By: Jake Kalish
Dr. Ashley Goodman mirrors his patient’s body language, adjusts his voice to the man’s pulse, and suggests he relax. Moments later, the patient is hypnotized, and Goodman performs dental surgery on him without anesthetic.
Before you call the medical board, you should know that the patient called the surgery “nice” and “relaxing,” and that Goodman’s been using hypnosis at his San Diego practice for more than four decades. And while this may come as a shock to skeptics who place hypnotists on a rung between psychics and astrologers on the legitimacy ladder, Goodman is just one of a number of respected dentists and doctors who use hypnosis as an alternative to medication or as a way to increase its potency. (Watch Goodman perform hypnosis on a patient here.) Up the coast, the University of Southern California offers formal training in hypnosis at their dental school. According to the American Dental Association, many dental schools now offer relaxation training, including hypnosis, to their students.
Research shows that hypnosis is a useful tool in managing pain (and anxiety about pain), reducing the need for medication and controlling bodily functions like gagging, teeth grinding and even bleeding. How? “Pain is both a stimulus and an interpretation of that stimulus. Your brain is wired a certain way, and hypnosis changes the wiring,” says Goodman. How you feel and what you’re thinking affects how you interpret stimuli that “should” be painful. And with hypnosis, that change in thinking is immediate.
Goodman became interested in hypnosis as a dental student when doing a bridge on a patient from Thailand who didn’t want anesthesia and hypnotized herself instead. “I was sweating profusely, but she was fine,” says Goodman. “She told me, ‘You need to learn this.’” Goodman is always proud when he converts a skeptical peer. One fellow dentist watched Goodman perform dental surgery for a Discovery Channel program on hypnosis. Marveling at its success, he told Goodman “I just felt every bit of pain your patient should have felt.”
Reducing Pain and Promoting Healing
Hypnosis was actually used by ancient Egyptian dentists as early as 3,000 years ago. Since then, it’s been used on thousands of patients in France and Belgium undergoing thyroid and breast cancer surgery. A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that hypnotized patients having a breast biopsy or lumpectomy needed less medication and surgery time than patients who merely met with a psychologist beforehand. It’s cost-effective too. The hypnotized patients, on average, saved the hospital $770. In fact, experts believe that low-risk surgeries that would normally entail general anesthesia can often be done with just local anesthetic and hypnosis.
The practice can also help other types of healing. A Psychological Reports study showed HIV-positive men who followed a hypnosis and relaxation program had much higher T-cell counts and fewer symptoms than a group that just received medicine.
In addition, hypnosis has many health benefits outside the doctor’s office. It’s been found to reduce chronic pain, aid weight loss and help people stop all sorts of bad habits. Matt Damon quit a 16-year smoking habit in 2005 by seeing a hypnotist, and he said it was “the greatest decision I ever made in my life.” (See Matt Damon talk about hypnosis here.)
Is Hypnosis for You?
Hypnosis does not work equally well for everyone, because you are an important factor in its effectiveness. Those with open minds, active imaginations and the ability to relax tend to do best, while those who analyze every thought or action do worse. And, of course, not all practitioners are equal. (In fact, if someone refers to himself as a “hypnotist,” it may be because he is not a qualified hypnotherapist.) If you want to try being hypnotized but aren’t sure who to trust, click here for a list of questions you should ask, and visit the International Medical & Dental Hypnotherapy Association for a list of trained and certified hypnotherapists by state.
Hypnosis is also something you may want to try yourself, as it can be an extremely effective relaxation technique. For tips and a video lesson on how to self-hypnotize, click here.
Have you or would you ever try hypnosis? Comment below or connect with us @Completely_You
Jake Kalish Jake Kalish is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Details, Men’s Fitness and Epicurious, among other publications. His personal essays have appeared in the New York Press and Ducts, and his humor book, Santa vs. Satan: The Official Compendium of Imaginary Fights, was published in 2008. He is a frequent contributor to Completely You.
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