Using Hypnosis to Help a Patient With Cancer
Coping better with physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual discomforts.
Posted March 5, 2022 | Reviewed by Vanessa Lancaster
- When using hypnosis, the mind can focus on a comfortable thought rather than illness-associated discomfort.
- A patient can imagine manipulating levers, dials, or buttons that change the quality of their discomfort.
- Learning to be calm and stay in the moment can help patients better maintain an emotional equilibrium.
- Maintaining an optimistic attitude can help patients be more accepting and adherent to their therapies.
There are many ways hypnosis can help a patient cope better with a diagnosis of cancer, discomforts associated with the disease and required medical procedures, and side effects caused by its treatments.
Dealing With Cancer-Associated Discomforts
Patients can learn to cope better with cancer-associated pain or nausea (including that caused by chemotherapy) through using hypnosis to imagine themselves in a comfortable, peaceful, and safe environment. They can learn to immerse themselves in such an experience by imagining what they might perceive with each of their five senses. In this way, their mind can focus on a comfortable thought rather than illness-associated discomfort.
Another pain or nausea reduction technique can incorporate imagining a control room in the brain that controls the perception of discomfort. There, the patient can imagine manipulating levers, dials, or buttons that change the quality of their discomfort. Gifted patients can even feel as if they are not bothered by their pain or nausea for hours at a time (Kravits, 2013).
Mental stresses of cancer can include deciding which therapy course to pursue. For example, should the therapy be conservative or radical? Standard or experimental? Conventional or alternative? It can be difficult for patients to make the best choice for themselves when different experts and concerned individuals in their lives give conflicting advice.
Using hypnosis, patients can learn to center themselves, which can help them make the best choice for their therapy without being influenced unhelpfully by social pressures or expectations.
Emotional and Spiritual Rollercoaster
Making a cancer diagnosis and its subsequent therapy can cause an emotional roller coaster that ranges from having high hopes to feelings of severe anxiety, depression, and despair. Learning to be calm and stay in the moment as part of the hypnotic experience can help patients better maintain an emotional equilibrium that can be so helpful in dealing with a difficult disease (Anbar, 2021). By learning how to use hypnosis to imagine recovering fully from their cancer (if this scenario is a possibility), patients can also gain emotional strength.
Advanced cancer can lead to an existential crisis. Did I cause my illness? Am I going to die? What will happen to my family once I am gone? Why do I have to suffer so? Would it be right to end my life early if it is too uncomfortable to bear? Patients should be encouraged to access their established religious or spiritual resources to deal with such questions. With hypnosis, some patients may answer these questions by accessing their wiser and knowledgeable subconscious.
Some patients enjoy imagining that they can rally their body's defenses against their cancer. For example, they can imagine sending troops to blow up, hunt, clear, or kill the cancer cells. While there is no scientific evidence that such imagery can affect the outcome of cancer, some patients feel better when they can take an active part in battling their disease. Feeling relatively good and maintaining an optimistic attitude can help patients be more accepting and adherent to their therapies, which is associated with an improved outcome (Theofilou, 2009),
Hypnosis, including tapping into the power and knowledge of the subconscious, can provide access to unique resources that can be used to deal with the complex feelings and thoughts that result from a cancer diagnosis.
Copyright Ran D. Anbar
Anbar, Ran D. 2021. “Changing Children’s Lives with Hypnosis: A Journey to the Center.” Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Kravits, Kathy. 2013. “Hypnosis: Adjunct Therapy for Cancer Pain Management.” J Adv Pract Oncol. 4(2): 83–88.
Theofilou, Paraskevi and Helen Panagiotaki. 2012. “A literature review to investigate the link between psychosocial characteristics and treatment adherence in cancer patients.” Oncol Rev. Mar 5; 6(1): e5.
More information about hypnosis and its use with a patient who is dealing with cancer is available in my 2021 book, "Changing Children’s Lives with Hypnosis: A Journey to the Center." Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.