By Lisa Spear for newsweek.com on 6/20/18 at 5:08 PM
Hypnosis could soothe the anxiety that children feel while undergoing cancer treatment, researchers say.
A cancer diagnosis can come with a lot of pricks and prods from doctors. A spinal tap, a procedure in which a thin needle is put into the lower part of the spinal column, is scary enough when you are an adult. Children face unique emotional hurdles when facing such an illness.
This is why a team of researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School in the U.K. wanted to find out if there were any effective methods to ease their pain without drugs. In a paper published in Psycho-Oncology, they found that hypnosis might be one of the most promising methods, but more research is needed, they said.
“Children who have cancer often face repeated painful and frightening procedures—the distress involved can lead to subsequent poor mental health and is often harder to deal with than the cancer itself for the young patient, their family and their staff,” Tamsin Ford, a child psychiatry professor at the University of Exeter Medical School in the U.K. told Newsweek in an email.
Another striking conclusion the researchers reached was the scant number of studies looking into common methods of calming children, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and breathing exercises. A group of hypnosis studies seemed to hold the most promise, Michael Nunns, a research fellow at the University of Exeter Medical School, told Newsweek.
Hypnosis is a state of highly focused concentration, often accompanied by relaxation. While under hypnosis, it seems many people are more open to suggestions, according to the American Psychological Association, a scientific and professional psychology organization based in Washington D.C.
“Although hypnosis has been controversial, most clinicians now agree it can be a powerful, effective therapeutic technique for a wide range of conditions, including pain, anxiety and mood disorders,” the association reports.
The studies that the experts at the University of Exeter Medical School reviewed measured the effects of hypnosis on children by asking them to report their feelings on a visual scale of 1 to 10 or by observing the child’s reactions to treatment. After looking at the evidence, they determined that more trials should be conducted to be sure whether hypnosis should be adopted in medical settings.
“Getting treatment for cancer as a child is clearly extremely distressing for both the young person and their family. We must do all we can do to protect their mental health during this highly emotional time,” Ford said. “Hypnosis is inexpensive to deliver, and our research found that it was the technique that was most studied, and showed promise in reducing children’s anxiety about the many medical procedures they have to endure.”