We’ve talked a lot about what to do before and after cosmetic and reconstructive surgery — what foods to eat, what supplements to avoid, and even how to sleep. So, when we heard that hypnotherapy could reduce pain and discomfort and speed up the healing and recovery process post-surgery, we were, well, mesmerized.
What Is Hypnotherapy?
In the most basic sense, hypnotherapy is using hypnosis as a means to help patients overcome a mental or physical challenge. Hypnosis has been around since ancient times and became popular in the west around the turn of the nineteenth century, though it was long regarded as a mere parlor amusement.
Even today, there is often a misconception that people in a hypnotic trance are somehow under the control of the hypnotist. That’s simply not true. In fact, patients who are hypnotized are actually experiencing a heightened state of self-awareness. “It’s an opportunity for us to help people restore safety and balance and process information in a way that feels safe and manageable,” says Pierre-Etienne Vannier, MSc, CHt, a French-born mind-body practitioner. “Regulating the nervous system means you’re learning how to feel safe within yourself.”
How Hypnotherapy Works
A hypnosis session works by connecting the conscious and subconscious minds, enabling us to delve deeply into the underlying causes of behavior or tap into the root of emotional distress. To experience the benefits of hypnotherapy, patients and therapists need to connect. “Resilience happens in relationships,” he explains. While mindfulness apps are great, they don’t provide the same benefits as a professional treatment. “When you work with a practitioner who’s able to guide you through that process and create a safe space, you’re able to rest, recuperate, regenerate and heal,” Vannier shares. “I see it as a path to self-empowerment.”
During a treatment, the body experiences “a cascade of chemical reactions,” Vannier explains, including the release of neurotransmitters and hormones like endorphins and oxytocin. Learning how to regulate the nervous system leads to a sense of centeredness and control — key components of overall well being. “I teach my clients and patients how to manage stress and emotions,” he says. “The crux of the practice is bringing the nervous system back into balance.”
Hypnotherapy & Surgery
Scientists have long been experimenting with hypnotherapy during surgery. As we’ve explored, hypnosedation was used to pacify patients before the advent of anesthesia drugs. More recently, researchers have explored hypnotherapy’s potential to holistically help patients pre-op jitters and intraoperative anesthesia to post-surgery pain management and recovery.
“A lot of patients feel like a ‘project,’” Vannier says. “Clinical hypnotherapy empowers patients in their own healing and recovery journey.” Based in Los Angeles, Vannier has been helping people — from HIV/AIDS patients and those with chronic pain to substance abusers and war survivors — cope with stress for over a decade. He cites not only his professional experience but the numerous studies that prove patients who practice hypnotherapy experience less pain and heal quantifiably faster from a surgical procedure as proof of the therapy’s credence.
Patients who practice hypnotherapy prior to a procedure (aesthetic or otherwise) are doing both themselves and their medical team a favor, Vannier says. “‘Before’ is a really important step because, when you're able to reduce anxiety and tension, you help your body be ready for the procedure,” he explains. “When you have a more regulated nervous system, it makes the work much easier for everybody.”
Vannier touches on a misconception that many of us have about medicine. “Doctors can’t give health,” he says. “Health comes from within.” No matter whether the procedure is medically necessary or elective, the same principles apply. Hypnotherapy can help make the process smoother by bolstering the immune system, easing preoperative anxiety, and preparing the patient — both mentally and physically — for surgery.
Hypnotherapy During Surgery
Hypnosedation, the practice of using hypnosis in the operating room to relax a patient and reduce their pain, has been making a comeback. Numerous studies examining the technique during procedures like breast cancer reconstruction, liposuction, and facial cosmetic surgery point to quantifiable reductions in the need for traditional pain medications. “Research from UCLA shows you can reduce blood loss during surgery,” Vannier adds. Reducing the need for drugs and ensuring the patient remains more stable during surgery “is a gift not just to the patient but to the entire surgical team,” he notes.
In the immediate aftermath of surgery, a decrease in blood loss and the lack of need for anesthetics translates into a measurable reduction in side effects. A study of cosmetic surgery patients headed by hypnotherapy pioneer Dr. Marie-Elisabeth Faymonville, showed that only 1.2 percent of those who used hypnosedation during their procedure experienced postoperative nausea and vomiting, as compared to over a quarter of those who had only intravenous sedation.
“It’s very empowering for people to be able to be in control of their pain and recovery,” Vannier says. This feeling of empowerment improves healing. Harvard psychologist and researcher Carol Ginandes, PhD, has been studying the effects of hypnotherapy on healing for decades. In 1999, she and Daniel Rosenthal, MD, a Harvard radiologist, documented that ankle fracture patients who practiced hypnotherapy showed objective improvement in healing (as evidenced by medical imaging) compared to patients who did not use hypnotherapy. They also experienced quicker recovery times, greater mobility, and less pain, which translated into less pain medication.
Ginandes later repeated the study with breast reduction patients. This time, she separated women into three groups: those who received support from a psychologist, those who underwent hypnotherapy, and those who received no additional therapy. The women who received hypnotherapy healed the fastest, as objectively measured by anonymous photographic evaluation of their scars. “Since clinical hypnosis is a non-invasive, non-drug treatment, finding that it can speed healing of wounds and other conditions could lead to fewer visits to doctors’ offices and faster return to normal activities,” Ginandes told The Harvard Gazette at the time.
Vannier has heard similar results from his own clients. “I hear this anecdotally from so many of my patients,” he says. “Their doctors are telling them they’re recovering so much faster than expected.” The positive emotions associated with feeling in control of the recovery process reinforces the physiological response. In other words, knowing you can make yourself feel better makes you feel better.
Hypnotherapy for Pain Management
Vannier believes in the potential of hypnotherapy to alleviate the reliance on post-surgical (and post-injury) painkillers. “A significant percentage of people get hooked on opioids from a prescription,” he says. “We’re telling people, ‘If you’re in pain, you have to take these drugs.’” The latest research focuses on integrating mind-body techniques. “It’s not one or the other. You can do both,” Vannier explains. “But, if you’re able to recover faster, you don’t need to be taking the opioids.”
How to Find a Hypnotherapist
So, how does one go about finding a qualified hypnotherapist? Vannier is affiliated with Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, California and is the founder of Healing Studio Online, which he created “to provide people with a space to learn, practice together, and empower each other.” To find a professional in your area, he offers these tips:
- Seek Referrals: Find out if friends and family have any recommendations. This is often the best way to choose a provider of any kind.
- Ask Your Doctor: Medical practitioners are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of hypnotherapy. Ask your physician if they can refer you.
- Consider Credentials: A certificate from a weekend seminar isn’t enough, Vannier stresses. It takes about 700 hours of training to become a clinical hypnotherapist.
- Experience Matters: Vannier suggests choosing a therapist who’s been practicing for at least three to five years.
Hypnotherapy treatments vary in price, depending upon the therapist and location. Expect to pay somewhere between $100 and $300 per session. “It’s about striking a balance,” he says. “It shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. But, at the same time, there’s a person working with you and spending time with you. There’s an exchange of energy.”
Generally, Vannier suggests surgery patients meet for three to four sessions over the course of a month, both before and after surgery. The goal is to give patients the skills they need to manage their own healing process. “It’s like a lifeline,” he shares. “It’s like somebody is drowning and we’re coming in the middle of the situation and saying, ‘Take that rope. Let me help you. Let me teach you how to swim.’”
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