Many people have an incomplete or erroneous understanding of what exactly is hypnosis, and how it may be used in the treatment of cancer. This article will take a cursory look at hypnosis and where it may be used to offer an alternative and side-effect–free management of several aspects of care that can be beneficial to patients with cancer. 

Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy

There are many definitions of hypnosis. This is a compilation of the most useful definitions: Hypnosis is a focused state of attention, where the subject is highly relaxed physically while the mind is alert, curious, and open to suggestions.1

The therapy in hypnosis relates to the actual suggestions offered to the patient. The skill of the hypnotherapist is the ability to place the patient in a trance — the deeper the better — and then offer relevant suggestions related to the patient’s treatment. The success of the treatment is a combination of the relevance of the suggestions, the depth of the trance, and the strength of the therapeutic alliance between the therapist and the patient.

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Use of Hypnosis Before Medical Treatment

Patients with cancer will experience specific symptoms upon being told their diagnosis. These may include anxiety, stress, depression, fear, and loss of control. Hypnosis can alleviate these symptoms. Patients about to begin chemotherapy or radiation therapy may find that hypnotherapy can drastically reduce or eliminate the side effects of these treatments such as nausea, tiredness, etc. Hypnotherapy can help patients relax, and better cope with treatment and pain.2

Although no research studies have been conducted on using hypnosis to cure cancer, there are many anecdotal accounts of patients whose cancer went into remission after undergoing hypnotherapy or guided imagery (a form of relaxation that uses hypnotic techniques to allow the patient to actively engage their cancer with their mind). I am not suggesting that hypnotherapy is a cure for cancer, but only that in the world of self-healing, hypnosis enjoys as much acclaim as other (nonresearched) alternative medical treatments.