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Hypnotherapy: crucial for cancer patients?

Updated: Feb 16


I wrote this blog page, aimed at the general public, to outline why I perceive hypnotherapy to be a crucial factor in strengthening an individual's fight against cancer, and not only cancer but all life-threatening debilitating diseases where a positive hope-filled mindset can be generated and utilised to develop an optimally functioning immune system, potentially creating an edge that makes the difference.

These days approximately one in three are going to develop diagnosed cancerous tissue at some point in their lives, emotionally and mentally a very difficult time. In my clinical practice I follow a six point protocol to not only turn lives around, as far as hope and positivity are concerned, but also to give each patient's innate immune system the best possible chance to naturally fight the development or progression of their condition. After my hypnotherapy sessions patients always feel stronger, calmer, more relaxed, empowered, and with a clearer, more positive mindset.

My six point hypnotherapy based protocol

  1. Changing an anxious and fearful mindset

  2. Psychoneuroimmunology: Super-charging the immune system

  3. Developing the power of hope and feeling good about oneself

  4. Ensuring solid fundamentals

  5. Coping with orthodox treatment

  6. Relaxation, peace and personal development

1. Hypnotherapy for changing an anxious fearful mindset

Almost all patients with a cancer diagnosis suffer with deep anxiety and fear. These negative mindsets continue throughout the development of the disease, for some spiralling out of control, and can even increase with orthodox cancer treatments as the tiredness and low energy can equate to a lowering of resolve and resilience. There's also a pre-existing component as most patients suffered from anxieties and fears long before their physical illness developed.

What's the problem with an anxious and fearful mindset, apart from the general unpleasantness and negative effect upon daily life?

Quite simply negative mindsets over time demolish the immune system. Stressful states allow for excessive levels of cortisol to develop in the blood eventually overloading the system and negating cortisol's anti-inflammatory role thus allowing all sorts of inflammation to occur. This, along with a depletion of lymphocytes (white blood cells), opens the body up to attack.

Lymphocytes clear rogue cancerous and pre-cancerous cells continually. They also inhibit cancer cell proliferation and migration so when there aren't enough to cover the territory or they become less effective, that's a problem.

Therefore the mere turning round of a negative mindset can have great effect in rebuilding a debilitated immune system. This is done by using hypnosis to redirect and reset negative perceptions at a deep level and develop a more free and positive mindstate by supercharging that unconscious which previously worked counter to optimal wellness and by building an anti-inflammatory white blood cell powerhouse that is working for you... not against.

2. Psychoneuroimmunology - building up that immune system

Psychoneuroimmunology, a field of study discovered by Robert Ader and Nicholas Cohen at University of Rochester NY in the 1970's. For the first time it was demonstrated how the mind (psycho) via the nervous system (neuro) directly influences the immune system (immunology).

Arguably this has always been known via paths of wisdom within many ancient cultures but nonetheless this was the first time it was demonstrated scientifically and is now a recognised branch of science.

Researchers now know that our nervous system and immune system communicate with each other but they've only recently started to understand how and what that means for our health. Quite simply, the body chemistry of someone with an anxious, depressed or worried mind is quite different from a body chemistry where the mind is relaxed, positive and happy. Why is this? Psychoneuroimmunology and psychoneuroendocrinology (mind affecting hormones).

Our mental state influences the release of hormones, neurotransmitters and cytokines which alter the functionality of all bodily systems. Some basic examples being, an impaired hormonal balance creating infertility, inflammation causing gut issues such as IBS or the depletion of strength and effectiveness in an immune system's ability to deal with serious illness.

To influence the immune system one has to get to the engine room, that deep core of the self known as the subconscious or unconscious mind, the area which contains the memories of almost all life experiences. Negative experiences such as shock, trauma, loss, pain or a frightening event commonly ingrain into the unconscious negatively influencing future behaviours and physiological functions. The best, fastest and most controlled method of accessing that 'engine room' is hypnosis, or more accurately in a clinical therapeutic setting, hypnotherapy.

Hypnotherapy psychoneuroimmunology flowchart
Hypnotherapy psychoneuroimmunology flowchart

3. The power of hope and feeling good about oneself

In the 1950's Curt Richter performed a series of rather unpleasant yet extremely telling experiments where he placed rats into a tank of water with no way out in order to see how long they would swim around before giving up. The rats drowned after around 15 minutes. He then used rats which had been removed and returned to the tank several times... some of those rats swam around for almost 40 hours.

The first group very quickly percieved their state as hopeless, after swimming round and round the tank. They absolutely 'believed' or 'knew' there was no way out. The second group, who had been shown the possibility of a way out, lasted an incredibly long time relatively speaking, thus brilliantly demonstrating the power of hope and the vast chasm of difference between hopefulness and hopelessness.

Developing a deep sense of hope and positive outlook of one's future is so important in dealing with serious disease. Clinical hypnosis is the fastest and most effective method of accessing the unconscious mind where encouraging the development of hope and fostering a positive outlook helps generate another powerful deep healing belief.

