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Treating Burns with Hypnosis

Patients can learn how to better react to acute and chronic pain.

Key points

  • The pain associated with burns can be caused by the injury as well as by the repeated cleansing and dressing of the wound.
  • Progression of burns from mild to moderate can be prevented by saying repeatedly in hypnosis that the burn wounds are “cool and comfortable.”
  • Hypnotic pain control measures include imagining changing the color of a burn, or manipulation of a comfort dial.
Adonyi Gábo/Pexels
Source: Adonyi Gábo/Pexels

Burn injuries lead to 1200 people (including 300 children) seeking emergency care every day in the United States. Burns cause physical pain, short and long-term psychological distress, and can also lead to long-term physical impairment because of scarring.

The pain associated with burns can be caused by the injury, but sometimes there is even greater pain caused by the repeated cleansing and dressing of the wound.

The circumstances that lead to the development of burns and related to wound care are sometimes so overwhelming that they lead patients to develop major mental illness including anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Hypnosis for Burn-Associated Pain

Hypnosis can be an extremely helpful aid in the treatment of burns in many ways.

My late friend, Dr. Dabney Ewin, who was a burn surgeon, told me that he was able to use hypnosis to help prevent progression of burns from mild to moderate or from moderate to severe by telling his patients to tell themselves repeatedly in hypnosis that their wounds were “cool and comfortable.”

As described in my book, Changing Children’s Lives with Hypnosis: A Journey to the Center (Anbar 2021), hypnosis can be used to help patients cope better with pain, including that caused by burns or their treatment

 Gradienta/Pexels
An imagined color change in hypnosis can be comforting.
Source: Gradienta/Pexels

For example, a patient might be coached to imagine that the uncomfortable burn is represented by a particular color, such as red. Then, the patient picks a color representing the affected area when it will feel better, such as blue. In hypnosis, the patient then imagines the wound area as changing from red to blue, with an associated increase in comfort.

Some patients have found benefit from turning an imaginary dial that controls their comfort level, and thus can make pain more tolerable.

Another pain reduction technique involves focusing on an area of the body that was unaffected by the burn. The patient is then coached to imagine slowly spreading the comfort outwards, starting within the unaffected area, until its soothing reaches the affected area.

Teaching patients to control their level of discomfort with hypnosis helps reduce their anxiety that can be associated with wound care, and therefore reduces the probability that they will develop a mental illness thereafter.

Hypnosis for Burn-Associated PTSD

For patients who do develop PTSD following a serious burn, hypnosis can be used to revisit the memory of the burn, and restructure it in a way that helps resolve the PTSD. An example of restructuring involves teaching patients to imagine in hypnosis how they would have reacted to the burn had they known how to cope well with the associated pain. When their reaction to the initial burn improves in their imagination, their PTSD symptoms often improve as well.

Finally, during the recovery process from a serious burn, patients can use hypnosis to imagine being healed, and this helps to improve their resilience in working towards that goal.

Takeaway

Because of the many ways that hypnosis can help patients with burns, instruction in hypnosis should be part of the treatment protocol for such patients.

Copyright Ran D. Anbar

References

Anbar, Ran D. 2021. “Changing Children’s Lives with Hypnosis: A Journey to the Center.” Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

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