Hypnosis for Surgery

Several Studies in recent years have shown, hypnosis to be a valuable adjunct to surgery and other hospital procedures


In one study, Montgomery and colleagues tested the effectiveness of a 15-minute pre-surgery hypnosis session versus an empathic listening session in a clinical trial with 200 breast cancer patients. In a 2007 article in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (Vol. 99, No. 17), the team reported that patients who received hypnosis reported less post-surgical pain, nausea, fatigue and discomfort. The study also found that the hospital saved $772 per patient in the hypnosis group, mainly due to reduced surgical time. Patients who were hypnotized required less of the analgesic lidocaine and the sedative propofol during surgery.

In a 2009 article in Health Psychology (Vol. 28, No. 3), Montgomery and colleagues reported on another study, which found that a combination of hypnosis and cognitive-behavioral therapy could reduce fatigue for breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy. Pre-treatment hypnotherapy has been shown to be beneficial in association with many medical procedures.

Research has also shown the benefits of hypnosis for burn victims. In a 2007 report in Rehabilitation Psychology (Vol. 52, No. 3), Shelley Wiechman Askay, PhD, David R. Patterson, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Washington Medical School found that hypnosis before wound debridements significantly reduced pain reported by patients on one pain rating questionnaire.

There is steadily increasing evidence that hypnotherapy can be a valuable adjunct to a wide range of medical and surgical procedures.

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Hypnosis and Surgery

This study*, published the medical journal Lancet in 2000,  explored how hypnosis used in preparation for surgery might affect outcomes, in particular subsequent pain and anxiety levels.

As you can see from the graphs, the results were dramatic to say the least. Where hypnosis was used, patients were far less anxious and experienced far less pain.

What is especially interesting about this study is that all patients had access to a patient controlled analgesia device, so the amount of medication each group requested, (a strong indicator or pain levels),  and received was very precisely measured.

Lang and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial on 241 patients undergoing invasive surgery to the arteries, veins, or kidneys. Three test treatments were compared: self-hypnotic relaxation, attention control, and standard care. Approximately 80 patients were randomised to each of these groups, matched for disease severity.

The surgery was conducted under conscious sedation – patients were given Midazolam which leaves them awake but sedated. The standard treatment group consisted of treatment as usual.

The attention control condition included an additional member of the surgical team paying special attention to the patients needs, providing the feeling of control and swift response to the patients requests. The hypnotic condition involved an additional member of the surgical team acting as in the attentional control condition, but additionally administering a rapid hypnotic induction, giving suggestions for a sensation of floating, and encouraging the patient to use self-generated imagery.

Pain, anxiety and drug use were assessed.

In particular, after the surgery patients had access to a ‘patient controlled analgesia’ device which delivered pain medication at the touch of a button – the amounts requested an delivered were recorded.

These graphs show the average pain and anxiety scores reported by patients in each of the three groups as the time of the operation went on. The time it took to complete the procedure was significantly shorter in the hypnosis group compared to the standard treatment group, with the attention group in between.

Patients in the attention and standard treatment group reported that their pain got steadily worse as the operation went on, but in comparison patients in the hypnosis group continued to remain relatively pain free over the same period.

Patients in the hypnosis and attention groups requested and received approximately half the amount of pain medication than patients in the standard care group.



* Lang, E. V., Benotsch, E. G., Fick, L. J., Lutgendorf, S., Berbaum, M. L., Berbaum, K. S., Logan, H., Spiegel, D. (2000). Adjunctive non-pharmacological analgesia for invasive medical procedures: a randomised trial. The Lancet, 355, 1486-1490.

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