KIRSTEN RITCHIE, 44, is no stranger to surgery — nearly 20 years ago, doctors removed four tumors from her brain. She remembers the operation and its aftermath as “horrific.”
So the news that she needed brain surgery again was hardly welcome. Determined to make her second operation a better — or at least less traumatic — experience, Ms. Ritchie, an insurance marketing representative in Cleveland, turned to an unusual treatment.
At the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine, she had four hypnosis sessions in the month before her procedure, during which she addressed her fear of the coming surgery. She also practiced self-hypnosis every day.
Eventually, she said, “I got to a place where I felt a sense of trust instead of fear.”
In February, doctors removed a plum-sized tumor from her brain. But there the similarity to her previous experience ended. Ms. Ritchie woke up from the procedure, she said, feeling “alert and awesome.” She ate a full dinner that night and went home in two days.
“My neurosurgeon was stunned at how little medication I required before and after surgery, and how quickly I bounced back,” she said.
Ms. Ritchie attributes her speedy recovery and calm state to her hypnosis sessions. Used for more than two centuries to treat a host of medical problems, particularly pain management and anxiety, hypnosis is now available to patients at some of the most respected medical institutions in the country, including Stanford Hospital, the Cleveland Clinic, Mount Sinai Medical Center and Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.
Some critics find the research into mind-body therapies unconvincing, but their skepticism has not deterred patients like Ms. Ritchie. And there are researchers who say they believe that by helping patients feel in better control of their symptoms, hypnosis can reduce the need for medication and lower costs.
“It is an effective and inexpensive way to manage medical care,” said Dr. David Spiegel, director of the Center on Stress and Health at Stanford University School of Medicine and a leading authority on hypnosis.
A study by radiologists at Harvard Medical School, published in 2000, found that patients who received hypnosis during surgery required less medication, had fewer complications and shorter procedures than patients who did not have hypnosis. In a follow-up study in 2002, the radiologists concluded that if every patient undergoing catheterization were to receive hypnosis, the cost savings would amount to $338 per patient.
“When patients are groggy from anesthesia drugs, it costs more to recover them,” said Dr. Elvira Lang, an associate professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School and a lead author of both studies. “Hypnosis calms patients.”
If you have a medical condition for which conventional medicine is not working, or you’d like to try a gentle mind-body alternative, hypnosis may be worth considering. Here are some things to keep in mind.