4. Ensuring solid fundamentals

Each of the following are crucial in putting up a solid fight against serious disease. Though not obviously linked to hypnotherapy I often find patients benefit the most by also using hypnosis to help make wiser dietary choices, improve sleep, encourage deeper more effective breathing or perhaps to stimulate the desire to exercise more.

a) Food appetite, digestion and the utilisation of cancer fighting foods

b) Supplementation vitamins, minerals and the use of herbal medicine

c) Fluids quality, enhanced juicing

d) Sleep quality, deeper

e) Breathing quality, deeper

f ) Exercise doing whatever you can do... or perhaps a little more

g) Acupuncture and Herbal medicine, utilising my knowledge and skills as a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner of over 20yrs.

5. Dealing with the orthodox treatments

The orthodox treatments, chemo and radio therapies, can be emotionally and physically draining, sometimes feeling worse than the disease itself, depending on the intensity and duration. They can be difficult to endure and in themselves create fear, anxiety and sometimes dread, the absolute opposite of what is needed to generate a healing state and uphold a well functioning immune system. Again, hypnotherapy is a wonderful mechanism to aid in getting the best from these treatments.

6. Relaxation

Relaxation is an important part of healing and should always be aimed for as essentially it underpins positive feelings such as happiness and contentment.

Is it possible to feel happy and contented whilst dealing with a life threatening disease? Absolutely YES, and this is a fundamental of a hypnotherapy session. It's not uncommon for my patients to say 'I dont think I've ever been that relaxed in my whole life', which is a wonderful start in getting their biology to work for them and not against them as it would within a stressed state of being. Hypnotherapy is actually a very pleasant life affirming experience. Within it I encourage all my patients to develop a lighter, more contented, empowered state and then take that home and continue the session's positive momentum. It's all about choice and intent.

Much of this is really about personal growth and development, learning how one functions and improving on that. Perhaps gaining a little mastery over the mind, actively and intentionally choosing what you want, freeing yourself from any life traumas, all things which commonly we are not taught how to do. I also teach and encourage mindfulness and meditation techniques in order to understand and quiet that overthinking mind.

Not everyone will be able to win. Some will come to it too late and for some the illness may be just too powerful, but no matter the outcome, each patient using hypnotherapy with guidance from a 'health specialist' hypnotherapist will feel stronger, calmer, more complete, more connected and far more ready for whatever they may have to face.

Are there any downsides?

No... but there are a multitude of benefits in using hypnotherapy to powerfully assist in the treatment of serious illness. In my opinion all cancer patients should really be seeing a hypnotherapist, as long as the patient...

a) wants to participate and b) has a level of cognition to be able to participate.

A few basics of hypnotherapy

1. Firstly, hypnotherapy is a very pleasant experience. You'll feel really good after a session.

2. You are totally in control and you are not going to blurt out any deep dark secrets.

3. You are aware of everything in a session ie. you are not unconscious.

4. You fix you, it all comfortably and pleasantly happens between your ears. I'm merely the facilitator.

Although in my clinical experience there are immense benefits in using hypnotherapy for patients with cancer and other life threatening diseases there's no money in it for 'the system'. A handful of sessions with a hypnotherapist is cheap, highly effective but does nothing to fill the coffers of 'Big Pharma', in fact it reduces the need for stress and anxiety medications. Be aware, the system will always push sedatives, anti-anxiety, depression medications which weaken the immunity even more. Hopefully you'll think a little differently about you and your self healing potential now.

Nick Malyon MSc. BHSc. Dip.(hypno).


Systematic review: Antidepressants for the treatment of depression in people with cancer

G.Ostuzzi, F.Matcham et al. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018 Apr; 2018(4): CD011006.

There is a very low number of randomised trials assessing the efficacy of antidepressants in cancer patients, despite the relevance of this issue. Moreover, evidence for the effects we have found in terms of the efficacy and acceptability of antidepressants in people with cancer is of very low quality. Data from the present review failed to reveal any statistically significant beneficial effect of these drugs over a placebo.

Psychoneuroimmunology and cancer: fact or fiction?

J K Kiecolt-Glaser, R Glaser

There is substantial evidence from both healthy populations as well as individuals with cancer linking psychological stress with immune downregulation. This discussion highlights natural killer (NK) cells, because of the role that they may play in malignant disease. In addition, distress or depression is also associated with two important processes for carcinogenesis: poorer repair of damaged DNA, and alterations in apoptosis. Conversely, the possibility that psychological interventions may enhance immune function and survival among cancer patients clearly merits further exploration, as does the evidence suggesting that social support may be a key psychological mediator. These studies and others suggest that psychological or behavioural factors may influence the incidence or progression of cancer through psychosocial influences on immune function and other physiological pathways.

Psycho-oncology and cancer: psychoneuroimmunology and cancer

J. K. Kiecolt-Glaser, T. F. Robles , K. L. Heffner , T. J. Loving & R. Glaser

There is substantial evidence from both healthy populations as well as individuals with cancer linking psychological stress with immune dysregulation. Stress may also enhance carcinogenesis through alterations in DNA repair and/or apoptosis. In addition, the possibility that psychological interventions may enhance immune function and survival among cancer patients is still an open question as is the evidence suggesting that social support may be a key psychological mediator. However, these studies and others suggest that psychological or behavioral factors could influence the initiation/progression of cancer.

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