Adventures in Mind-Body Medicine

Insights in integrative treatment from the staff of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine

Hypnopuncture

What happens when you combine acupuncture with hypnosis?

I have been teaching hypnosis to physicians and patients for over 30 years, but was not prepared for this experience.  It involved combining acupuncture needles and hypnosis which produced some amazing results.   I arrived to start our day-long training and treating day at the mind-body clinic in a grumpy mood, a headache, and was having what might best be called a "bad day."  It was very evident to all of the Fellows attending the mind-body clinic this morning.  One of the physicians in our residential Fellowship program, Elad Schiff, MD, is also a certified acupuncturist and uses it in his medical practice in Israel.  Our topic for the day was to be clinical hypnosis and he suggested that we start the day by treating me and I agreed to be our first patient of the day.  He suggested that he combine acupuncture with hypnosis on me.  I knew he had an interest in exploring the combined effects of acupuncture with hypnosis, but because of my mood this morning I think he was also acting out of self-defense to make our day-long clinic together go smoother. 

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He placed five needles in me as he was speaking a hypnotic induction method he was learning.  The needles were placed in each hand and foot and the crown of my head. 

I went into trance easily, but I did not expect the effects of the acupuncture to be so pronounced.  It was as if my physical body disappeared and there was only an "energy body" reclined in the chair.  With over 35 year's experience, I am no stranger to hypnosis, acupuncture, meditation, and other mind-altering activities.  But this was no less than amazing to me.  My physical body seemed to instantly disappear, yet I could feel a sense of "energy" that remained in my body form.  I couldn't wait to alert from trance and describe the effects and to give Elad the experience for himself.  Fortunately he brought more needles, but we had to ration them out so that the others present could have the experience also.  As we ran low on needles we applied them to only the upper or lower half of the body.  When the needles were applied to only one half of the body, only that half of the body seemed to disappear.   Was it due to the hypnotic suggestion?  Or to my enthusiasm from the results I experienced and expressed?  Or is there a synergistic effect when acupuncture and hypnosis are combined.

We enlisted the help of another colleague who had graduated our integrative medicine fellowship, Opher Caspi, MD/PhD, to help us design further study.   Our question was to explore whether or not combining acupuncture and hypnosis worked better together or separately.  The result was an article called; "Potential Synergism between Hypnosis and Acupuncture - Is the Whole More Than the Sum of its Parts?" published online October 31, 2006 in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. In our review of the literature we only found one uncontrolled study and a few case reports on the subject. Our paper presents a theoretical basis for how hypnosis and acupuncture could potentially augment each other when administered together.  We feel that treatments often work better when patients expect that they will help, and that this expectation could potentiate the effect of acupuncture and hypnosis used at the same time.  We also felt that acupuncture could help deepen the hypnotic state, which makes the patient more suggestible and can enhance the effect of the hypnosis.

There are many possible explanations to explore to better understand the experiences we produced in the clinic that morning.  But since then, others combining hypnosis with acupuncture have been reporting an additive or potentiating effect by the combination.  Certainly more research is needed to understand the synergism between the two therapeutic modalities when done together before making recommendations for the regular use of the combination.  We continue to explore the questions.

Dr. Steven Gurgevich is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine specializing in Mind-Body Medicine and the Director of The Mind-Body Clinic at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.

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