Hypnosis and the analgesic effect of suggestions has been the subject of much study over the years. Only recently, however, have the specific effects of suggested analgesia vs deeper hypnotic induction been studied, and equally, it’s only been possible recently to study the mechanisms through which this phenomenon occurs.
In the January edition of Pain (Pain. 2008 Jan;134(1-2):1-2. Epub 2007 Nov 26.), Pierre Rainville comments in an editorial about the additive effects of an analgesic suggestion to a hypnotic ‘deepening’ induction. He concludes from a study published in the same edition, that ‘both hypnotic induction and suggestions have analgesic effects but … that the effects of suggestions may be increased by hypnosis.’ The study he refers to is by Vilfredo De Pascalis, Immacolata Cacacea and Francesca Massicollea, from the University of Rome “La sapienza”, Department of Psychology, in which they study somatosensory event-related potentials (spikes in EEG readings) of people with high hypnotizability and low hypnotizability when subjected to painful electric stimuli under waking, hypnosis, and a cued eyes-open posthypnotic condition. The study, ‘Focused analgesia in waking and hypnosis: Effects on pain, memory, and somatosensory event-related potentials’ also published in the January 2008 edition of Pain, identified that hypnotic analgesia does affect both earlier and later stages of stimulation processing, and influences reported pain intensity, physiological markers, and memory for pain.
This is important basic science because until now, some clinicians have scoffed at the thought that something as ‘woolly’ and ‘psychological’ can have a fundamental physiological basis. In fact, some clinicians firmly believe that it is impossible to directly influence physiological responses to, for example, visceral pain.
If studies like this are conducted, using careful experimental methodology and as a result demonstrate that cortical processes actively influence processing of stimuli, I can see that eventually hypnotic induction and analgesia will be applied in many situations. It not only reinforces the notion that pain does not become pain until the cortex interprets a neural input, it suggests that these skills can be developed and actively recruited by people undergoing painful procedures, or while experiencing, for example, acute appendicitis!
Perhaps this is one clinical skill that should be routinely developed in all allied health programmes?
Rainville, P. (2008). Hypnosis and the analgesic effect of suggestions. Pain 134:1-2, pp 1-2
De Pascalis, Cacacea & Massicollea (2008). Focused analgesia in waking and hypnosis: Effects on pain, memory, and somatosensory event-related potentials. Pain 134:1-2, pp 197-208
While you’re reading those two, take a look at this article by Roy, Peretz, & Rainville (2008). The paper, Emotional valence contributes to music-induced analgesia, Pain. 2008 Jan;134(1-2):140-7. Epub 2007 May 25, examines the possibility that the modulatory effect of music on pain is mediated by the valence (pleasant-unpleasant dimension) of the emotions induced. Those results support the hypothesis that positive emotional valence contributes to music-induced analgesia, while negative emotional valence had little or no effect. Moral of this tale? Even though I’m no fan of my children’s hiphop, I can’t tell them it make my headache worse, I can just put my own, soothing, Natacha Atlas middle eastern fusion on and feel much, much better.