Applying Hypnosis in Dermatology

Philip D. Shenefelt


Dermatology Nursing. 2003;15(6) 

In This Article

Advantages and Disadvantages of Medical Hypnotherapy

Hypnosis is underused as an alternative or complementary therapy in dermatology. For selected skin diseases in appropriately selected patients, it can decrease or eliminate symptoms and in some cases induce lasting remissions or cures. Discussing this option with patients will allow the dermatology nurse to gauge the patient's receptiveness to this treatment modality. Time requirements for screening patients, educating them about realistic expectations for results from hypnosis, and actually performing the hypnotherapy are generally no greater than those for screening, preparing, and educating patients about cutaneous surgery and then actually having the dermatologist perform the surgery. Just as many dermatologists choose to refer patients with complex cutaneous surgical problems to competent specialists in dermatologic surgery, many dermatologists may choose to refer patients with complex psychosomatic dermatologic problems to competent specialists in hypnosis-assisted therapy. Those dermatology nurses who prefer to refer patients to hypnotherapists or who desire further information about training in hypnotherapy may obtain referrals and information from the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis or similar professional organizations. Advantages of medical hypnotherapy for skin diseases include nontoxicity, cost effectiveness, ability to obtain a response where other treatment modalities have failed, ability to reduce relapses, and ability of patients to self-treat and gain a sense of control when taught self-hypnosis reinforced by using audiotapes. Adding this treatment capability can result in very pleased and grateful patients.

Disadvantages of medical hypnotherapy in dermatology include the extensive practitioner training required, the low hypnotizability of some patients, the negative social attitudes still prevalent about hypnosis, and the lower reimbursement rates for cognitive therapies such as hypnosis when compared with procedural therapies such as cutaneous surgery. The low hypnotizability of some individuals is to a large extent hard-wired into their brains and tends to be consistent over time as measured by the Hypnotic Induction Profile (Spiegel & Spiegel, 1978; Spiegel, Greenleaf, & Spiegel, 2000).


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