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Friday, 23 April, 1999, 10:19 GMT 11:19 UK
The power of mind over matter
Hypnotherapists claim hypnosis can help cancer patients
Experimental and clinical hypnotists will discuss the growing role of hypnotism in helping to treat medical conditions at their annual conference in Birmingham this weekend, reports BBC News Online's Mandy Garner.

Hypnosis should be a core therapy in the treatment of cancer, according to a leading psychologist.

Phyllis Alden: hypnosis can be very suggestive
Phyllis Alden, consultant psychologist in the department of clinical oncology at Derbyshire Royal Infirmary, believes hypnosis can not only help ease the anxiety of being treated for cancer, but can reduce its symptoms.

"Psychology is becoming a key part of cancer services," she said.

She added that research was increasingly showing that hypnosis could improve cancer results.

However, she admitted many of the studies lacked controls.

Hypnosis is now being used to treat a wide variety of conditions in the NHS, including pain relief, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression.

Dentists are also using it to help patients who have a phobia for the dentist's chair.


Ms Alden, who is also honorary secretary of the British Society of Experimental and Clinical Hypnosis (BSECH) which is meeting this weekend, says hypnosis helps cancer patients in a variety of ways.

Entertainers like Paul McKenna put people off clinical hypnosis, claim doctors
"It helps people to achieve control of their emotions and be calm and relaxed.

"It can also help in symptom control, for example, treating pain and nausea."

One 76-year-old man she treated became panicked at the thought of receiving radiotherapy.

He had been urgently referred to her with cancer of the eyelid and risked losing his eye without treatment.

Even under hypnosis, he panicked so Ms Alden tried to find out what was causing the panic.

She traced it back to when the man was 10 years old and he was held upside down by his father because he had stopped him hitting his mother.

"He had felt very helpless and feared for his life," said Ms Alden.

The radiotherapy made him feel similarly helpless. After finding the cause of his problems, he was able to have radiotherapy.

Ms Alden says recovering memories that have been withheld from the past can help in only a small number of cases and a risk assessment should be made before the technique is used.

She decided not to use the technique with a women who had no memory of her life before the age of 15.

This was after taking tests which showed the woman had a poor memory anyway, was extremely open to hypnosis and believed she had been abused in the past, based on comments from some of her relatives.

One of these was dead and the other did not wish to participate in the regression.

"It was a recipe for disaster," said Ms Alden.

"Hypnosis can facilitate fantasy. People can relive experiences that may never have happened because fantasies and dreams can seem very real.

"Hypnosis can be very suggestive."

She tries not to suggest any ideas in her sessions. For example, if a person says they do not remember having had any traumatic event in their past, she accepts this.


Many qualified hypnotists believe that people have a general distrust of hypnotherapy because of its use in entertainment.

"People feel hypnosis will make them do something stupid or something they don't want to.

Hypnosis can help cure fears of being in the dentist's chair
"But that is not the way it is used clinically," said Cath Potter, a dentist from Thameside.

"The idea is to give people more control, not to take it away from them."

She had used hypnosis for eight years, after obtaining a masters in the subject.

She wants to see greater regulation of the profession to stop unqualified people from taking advantage of patients.

"If you look in the Yellow Pages, you have no idea if therapists are qualified. They may just have a read a book on the subject and it is not illegal for them to operate."

She hopes that more can be done to promote the advantages of clinical hypnotherapy, for example, by training more therapists and by spreading the word among other health workers.

Most of her patients who have been hypnotised have suffered from anxiety, but some are allergic to local anaesthetic and need hypnosis to control the pain of an operation.

"It is mind over matter," she said.

She adds that hypnosis is the end stage in a process of trying to ease patients' fears about the dentist's chair.

She says most people fear the dentist because of a bad experience in the past.

She tries to suggest positive ways of seeing treatment. For example, instead of saying "Open wide", she will say "This will make the tooth numb and it will be more comfortable for you".

She claims many people have benefited from the treatment and have learnt to hypnotise themselves.

This can cut down time in the surgery. People who are afraid of the dentist tend to take longer to treat as they cannot relax.

Ball of sunshine

Phyllis Alden uses tapes to help people hypnotise themselves.

They are very imagery-based, for example, leading people to a warm, calm place where they can relax and feel safe and where they can help their immune system do its job.

She goes through the tape afterwards with patients, working on the areas they found most useful.

For instance, a patient with very bad back pain worked on imagining a ball of sunshine which she could put on her back to dull the pain.

"It is all down to the power of thought," she said.

The BBC's Sumit Bose on hypnosis
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