Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: April 2019.

Hypnosis is a type of therapy in which the patient gives consent to enter into an altered state of consciousness in which the therapist can make suggestions to alter perceptions, thoughts, or actions in order to help the patient. Also called hypnotherapy, the approach provides access to the patient’s subconscious mind to create positive change. The American Association of Professional Hypnotherapists defines hypnosis as a state of relaxed focus that is a natural and commonly experienced daily, including right before falling asleep and immediately upon waking. Unlike the portrayal in television shows and movies, hypnosis does not cause a state of amnesia (memory loss) and cannot make a person lose control or do something that they do not want to do. If the patient has the desire to make a change, hypnosis may be a tool to help make that change more quickly.1,2

What to expect during a hypnosis session

During hypnotherapy, several different components may be used, including:

  • Introduction – a period of time where the patient can ask questions, the therapist can provide information on what to expect, and the patient gives consent for the process.
  • Hypnotic induction – the use of one of a variety of techniques to physically and mentally relax the patient.
  • Imagery – the process in which the therapist leads the patient to imagine a calming and peaceful scene.
  • Deepening procedure – the stage in which the therapist talks the patient into a deeper state of relaxation and hypnosis, such as using a metaphor of descending stairs or an elevator.
  • Symptom-specific suggestions – the point during hypnosis when the therapist offers suggestions to reduce distress or improve symptoms the patient is experiencing.
  • Conclusion – the final period when the patient is brought out of the hypnotic state and is given instructions on how to perform self-hypnosis.1

Benefits of hypnosis for lung cancer patients

Hypnosis is used as a complementary therapy by many patients to support them in making healthy behavior changes. Some people use hypnotherapy to improve their overall health and thereby potentially reduce their risk of cancer, such as using hypnosis to stop smoking, manage weight, or engage in exercise. Lung cancer patients in particular may use hypnosis for smoking cessation (stopping smoking), to reduce stress or anxiety, or to reduce symptoms such as pain, emotional distress, or side effects from other treatments.1

Hypnosis for smoking cessation

A meta-analysis (a review of multiple clinical studies) of hypnosis for smoking cessation found that results from controlled trials suggest that hypnosis may help patients quit smoking. However, only four trials were included in the analysis due to strict criteria, and three of the four studies were small with 40 participants or less. Previous reviews have failed to find enough support for using hypnosis for smoking cessation, although researchers note that additional study is needed to examine if hypnosis may be effective when used in combination with other treatment approaches. Patients continue to use hypnosis for smoking cessation despite the lack of research data, with some preferring hypnosis to other methods, such as nicotine replacement or prescription medication.1

Hypnosis for symptom relief

Many lung cancer patients undergo treatment with surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy, and these treatments can cause a variety of side effects including pain, nausea, fatigue, anxiety and depression. Hypnosis can be used to potentially help relieve these symptoms:

  • Results from several clinical studies have revealed hypnosis can effectively control pain and emotional distress from surgery, as well as improving recovery.
  • A meta-analysis of clinical trials on using hypnosis on patients undergoing chemotherapy supports the use of hypnosis for reducing nausea and vomiting.
  • Clinical trials that have explored the use of hypnosis on patients receiving radiation therapy have suggested that hypnosis may help reduce fatigue and improve emotional distress.1

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