Can Hypnosis help patients during awake brain surgery?
According to a new study published in the Neurosurgery Journal hypnosis appears to be able to help reduce the psychological trauma associated with brain surgery performed while the patient is awake. The technique is called "hypnosedation" and offers neurosurgeons an alternative for patients undergoing awake surgery for gliomas.
Hypnosis Research undertaken in France
The team in Tours, France, evaluated a hypnosis technique in 37 patients who were undergoing "awake craniotomy" for a type of tumour called a glioma. During the awake craniotomy, the patient is anesthetised but is kept conscious so that they can still communicate with the surgeon during the surgery. This communication is vital as it helps the surgeon navigate to the tumour without damaging the areas of the brain involved in language or movement.
What happens when the surgery takes place?
As a standard in this type of surgery, the patient is put to sleep, and then awakened so they can talk to the surgeon, and then afterwards put back to sleep again, which can be challenging in patients with high-grade gliomas.
In order to have time to teach the patients about how hypnosis works the preparation and training began a few weeks before surgery.
An anaesthesiologist who was also a hypnotherapist met with each patient to carry out a short hypnosis session and teach the patient how to create an imaginary place where they can feel safe and effective. This safe place technique is something that hypnotherapists use widely with clients to help them find somewhere relaxing and with practice you can imagine that you are in this calming place very quickly any time that you want to go there.
The Brain Surgery with Hypnotherapy
During the surgery, the patients were placed in a hypnotic trance. In reality this really just means that they were very relaxed and rather than focusssing on their worries and fears about the operation they would have been calm and relaxd, but also open to suggestion. They can hear everything and are always in control. The hypnotic experience was progressively enhanced during the first steps of surgery, and included specific instructions and imagery for each potentially unpleasant or painful step of the surgery.
The 37 patients underwent a total of 43 surgeries with hypnosedation, including repeat surgeries for recurrent gliomas. Hypnosis failed in six patients, who underwent standard anaesthesia. Another two patients decided not to undergo hypnotherapy for their operations.
It was shown that hypnosis seemed to reduce the impact of unpleasant events during surgery. Some patients reported high stress levels, but this did not appear to affect their experience of hypnosis. Pain seemed to decrease as the level of hypnosis deepened. Only two patients said they would not choose hypnosedation if they had to undergo a second awake craniotomy.
While these results are encouraging, the researchers noted that they do not show that hypnosedation is superior to standard anaesthesia. They also noted that it requires intense involvement and long training for the surgical team and the patient.
It is always interesting to see medical research undertaken about hypnosis and hypnotherapy and the benefits to people’s health. As a Clinical Hypnotherapist I work with many people who are suffering from pain and can help to teach you to turn down that pain and reduce the impact of it. Of course, it is always important to see your GP first and make sure that you get the pain checked out. Often with sufferers of chronic pain the effectiveness of drugs can seem to feel like it diminishes over time and this is where learning to control that pain can have real benefits.