PainRelief.com Interview with:
Afik Faerman, PhD
NIMH T32 Postdoctoral Fellow
Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Division 30 (Psychological Hypnosis)
American Psychological Association
PainRelief.com: What is the background for this study?
Response: Hypnosis offers an effective drug-free approach to treat a variety of psychophysiological symptoms, particularly pain. Unfortunately, not everyone benefits equally from hypnosis. The ability to experience suggestions in hypnosis (hypnotizability) is distributed in a bell-shaped curve across the population, with only about 20% considered highly hypnotizable. We wanted to test if we could make the brains of people who were not highly hypnotizable act and function as if they were, hoping such a possibility would open the door for improving therapy.
Several brain structures were previously linked to responsiveness to hypnosis, and modulating them could, theoretically, increase hypnotizability. Based on previous work, we created an approach (termed SHIFT) using individual brain scans to find the best part of the brain to stimulate.
Dr Trevor Thompson BSc Hons, MSc, PhD
Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education and Health
University of Greenwich
PainRelief .com: What is the
background for this study? What are the
Response: Pretty much
everyone now is aware of the opioid ‘crisis’. Opioid medications can offer
highly effective pain relief for some, but also have addictive properties, side
effects and provide unsatisfactory pain relief for many others. The Center for
Disease Control and Prevention suggest that an estimated two million
individuals in the US alone are addicted to prescription opioid analgesics, and
this has been linked to over 17,000 overdose deaths and over $78 billion annual
this has acted as a catalyst for renewed interest in non-pharmacological
interventions for pain. Hypnosis is one such intervention and can be
administered by a trained hypnotherapist or even as a simple 20-minute audio
recording (usually in the form of relaxing imagery accompanied by suggestions
of pain relief, e.g. ‘imagine being completely filled with sensation of
relief’). The degree to which hypnosis is effective for reducing pain, however,
is not entirely clear and exaggerated claims for its efficacy have generally
created scepticism. Clinical studies suggest hypnosis may be effective,
but these data suffer from a number of limitations. We therefore analysed
pooled data from controlled experimental studies that have used
laboratory-induced pain (e.g. cold, heat, pressure etc), which can avoid some
of the shortcomings of clinical data.
of 85 studies consisting of 3632 participants supported the effectiveness of
hypnosis and found that efficacy was strongly dependent upon hypnotic
suggestibility. Compared to control conditions, pain ratings for hypnosis were
42% (p<.001) lower for individuals high in suggestibility and 29%
(p<.001) lower for those with medium suggestibility.