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Baylor Researcher Using Hypnosis as Means of Treatment

Gary Elkins – a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University - has recently been using hypnotic audio recordings to help his patients reduce pain. Specifically, his research has focused on using clinical hypnosis to treat symptoms that postmenopausal women face, like hot flashes and an inability to sleep.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Hypnosis, really? Elkins says clinical hypnosis isn't always understood.

“Hypnosis has been a term that’s been around for a long time and sometimes it’s been portrayed in television and in programs in an inaccurate way.”

According to the American Psychological Association website, “although hypnosis has been controversial, most clinicians now agree it can be a powerful, effective therapeutic technique for a wide range of conditions.” Now…Hypnosis as a potential treatment for hot flashes and other postmenopausal symptoms dates back to the early 2000s, says Elkins. In 2002 the Women’s Health Initiative, a 15-year-long, $625 million dollar federal study examining the health problems facing postmenopausal women, abruptly ended its largest hormone research. That’s because results had shown hormone therapy –using a combination of estrogen and progestin – had increased the risk for health issues like cardiovascular disease and breast cancer in some women. Ultimately, researchers turned alternative methods like hypnosis.  

In Elkins’ 2013 study, funded by the National Institute of health, 187 women were randomized into two camps: One, received hypnosis as a treatment for hot flashes and the other group received met with a therapist for structured attention.

"In that study," Elkins says, "we found that hot flashes had decreased by approximately 70 percent at the end of treatment. And then at the 3-month follow up self-reported hot flashes had decreased by nearly 80 percent. We also found that women’s sleep improved."

Those results led Elkins to conduct his current research, which focuses on using hypnosis to help improve sleeping problems for post-menopausal women. Vicky Patterson is the clinical research coordinator at the Mind-Body Medicine Research Lab at Baylor.

"Each lady’s given, at their first appointment they meet with their research therapist and they’re given what is called a toolkit," Patterson says. "It’s a little lunch bag actually. In it we place a CD player, the 5 cd recordings and 6 booklets. The first one is just an introduction and then each booklet describes that week’s part of the program," Patterson says. 

The CDs contain various soothing imagery – from lakes to mountains – all voiced by Elkins’ deep, drawn-out and soporific voice.  And although his current research is still it its early stages, Elkins believes their findings will be promising and could potentially yield multifaceted benefits.

"One of the things that has been associated with menopause has been cognitive decline. We don’t know if that’s to anxiety or changes in hormones, but we believe that as individuals sleep better, their quality of life improves, their ability to concentrate, to focus their attention, that overall performance can be better," Elkins says.

Hypnosis as a means of treatment has deep history. The word was coined in the 1800s – its root derived from Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep. And even for hundreds of years before that – there were recorded instances of Hypnosis, or at least something very similar, being used as a treatment. But despite all that, Elkins says there needs to be more research done in order to understand hypnosis’ full potential.