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Pain—the Brain’s Alarm System

Chronic pain sufferers will try almost anything to get relief. The constant throb of physical pain can become so frustrating that it can lead to hopelessness and depression.

“A recent client had a list of more than 50 things he had tried to relieve cluster headaches,” says Master Hypnotist Beverly Craddock, of Hawaii Hypnosis Center, in Honolulu. “Over the course of several years, he had done almost everything that Western and Eastern medicine could suggest—supplements, prescription drugs, procedures and rituals. Unfortunately, the headaches remained.”

Beverly says the stress and frustration of repetitively seeking and failing to find solutions was complicating the client’s ability to find relief. “Because pain is a process of the mind, it is generally complicated by stress,” she explains. “Even a physical injury seems to hurt more because the stressed mind becomes more focused on the problem area.”

Beverly says that the hypnotic approach to pain management is twofold. “First, hypnosis allows a sufferer to relax and better manage the stress of life with a condition, disease or injury.”

The second hypnotic approach to pain can be harder for people to understand. Beverly explains that pain is the symptom—not the condition. “The pain is merely the mind’s alarm system. It alerts us to a physical issue. If we are already aware of the injury and have sought treatment, then the alarm isn’t providing a benefit. So, a good hypnotist can work with the mind to turn down the alarm system.”

Beverly compares chronic pain to a broken fire alarm. The constant ringing is an annoyance, even if the system’s intent is to be lifesaving.  

As a master hypnotist, Beverly’s approach to pain is different. She helps her clients understand how and why the mind is signaling the pain. She then provides methods to change the process and experience of pain.

“Relieving the body’s stress is really an important first step,” she explains. “Then we use varying techniques to help people alter their mind’s perception of the problem. Hypnosis isn’t magic, but it can help determine the way that a client’s mind is experiencing pain.”

Because everyone has different experiences with physical and emotional pain, no two people experience pain the same way. An individual’s learning style and personality also influence how pain may be experienced. People with a visually structured mind will talk about pain in terms of colors, typically reds or blacks. Those with a kinesthetic mind will describe pain using feeling adjectives, such as burning, stinging or searing.

“Every mind is different,” Beverly adds. “Our job is to talk with clients and understand the way their mind works so that we can find techniques and resources that work best for each individual.”

Some clients use hypnosis strictly for relaxation, which can help medications work more effectively by improving blood flow in the body. Other hypnosis clients find that resolving emotional linkages to pain can help them rely less on medications and more on the amazing natural ability of the mind and body to heal and achieve balance.

Even the American Psychological Association (APA) has determined that hypnosis is an effective treatment for both chronic and acute pain. The APA sites a 2003 study by psychologists David Patterson, Ph.D., and Mark Jensen, Ph.D., which found that hypnosis “is associated with significant reductions in: ratings of pain, need for analgesics or sedation, nausea and vomiting, and length of stay in hospitals.” The study further found that hypnosis is associated with better overall health outcomes after medical treatment.

The practice of hypnosis is quickly moving from stage show trick to viable alternative treatment in the areas of pain and pain management. Beverly says the move is long overdue.

“For many years, hypnotists have thrilled audiences with the power of a person to withstand something painful on stage,” she concludes. “It only makes sense that the ability to help people do that would find practical application in the clinical settings of modern hypnosis centers.”

Randy Hampton is a writer, social scientist, hypnotist and blogger living in Honolulu. 

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