Cancer Patients Choosing Hypnosis Over Counseling

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

Thumbnail for 7464By: Dr. Maria Simbra


Dealing with cancer is difficult both physically and emotionally, especially when the treatments start, but some cancer patients are now using a new tool to help them get through it.

Being diagnosed with breast cancer can be frightening.

“Having a diagnosis of any kind of cancer, I imagine, is devastating, and your mind races,” breast cancer patient Althea Queen, of Natrona Heights, said. “When it came time for chemotherapy, I had a hard time wrapping my mind around that.”

Counseling is often offered to help with stress and anxiety. But, Althea wanted to try something different.

“And I said, I’m beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t find a hypnotist to help me with what my mind was going through,” she said.

Another approach is hypnosis and cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), a problem-focused, action-oriented approach. A recent study shows it could help women with breast cancer deal with feelings of fatigue.

“Feeling anxious and worried can lead to fatigue,” Dr. Guy Montgomery, with Mt. Sinai Medical Center, said. “That’s one of the steps we’re working with patients to be more in control of those kinds of emotions.”

A researcher at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York did a study of 200 patients getting radiation treatments. Half got meditation, half got CBT and hypnosis.

Fatigue was checked at specific points before and after treatment up to six months out. Those who got CBT and hypnosis had comparatively less fatigue up to four weeks after treatment.

“They learned the skills that they needed to help themselves feel better over time and hopefully, improve their quality of life,” Montgomery said.

Here in Pittsburgh, Bonnie Shields is a social worker who offers hypnosis to help cancer patients. She demonstrated on a colleague.

“Their eyes begin to flutter,” she said. “That’s a sign that they’re wanting to go into trance. I invite them to take deep breaths and then to close their eyes.”

She believes it helps people reduce anxiety, stabilize mood and make decisions.

“I may count to three. My voice will get louder, and then they’ll hear me in a different way than when they were in a trance,” she said.

“Hypnosis is not something that’s a Vegas act or mind control,” Shields said. “We cannot undergo hypnosis and achieve a trance unless we’re willing to do that.”

Althea’s experience with CBT and hypnosis was positive.

“It’s nothing that you can’t remember,” she said. “It’s a feeling of deep relaxation. It keeps your mind from being crowded with unnecessary things.”

“This is a life-changing thing, and it will never really be over. It’s giving me a tool to cope with the changes it brings.”