In recent years the field of mind body medicine (known as psycho-neuro-immunology
or PNI) has been gaining wider recognition. Clinicians are now realising
that the Cartesian dualist viewpoint with regard to medicine and healing
(that the mind and body are separate entities that do not communicate)
is no longer applicable, and that a holistic approach to the treatment
of a patient is desirable.
Increasingly the patient’s emotional
state, beliefs, etc. are being addressed as part and parcel of their
treatment package. This not withstanding, it has been known for a long
time that emotional factors play an important role in the course of
disorders of the intestinal tract and that to treat conditions such
as irritable bowl syndrome, food intolerance and food allergy, psychological
stability and well-being needs to be attained.
From this position the realisation that other gastrointestinal disorders
(as well as organic disorders in general) will benefit from the alleviation
of psychological upset has become widely acknowledged, and that both
positive and negative emotional factors can and do influence the functioning
of our immune system (the part of our body responsible for maintaining
our health). Many clinicians are now recommending that some form of
psychological intervention accompany standard treatment approaches
and much has been written in the scientific press detailing the efficacy
of such interventions. These studies have also shown that the hypnotherapeutic
approach is particularly effective in alleviating symptoms, improving
quality of life, and reducing absenteeism from work.
What is hypnosis?
The use of hypnosis as a therapeutic tool has a very long history.
The earliest recorded examples are found in the sleep temples of ancient
Egypt where archaic hieroglyphs detail procedures that in this day
and age would be considered hypnotic. (The word ‘hypnosis’ was
only invented in the 1800s.) Interest in its use has fluctuated throughout
the years and is currently in resurgence perhaps due to the ever expanding
scientific literature detailing its efficacy, combined with the general
public’s search for a viable alternative/accompaniment to so
called conventional medicine.
Hypnosis is, in essence, a very pleasant and natural state of deep
mental and physical relaxation that is often referred to as trance
into which almost anyone can enter if they so wish. In this state a
person is open to accepting beneficial suggestions delivered by a therapist
(a process known as hypnotherapy) that can help alleviate a wide range
of presenting symptoms.
However, for some the very word hypnosis is
steeped in mysticism and many erroneous myths have arisen surrounding
the subject. For example, the belief that it is akin to brain washing
is far from the truth, and it is important to realise that hypnosis
is not mind control. A patient in trance is not ‘under the power’ of
the therapist. On the contrary, full control is maintained throughout
with the unconscious mind protecting the subject, rejecting unwanted
suggestions or any that are alien to a person’s ethical or moral
beliefs. Essentially, hypnotherapy is a therapeutic method that allows
a person to regain control over an area of their life where they feel
control has been lost, thus helping to alleviate both psychological
and physical symptoms.
How can hypnotherapy help?
Hypnotherapy is not a passive therapy and requires willing participation
on behalf of the subject. In the area of food intolerance its application
is wide ranging with the general aim being to improve a person’s
quality of life, in many cases leading to the complete removal of symptoms.
A variety of approaches can be taken. For example, for those who find
difficulty in abstaining from food that causes unwanted reactions,
suggestions can be given that will take away the desire to eat such
foods. At the same time suggestions can be given that will enhance
the enjoyment of eating food that is non-allergenic. Symptoms such
as diarrhoea and constipation can be alleviated through the use of
visualisations and suggestions, and those who experience pain as part
of their symptomology can also benefit. In fact, recent research has
shown that hypnosis can effectively ‘turn off’ the area
of our brain that registers suffering, in thus closing down our experience
of the noxious quality of pain (1).
This is by no means the end of the story. In the June (2003) issue
of Foods Matter Professor Nick Read highlighted the role that traumatic
events can play in the development of food intolerance and how helping
a person come to terms with the memory of such an event can aid the
management and remission of their symptoms. For these people hypnosis
provides a route to successful resolution, helping to process the emotional
content of the memory as well as deconditioning any learned responses
that may be present as a result of that memory.
Continuing with the concept of the mind body connection, hypnotherapy
can help patients regain a new and appropriate balance within their
immune system through the application of PNI techniques. When intolerance
occurs, an allergic reaction to the food is experienced. Simply put,
the immune system will misidentify certain foods and become highly
sensitised towards them producing an allergic reaction that can include
physical (nausea, swelling, diarrhoea, etc) and psychological (fatigue,
depression, etc.) symptoms. Research has indicated that hypnotherapy
can be used to stimulate the mind body connection and help prevent
It is now known that many neurotransmitters (chemicals that help the
transmission of messages in our nervous system) that were once thought
of as being restricted to activity in the brain are involved in the
regulation of our immune system; also, various immunotransmitters (chemicals
that modulate immune system functioning) that were thought to be restricted
solely to the immune system are active within the central nervous system.
This perhaps partly explains why such emotional responses as stress
and trauma can exacerbate food intolerance and how hypnotherapy can
be used to help a patient to develop positive emotional states that
will in turn stimulate appropriate immune system functioning.
Despite the fact that hypnotherapy is a brief therapeutic approach
it is not a magical panacea. However, its proven record shows that
it is effective in the treatment of food intolerance and can be used
either as a ‘stand alone’ intervention or in conjunction
with other integrative and medical approaches.
(1) Faymonville ME, et al, Neural mechanisms of antinociceptive effects
of hypnosis, Anesthesiology, 92(5):1257-67, 2000
Peter Mabbutt is Director of Studies at the London College of Clinical
He can be contacted on 020 7473 2946
To find a qualified hypnotherapist in your area contact the British
Society of Clinical Hypnosis on 020 7402 9037 www.bsch.org.uk
First published in 2003
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