Hypnosis and Biofeedback

Hypnosis and biofeedback are sometimes combined as an alternative treatment for patient with chronic pain.

Hypnosis is a procedure involving cognitive processes (like imagination) in which  you are guided by a health professional to respond to suggestions for changes in perceptions, sensations, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Hypnosis involves learning how to use your  mind and thoughts in order to manage emotional distress (like anxiety); unpleasant physical symptoms (like pain); and certain habits or behaviors (like smoking). Sometimes, people are also trained in self-hypnosis, in which they learn to guide themselves through a hypnotic procedure.

Myths About Hypnosis

The following is a list of common myths or misconceptions about hypnosis (Table 1). Many people will have preconceived notions about hypnosis from popular TV shows (Doctor Who; Monk), movies (Office Space; Shallow Hal; Zoolander), and books (Manchurian Candidate).

How can hypnosis help my patients cope with chronic pain?

Hypnosis has been found to be generally more effective than non-pharmacological interventions such as physical therapy and pain education. There is growing evidence to suggest that hypnosis has greater influence on the affects rather than the sensation of pain. Hypnosis may be able to provide analgesia, reduce stress, relieve anxiety, improve sleep, improve mood, and reduce the need for opioids. Further, hypnosis can enhance the efficacy of other well-established treatments for pain.


Biofeedback is the use of instrumentation to mirror psychophysiological processes of which an individual is not normally aware and may be brought under voluntary control. Biofeedback should be conducted only by trained health care professionals, such as licensed psychologists or masters’ level clinicians.

Most individuals have come into contact with common types of biofeedback, such as thermometers, bathroom scales, and mirrors. You also have come in contact with blood pressure and heart rate monitors when you see your physician.

The following is a list of common forms of biofeedback that are typically used in chronic pain management (Table 2). The list provides information about each form of biofeedback, what physiology it measures, and where the sensor would be placed on the patient.

How does biofeedback help you cope with chronic pain?

There are three stages that occur during the biofeedback training:

  • During the first stage, you gain awareness of your physical response.
  • During stage two, you use the signals from the biofeedback to control your physical responses. You will be coached by the therapist to reach certain goals related to managing a specific physical response.
  • At the final stage, you transfer control from the biofeedback equipment to yourself.

Individuals learn through trial and error to identify triggers that alert them to implement the self-regulation skills learned. Patients are typically encouraged daily practice of the mental exercises at the conclusion of treatment.

Updated on: 06/16/15
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