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Boosting the immune system with hypnotherapy

Updated: Feb 16

Crepuscular rays
 

As a hypnotherapist, this is currently one of the most exciting areas in my field and part of my clinical practice so I thought I'd write a little blog.


Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), or quite simply, how your mind affects your immune system. I believe most people have an idea how our minds can negatively affect our immune systems but the scientific evidence for this is relatively recent. How illness commonly occurs after people become 'run down'. How chronic stress, anxiety, fear or perhaps a singular traumatic shock, such as a death in the family, weakens one's resolve. Though other personal idiosyncrasies are very relevant such as lifestyle, diet, exercise levels, genetic predisposition, in my twenty year experience as a clinician, negative emotional states often manifest into disease... perhaps a mere troublesome level of seriousness for some but life threatening for others.


In 1974 Robert Ader and Nicholas Cohen designed an experiment from which the whole field of psychoneuroimmunology was born. They gave rats water sweetened with saccharin followed by an injection of cyclophosphamide, an immuno-suppressant which also caused nausea. Through conditioning the rats learned to avoid water that had the sweetness of saccharin. When later they fed the rats the saccharin solution they noticed the rats began to die and also the death rate was directly related to how much, normally harmless saccharin solution, the rats consumed.

From these findings, they proposed a theory the rats died because of the mere taste of saccharin, it was enough to elicit neural signals in the rats' brains which suppressed their immune systems, as if they had been overdosed with cyclophosphamide. Then, because of their weakened immune systems, the rats contracted various bacterial and viral infections and died. Simply from tasting 'sweetness'.


These findings led to the knowledge that there are connections between the brain and the immune system which contradicted the previous belief that the immune system was autonomous. This discovery led Robert Ader to continue research into the field of psychoneuroimmunology, a term that he created and first used in his 1980 presidential speech to the American Psychosomatic Society then later used as the title for his collection of essays describing this new field of research.


So, we know the power of our minds can affect our immune system negatively but as a hypnotherapist my interest lies in how the immune system reacts to a positive mindset or a super-positive mindset. Fortunately these days we have a lot more research to draw from demonstrating the link between hypnotherapy and a highly functioning immune system. Hypnotherapy, in the main, is all about inducing a positive mindset, initially at the subconscious level, the engine room, clearing negativity and building an underlying positivity that will support resilience in difficult situations and within my specific therapy building and strengthening the immune system directly.

Barling et al (2005) states - Results indicated that deep trance does significantly reduce negative emotional affect and improves immunocompetence and those subjects who chose to use the tape-recorded interventions more frequently benefited the most in reducing their negative affect scores and increasing their sIgA (secretory Immuno-globulin A) measures.

[sIgA: an antibody that plays a crucial role in the immune function of mucous membranes and is found in all membranous fluids in the gut, lungs as well as tears, saliva and sweat.]

Fox et al (1999) states - Following hypnotherapy there was a significant overall reduction in the number of reported episodes of rgHSV [herpes virus] accompanied by an increase in the numbers of CD3 and CD8 lymphocytes, which may represent a non specific effect of hypnosis. There was also significant rises in natural killer cell counts, specific lymphokine activated killer activity, and reduced levels of anxiety.

The quality of the hypnosis/hypnotherapy has also been shown to be very important.

Ruzyla-Smith et al (1995) stated - Significant alteration of the immune response as measured by B-cells and helper T-cells was shown only for highly hypnotizable subjects exposed to hypnosis.

It is important to understand that half the subjects in this trial (Ruzyla-Smith) were selected because they were hard to hypnotise ('low hypnotisable subjects'). Everyone can be hypnotised, some take longer than others, but everyone can be. The only stipulation is, the patient must want to be hypnotised, as fundamentally, "all hypnosis is self-hypnosis". It's always the hypnosis patient's choice. So, in this study the 'low hypnotisable subjects' group literally chose not to be hypnotised and therefore chose not to have their immune system enhanced. But given time, a better induction, and a clearer understanding, they too could be deeply hypnotised and enhance their immune systems.


There are many ways of training a mind to be more positive. Meditation, where the constant practice of letting go of thoughts, which are often innately negative in nature, without getting involved in the drama of that thought, teaches the mind to function in a less negative state. Mindfulness, in simple terms another word for meditation, though can be be practiced throughout one's day by being mindful, or aware, of those sneaky negative thoughts that pop-up and by consciously letting them go and not getting involved in their drama. Exercise, the practice of tai chi, yoga etc. all feed positive thought and weaken negative states of being. The problem is, all of these practices, though each useful and wonderful in their own way, are gradual, potentially taking many months, if not years, of practice, and also very much dependent on one's daily effort.


This leads to one of the great advantages of hypnotherapy; it is relatively instantaneous, well, within a couple of weeks perhaps, depending on the sessions and how engaged the patient is in the treatment. It also can be very specific, incisive, and controlled, as it's facilitated and guided by an expert. Within twenty minutes most people can be induced into a relatively deep state of hypnosis, alert, awake, yet very relaxed, comfortable and at ease with their imagined environment, and in no time at all we are talking to their subconscious, that area thought to account for around 95% of your mind, yet which is quite inaccessible for most.


Now imagine the possibilities here, the potential... boosting or enhancing immune systems with a relatively inexpensive, non-invasive, extremely safe, quick and 'pleasant to experience' therapy. [Though, of course, no massive profits for big pharma]


In my opinion all cancer patients should be presented with the opportunity to receive hypnotherapy sessions on a regular basis, or more accurately, all patients who are in need of a stronger immune response from which to heal and perhaps equally as important, prophylactically, anyone with a recurrent negative mindset.



Nick Malyon MSc.



References:

Barling, Norman R.; Raine, Susan J. (Nov 2005). Some Effects of Hypnosis on Negative Affect and Immune System Response. Australian Journal of Clinical & Experimental Hypnosis, Vol 33(2), 160-177.

Fox, Paul A.; Henderson, Donald C.; Barton, Simon E.; Champion, Andrew J.; Rollin, Matthew S. H.; Catalan, Jose; McCormack, Sheena M. G.; Gruzelier, John. (Nov 1999). Immunological Markers of Frequently Recurrent Genital Herpes Simplex Virus and Their Response to Hypnotherapy: A Pilot Study. International Journal of STD & AIDS, Vol 10(11), 730-734.

Ruzyla-Smith, P., Barabasz, A., Barabasz, M., Warner, D. (1995). Effects of Hypnosis on the Immune Response: B-Cells, T-Cells, Helper and Suppressor Cells. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, Vol. 38, 71-9.

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