Curious about hypnosis?

This week’s series of posts will probably be a bit random – bits and pieces of trivia that I find scattered about the interweb!

Like today’s post, which links to a site I stumbled across by chance, a New Zealand hypnotherapy site!

What I like about this site is the use of scientific references rather than opinion or testimony, and the list of myths that I think most people who teach hypnosis, and probably most people who try hypnosis, have encountered!

Some of the pages are not working, sadly – I’ve emailed the author Mike Reeves-McMillan from Titirangi in Auckland, so hopefully they’ll come back up sooner rather than later.  As you know I don’t endorse any specific therapist (or therapy) nor any products, but I do think the information on this site is worth a look.

If you’re interested in hypnosis – and fibromyalgia – this article, just published in European Journal of Pain and written by Stuart Derbyshire, Matthew Whalley and David Oakley, describes an fMRI analysis of Fibromyalgial pain and its modulation by hypnotic and non-hypnotic suggestion.

Recent studies from a range of discplines have been looking at the neuropsychology of ‘central sensitisation disorders’ such as fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, dysmennorhea, chronic fatigue syndrome and others (see Yunus, 2008).  This study uses fMRI to examine the changes that occur with suggestions regarding the pain experience of fibromyalgia with and without hypnotic induction.

The basic design was quite simple: suggestions following a hypnotic induction and the same suggestions without a hypnotic induction were used during functional MRI imaging to increase and decrease the subjective experience of fibromyalgia pain.

What happened? Suggestion in both conditions resulted in changes in reported pain intensity – but patients reported more control and greater pain reduction when they had been hypnotised.

What happened in the brain? Activation of the midbrain, cerebellum, thalamus and midcingulate, primary and secondary sensory, inferior parietal, insual and prefrontal cortices correlated wth reported changes.  The changes were of greater magnititue when suggestions followed a hypnotic induction in certain specific areas in the brain.

What does this tell us? It seems that in people who can be hypnotised, suggestions that fibromyalgia pain can be reduced (using an image of a dial which could be turned up or down) worked better in people who had a hypnotic induction.  The second interesting finding was that this indicates direct involvement of a network of areas widely associated with the pain ‘neuromatrix’ in the pain experience of people with fibromyalgia.

The study numbers were small, and typical of most experimental work, the selection criteria was quite strict – but for people who want to use hypnosis as a therapeutic strategy it is encouraging to see areas of the brain respond to the induction and suggestion.  Perhaps this is a strategy that is somewhat under-used in pain management – although I would probably call the method they used ‘imagery’ because it’s easier to describe and less likely to be misinterpreted by patients.

Derbeyshire SWG. et al., Fibromyalgia pain and its modulation by hypnotic and non-hypnotic suggestion: An fMRI analysis.  European Journal of Pain (2008), doi: 10.1016/j.ejpain.2008.06.010

YUNUS, M. (2008). Central Sensitivity Syndromes: A New Paradigm and Group Nosology for Fibromyalgia and Overlapping Conditions, and the Related Issue of Disease versus Illness. Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism, 37(6), 339-352. DOI: 10.1016/j.semarthrit.2007.09.003
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fMRI explained…

Hah! now I’ve never really understood fMRI except as a vague generalisation that it ‘shows blood flow which correlates to neuronal activity’.

This post found on MindHacks (see my ‘blogroll’ for the link!) leads to several helpful readings about what fMRI actually measures, how it does so, and more importantly, says ‘our understanding of what brain scanning data tells us evolves over time. A study conducted ten years ago might mean something different now.’

People who are sceptical of science will possibly sieze on this as confirmation that ‘you can’t trust science, it could be wrong’ – but for me, it shows how open science is to revision in the light of new information.

Anyway, that was an aside: head on over to the post, and check out some of the supporting readings, I think it’s helpful, albeit needing a little time to digest!