People often see hypnotherapy as a treatment for making life changes, or to help with depression and anxiety related issues; phobias, weight loss and stopping smoking, which it does; but did you know hypnotherapy could also play a supporting role to the treatment of illness and disease, even those that have been diagnosed as terminal?
This is an application of hypnotherapy that I have become increasingly interested in, as for the past 18 months I have been undertaking additional training in holistic support for those with long-term and life-limiting illnesses. Here I have seen how hypnotherapy techniques can be used along with Solution-Focused Therapy to bring the most comfort and peace, during illness or at end of life.
I also recently attended a professional development course at The Clifton Practice; which looked at how hypnotherapy can be used in a hospital setting. Dorothea Read and members of her volunteer team from Cardiff University Hospital lead the course, in which they explained the development of their programme and how they work. The team work in the oncology department working with those patients going through cancer treatment. In this supporting role the team help those having chemotherapy to remain calm and comfortable, using gentle talking therapy and hypnotherapy techniques.
Many people – though not all – have side effects when having chemotherapy; and commonly these can be closely linked with feelings of anxiety, depression and fear. One side effect that is so common that it affects a third of all those going through chemotherapy is anticipatory nausea. This side effect of chemotherapy is not due directly to the chemotherapy itself, as it occurs before the drugs are administered, but instead from the anxiety caused by the anticipation of the treatment. This is unlikely to occur on a first visit, but as the patient recalls nausea from their first treatment, they may be triggered into nausea in subsequent sessions. This could be triggered by different hospital smells, the sight of the room, even the car journey on the way to the hospital.
Another anticipatory anxiety that may develop over a course of chemotherapy treatment is a phobia of needles. Some patients may start treatment with an existing needle phobia (in which case hypnotherapy can help even before treatment starts); or they may develop one over time for the same reasons as the anticipatory nausea – the brain starts connecting needles with the anxiety and side effects of the chemotherapy. Both anticipatory nausea and needle phobias can create a challenge, not only for the poor patients that already feel unwell, but also for the oncologists and nurses trying to administer the drugs.
This is where the team of hypnotherapists come in. Hypnotherapy can quickly alleviate symptoms of anxiety, even in a busy, often noisy, chemotherapy ward; and this is where the skill of Dorothea and her team come in. By quickly getting to a patient who is suffering from an anxiety attack, anticipatory nausea or a needle aversion, it is possible for a hypnotherapist to alleviate these symptoms, and allow treatment to proceed.
Alas, schemes like this are still in their infancy and the team at Cardiff are pioneers in terms of this kind of complementary therapy within the NHS. However it is my hope that other hospitals and hospices will follow.
In the meantime, there are many solution-focused hypnotherapists who have trained in this particular professional development, including myself. Outside of the hospital setting, hypnotherapy can still help those going through treatment for cancer by keeping that person in the best frame of mind. By teaching them self-hypnosis for relaxation, to help them manage pain, to help them sleep and to alleviate any other anxieties they may have as a result of their condition.
As for me, I hope to bring more of my hypnotherapy work into my work with those with life-limiting illnesses, but also to utilise my training in working with those going through chemotherapy, either in my treatment room or in a hospital setting. If you would like to learn more about this, or discuss my hypnotherapy services then please get in touch on the contact page.