With government cuts on the horizon, experts say better use of an unlikely treatment could potentially save the health service much-needed cash.
The Hypnosis and Psychosomatic Medicine Section of the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) think hypnosis should be used more widely to help those suffering with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), depression and even cancer.
According to experts, hypnotherapy is particularly helpful in treating anxiety-based conditions. And with David Cameron’s coalition government planning to make £20bn in efficiency savings over the next four years, such support would surely be welcome.
In June, the Hypnosis and Psychosomatic Medicine Section of the RSM stated that ‘millions of pounds’ could be saved by helping treat those who suffer from stress-related illness.
As one in 10 people will experience depression at some point in their lives, this could mean substantial savings further down the line.
In hypnotherapy, patients are encouraged into a state of trance, during which new ideas and suggestions are given to facilitate beneficial change. So if a patient has stored stress or self-destructive behaviour in their unconscious, this can be resolved or reprogrammed by hypnosis, resulting in better health when they wake.
‘Through hypnotherapy it’s possible to get a better rate of healing among patients and so limit the amount of time they spend in treatment,’ says Dr Peter Naish, president elect of the Hypnosis and Psychosomatic Medicine Section.
That said, hypnotherapy is not available on the NHS, but experts agree it could be very useful. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends the technique be used to treat IBS patients whose symptoms persist after 12 months of using medication, and making dietary and lifestyle changes. The condition affects 10-20 per cent of the UK population.
‘When it comes to treating IBS, the focus is on relieving the symptoms, such as bloating, abdominal pain and altered bowel habit, as well as managing distress associated with the condition, and also factors that may maintain the symptoms,’ says Dr Raj Sharma at the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine.
‘There is not one definitive cause for IBS, and there currently is not a specific cure, but various treatments are available.
‘Dietary change, medications such as antispasmodics and anti-depressants that help regulate the gut, and peppermint capsules can help reduce symptoms,’ adds Dr Sharma.
‘But if they persist, a doctor can recommend a treatment such as hypnosis.’
Sufferers also have to cope with the emotional effects of IBS.
‘The impact of the condition can be very distressing. You may feel embarrassment about needing to go to the loo all the time, worry about it happening when you can’t control it, which can cause shame, embarrassment and anxiety.’
Patients tend to have a weekly hypnotherapy treatment for up to 12 sessions, tackling the symptoms and their impact.
‘We teach self-hypnosis as well,’ he explains.
‘For example, someone with diarrhoea might imagine a river transforming into a calmer stream. Or we might recommend audio CDs for them to listen to.
‘We’ll also tackle issues of stress that might stem from the IBS, or be a contributing factor to it, with hypnosis.’
Paul Howard, marketing director for the National Council for Hypnotherapy, adds: ‘This treatment for IBS has zero side effects, which you can’t say for many other drugs.’
Sessions can cost between £60 to £100 an hour, but those who consult their GP could be given money towards their treatment by the NHS.
For more information on hypnosis, visit the British Society of Clinical Hypnosis at bsch.org.uk