If you are familiar with the shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness,
and coughing of asthma, you are not alone. Today, over 10 million Americans
suffer from this chronic illness in which the airways become inflamed,
making it difficult to get air in and out. Conventional therapies work to
prevent and control symptoms with anti-inflammatory drugs, bronchodilators, and
antibiotics (when asthma is the result of a bacterial infection). While
conventional medications help to relieve symptoms, they may also have
undesirable side effects. Over the past 20 years, researchers have taken a
closer look at an alternative treatment for asthma: hypnotherapy (the name given
to hypnosis when it's used for medical purposes). So, does the research support
using this alternative approach to care, and if so, how do you use hypnotherapy
to manage asthma?
The medical community in general does recognize hypnotherapy as helpful for a
number of health conditions, including asthma. In particular, hypnotherapists
can help you handle anxiety and stress, which often intensify asthma symptoms. A
recent article presented a summary of 20 different studies on hypnotherapy in
asthma treatment, published between 1960 and 1997 and involving over one
thousand subjects from 2 to 80 years of age. The authors conclude that
hypnotherapy is a powerful technique for treating asthma and that more studies
are needed to explore its effects.
The authors of this study also note, however, that hypnotherapy is more
effective in subjects who are more "susceptible" to it. It seems that some
people respond more to a hypnotherapist's suggestions than others: about 20
percent of people take to hypnotic suggestion easily, 20 percent do not respond
at all, and the rest of us fall somewhere in between. Children over the age of 5
generally respond well to hypnotherapy. You may have difficulty responding to
hypnotherapy if you have a strong desire to remain in control of your
circumstances. You may also struggle if you feel uncomfortable working with a
hypnotherapist or are used to accepting a more passive role in your own health
care. Hypnotherapy requires you to be an active partner and to commit yourself
to regular self-hypnosis (which a therapist can teach you). Those who benefit
the most practice 15 to 20 minutes of self-hypnosis every day.
So how does hypnotherapy work? In a typical hypnotherapy session, a
hypnotherapist will work to bring you into a trance-like state. This state is a
normal part of human consciousness. In fact, many of us enter this state on our
own on a regular basis—we refer to it as
"drifting off into space" or "spacing out." A hypnotized person is fully aware
of what's going on and can end the session if he or she is feeling
uncomfortable. Once a trance-like state is achieved, a hypnotherapist can
suggest how you should feel about something when you wake up.
A variety of approaches to hypnotherapy have resulted in similar and
sometimes dramatic improvements in asthma. For some people, self-hypnosis has
helped to reduce the intensity of sudden episodes of wheezing and has helped
them to avoid a hospital visit; for some it has completely eliminated the need
for medication. For most, hypnotherapy is an effective addition to an overall
treatment plan. More and more doctors agree: When taught by a well-trained and
skilled clinician, hypnotherapy can be, and often is, helpful for managing
To find a qualified hypnotherapist, ask your doctor or look on the Internet
at the National Board for Certified Clinical Hypnotherapists' Web site at
Chronic: refers to an illness or disease that develops slowly and is
persistent (often lifelong)
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