underlying the placebo effect, i.e., that hypnosis is a “non-deceptive mega-placebo”.  Again, that is very different from the notion that hypnotism is “just” a placebo, or the naive view that placebo effects are somehow “not real”.  People experience measurable physiological change and symptom remission after being given placebos and the process can be compared to the (anachronistic) concept of “waking suggestion” in the field of hypnotherapy.  Indeed, Braid introduced the concept of “hypnotism” (as opposed to Mesmerism) precisely on the basis of his observations of Victorian quack (“nostrum”) remedies, which modern researchers would consider examples of deceptive placebo remedies.  In other words, Braid saw people physically responding to treatments, such as animal magnetism or wearing “galvanic rings”, whose effects he and other sceptics attributed to expectation and suggestion, and subsequently developed hypnotism as a means of more honestly employing suggestion as an explicit technique in medicine.

In an important new experimental study ‘Response Expectancies: A Psychological Mechanism of Suggested and Placebo Analgesia”, Leonard S. Milling has carried out a very thorough and careful statistical analysis of the extent to which expectation appears to mediate the effect of hypnosis, imagination, and placebo, in the reduction of experimentally-induced pain among a sample of 172 college students (Contemporary Hypnosis, 26(2): 93-110, 2009).  All three interventions reduced pain substantially.  Traditional hypnotism and instructions to “imagine” were nearly equivalent, and both were almost twice as effective as the placebo.  This, and Milling’s other findings, lend additional support to the view that instructions to imagine may often be substituted for a traditional hypnotic induction, a central premise of Barber’s nonstate (“cognitive-behavioural”) theory of hypnosis.

Milling also found strong evidence supporting the role of expectation in mediating pain reduction.  However, the importance of expectation varied depending upon the techniques employed, calculated as follows,

  • Traditional hypnotic induction plus suggestion.  25%
  • Instructions to “imagine” plus suggestion.  29%
  • Placebo (an inert topical lotion).  41%

As Milling concludes, this appears to show that about 25% of the effectiveness of traditional pain-reduction hypnotherapy is due to expectation.  Expectation is an important factor but there may be one or two other factors involved which contribute more to the response, e.g., attention, motivation, imagination, or a trait of hypnotisability, etc.  By comparison, expectation contributed more substantially to the placebo effect, but still less than fifty percent, supporting the view that a cluster of factors contribute to the placebo response and it is not simply reducible to expectation alone, although this may turn out to be the single most important manageable factor involved.  Motivation, role-perception, attention, and other factors may be involved in the placebo response as well and Milling also points to the Pavlovian theory of classical conditioning which has been cited as providing another mechanism by which placebos (and hypnotism) may function.  For instance, a person who has previously received a real medication and experienced its effects may be more likely to respond to a similar-looking placebo because it acts as a reminder (conditioned stimulus) for the associated sense of pain relief (a conditioned response) – independently of the effect of expectation.  So previous experience of a real drug combined with high levels of expectation would probably produce a strong placebo response.  Likewise, tapping into remembered sensations (“sensory recall”) may combine well with expectation in eliciting certain hypnotic responses.

As expectation is a “cognitive” factor, these findings can be interpreted as supporting the view that the effect of hypnotherapy for pain reduction is “cognitively-mediated” in a manner overlapping with CBT interventions, which also stress the role of cognition in shaping the perception of pain.  In other words, although superficially different, hypnotherapy and CBT probably work, to some extent, in a similar manner, at least to some extent. 

As Milling points out, the usual cautions apply insofar as this was experimental pain induced with college students, etc., and therefore only provides an analogy (indirect evidence) for the mechanisms underlying pain relief among genuine therapy clients with genuine medical problems.  (Although, I think most researchers would consider it likely similar factors operate in the clinical setting as well.)

“In sum, this study substantiates that response expectancies are an important mechanism of hypnotic, imaginative and placebo analgesia.  The findings corroborated the view that the effect of hypnosis on pain is partially mediated by response expectancies.  The results also showed that the effect of a placebo on pain was largely, but not completely, mediated by response expectancies.  […] Thus, although the results of this study do not suggest that response expectancies are the final common pathway [as Kirsch has suggested] to pain relief, they do indicate that response expectancies are one of the major psychological mechanisms of suggested and placebo analgesia.”

So, as other studies have shown, the traditional hypnotic induction is probably not essential to hypnotic pain reduction, and client expectation is probably one of the most important factors which we should make use of.  Moreover, Barber, Spanos, Kirsch, and other cognitive-behavioural researchers have already discussed in some detail the possible means by which factors such as expectation may be systematically enhanced in hypnotherapy through methods tested in experimental settings such as role-modelling, manipulation of activating sensations, task-motivational instructions, etc.