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Hypnotic and non-hypnotic suggestion in fibromyalgia

Posted Jan 27 2009 8:05pm

Ever wondered what a hypnotised brain looks like?

A nice piece of research was reported a few days ago in the Hypnosis and Suggestion blog that may give us a few first clues.

A study by Derbshire, Whalley and Oakley ((2008) carried out an fMRI analysis of the hypnotic and non-hypnotic modulation of fibromyalgia pain.

The blog article reports:

‘This is the first published study to use fMRI to examine the effects of
hypnotic and non-hypnotic suggestion upon brain activity. Thirteen
patients suffering from fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition, were
given the same suggestions to increase and decrease their pain while in
an fMRI scanner before and after they were hypnotised. Suggestion in
both conditions produced significant changes in both pain experience
and brain activity in pain-related regions. These activations were of
greater magnitude, though, when suggestions followed a hypnotic
induction - providing evidence for the greater efficacy of suggestion
following a hypnotic induction.’

fMri scan

The image to the left here, taken from the Hypnosis and Suggestion blog, shows brain activity in response to both ‘hypnotic’ and ‘non-hypnotic’ suggestion in the same patients. You can clearly see that there is activity in both states, and that formal hypnotic induction significantly increased this activity.

This piece of research is particularly exciting to me because it investigates the power of suggestion with and without what we might call hypnotic trance.

I always tell my clients that, quite apart from the wonderful work that we do together in hypnosis in a session and the work that I ask them to do in self-hypnosis between sessions, the way that they talk to themselves in their own minds throughout the day is also incredibly important.

As you can see from the ‘unhypnotised’ image above, suggestions alone appear to stimulate brain activity. When you are talking to yourself inside your own head, make those suggestions positive and progressive.

Of course, we could get into an interesting debate here about what a ‘hypnotised’ versus an ‘unhypnotised’ state actually consists of; or what the brain activity shown on the scans actually means.

But what is important from a therapeutic point of view here is that all suggestion seems to activatea areas of the brain. This may have implications not just for working with the manipulation of pain - as in this study - but for so many other areas of our lives.

Derbyshire, S.W.G., Whalley, M.G., Oakley, D.A. (2008). Fibromyalgia
pain and its modulation by hypnotic and non-hypnotic suggestion: An
fMRI analysis. European Journal of Pain, in press.

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