Hypnotherapy and Headaches

Hypnosis & Headache

Researchers in the Netherlands have established that hypnosis and autogenic training may offer hope for patients who regularly suffer from tension headaches.

Back in 1992, a carefully designed study(1) compared an abbreviated form of autogenic training to a form of hypnotherapy known as ‘future oriented hypnotic imagery’ which was not presented to the patients as hypnosis, and then they compared both treatments to the same future oriented hypnotic imagery, but this time explicitly presented as hypnosis.

Fifty six patients diagnosed by a neurologists as having chronic tension headaches took part in the study. The results revealed that all three treatments were equally effective ; during the treatment the headaches was greatly alleviated in all treatment groups in significant contrast to the control group; immediately after the treatment was given , the patients also experienced a reduction in both the severity of the headache and the associated psychological stress, and after a 6-month follow-up period, the therapeutic improvement was maintained.

Short-term and long-term pain reduction were observed in all treatment groups but the researchers found that those patients who attributed the pain reduction obtained during therapy to their own efforts manifested greater long-term pain reduction than those patients who attributed their improvement to the efforts of the therapist. Furthermore, patients who received the ‘future oriented hypnotic imagery’ (which had been explicitly presented as hypnosis) were found to experience greater benefits than those who received autogenic training.

One other interesting finding of the study was that the therapists were shown to be as effective with the treatment modality they preferred as with the treatment modality they felt to be less remedial suggesting that the therapist’s personal beliefs about the efficacy of a treatment does not affect the outcome of the treatment.

The researchers were so impressed with the results of the study that they pursued their line of research by investigating the efficacy of autogenic training (AT) and cognitive self-hypnosis training (CSH) for the treatment of chronic headaches in comparison with a waiting-list control (WLC) condition. In this study 146 patients patients ( 58 of whom were referred by a neurological outpatient clinic), 48 of whom responded to a n advertisement in a local newspaper, and a further 40 who were students who had responded to an advert in a university newspaper. All of the patients were randomly assigned to receive autogenic training, self-hypnosis or put on a waiting list and used as controls.

During the treatments, there was a significant reduction in the Headache Index scores of the subjects in contrast with the controls. Follow-up assessments indicated that therapeutic improvement was maintained. Interestingly, the patients in both treatment groups who were considered to be highly-hypnotizable were found to achieve a greater reduction in headache pain at post-treatment and follow-up than did those who were considered to be low-hypnotizable subjects.

These studies indicate that these relatively simple and highly structured relaxation techniques of hypnotherapy and autogenic training may be of considerable help in the treatment of chronic headaches. It also appears that a high level of hypnotic susceptibility is associated with a a better therapeutic outcome.

(1) Zitman FG; Van Dyck R; Spinhoven P; Linssen AC. Hypnosis and autogenic training in the treatment of tension headaches: a two-phase constructive design study with follow-up. Department of Psychiatry, Catholic University, Nymegen, The Netherlands. J Psychosom Res (ENGLAND) Apr 1992, 36 (3) p219-28
(2) Kuile MM; Spinhoven P; Linssen AC; Zitman FG; Van Dyck R; Rooijmans HG Autogenic training and cognitive self-hypnosis for the treatment of recurrent headaches in three different subject groups. Department of Psychiatry, University of Leiden, The Netherlands. Pain (NETHERLANDS) Sep 1994, 58 (3) p331-40

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