The first and only dedicated NHS Medical & Clinical Hypnosis Service is run by Dr Raj Sharma and Rieko Ito, a nurse therapist at the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital. Here, Dr Sharma tells us about his work.
FIH: Can you tell us a bit about how the service works?
RS: We operate from the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital. We get referrals from GPs from across the UK through the NHS Choose and Book system, as well as referrals from doctors, psychologists and others working within University College London Hospitals.
We can treat people individually or in groups. We run a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) unit in conjunction with the Hypnosis unit – and sometimes use both together to treat patients.
The aim of both hypnosis and CBT is to equip the patients with the tools to manage their condition.
FIH: What is hypnosis used for?
RS: We treat a wide spectrum of medical, psychological and dental conditions – from phobias and anxiety disorders, to chronic pain and gut disorders.
We run group programmes for conditions such as Fibromyalgia Syndrome, Temporomandibular Joint Disorders, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
FIH: What does your research show about using hypnosis in these conditions?
RS: Research shows that hypnotic techniques reduce the perception of chronic pain, especially in lessening the intensity and emotional aspects of pain.
There’s strong evidence for the use of hypnosis in Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It was recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) in February 2007.
The hypnotic technique used is Gut Directed Imagery in hypnosis, where hypnotic suggestions and imagery are used to alleviate pain and bloating, and improve bowel function.
A recent audit from the Unit showed that 70% of patients referred had a clinically significant improvement in their symptoms.
For our group sessions, the research shows that using hypnosis with CBT enhances the effects of CBT by 70%. A recent audit of the Integrated TMD groups showed that patients on average found a 57% relief from the combined approach of hypnosis and CBT.
FIH: What’s it like running such an unusual service within the NHS?
RS: I find my job extremely satisfying. It’s an honour to run such a unique service for the NHS. As a medical doctor, I’m helping patients to manage their condition and resolve their problems through psychological techniques, and not only relying on medications.
Being medically trained, I have the added advantage of understanding a patient’s medical, psychological or dental problem in both biological and psychological terms.
FIH: What are the limits of hypnosis?
RS: What can limit hypnosis is the varying degree of susceptibility to hypnotic suggestions among the population. However, only a small percentage of the population are low in susceptibility, and there are validated tools from Harvard and Stanford Universities to measure one’s susceptibility.
Since we’re also using CBT, we can also draw from that to help low susceptibility patients manage their condition.