Can hypnosis genetically manipulate us?
Femke entered my practice after a two-hour traffic jam between Utrecht and Antwerp. She was tired and hopeless. As a doctor I am used to a lot, but this time I really found it difficult to look my client in the eyes. Her skin was consumed by eczema, including her entire face, and I believed her when she said that there was not a single square millimeter on her body with normal skin. This burden was something she had carried for over a decade. It started after her spouse passed away in a car-accident. Every time she got into contact with an allergen, it would only take seconds until an extreme allergic reaction would be caused which turned her skin into something that reminded one of sandpaper, to the point of bleeding. Psychological stress could also cause this, but it was clear that this was not a 'maladieimaginaire'. Nobody could deny that this skin was broken.
I had not long returned from the United States where I followed a course by Ernest Rossi, MD, one of the alumni of Milton Erickson, MD, who re-discovered hypnotherapy and built it into what is now called Ericksonian hypnosis. I decided to offer Femke hypnotherapy, and used Rossi's technique. To my surprise she told me during the second session that she felt about forty percent better and that she was in less pain, and her skin was slowly getting its color back.
Just before she left my office, she told me: "I forgot to tell you something else ... There are things which have changed in my life in the past week. I deal differently with the people around me, I communicate more clearly what I want and set clearer limits." I had not told her during our hypnotherapy session that she should become more assertive, not to her consciousness nor to her subconsciousness. I had not even suggested that her skin should improve. As I had learned from Rossi, I had only suggested that her subconsciousness would find solutions for the things whichFemke found to be important. It is the same technique which MauroCozzolino used in the scientific genome research which we will talk more about in this article.
At the time of the sixth session,Femke only suffered by ten percent, compared to the first session. Sometimes she got eczema when in contact with allergens or severe stress, but then she knew how to calm down her system again. This is something she learned in the following five sessions, where we focused more on cognitive solution focused therapy.
The American psychiatrist Milton H. Erickson - Rossi's teacher - started a revolution in the previous century in the scientific thinking about hypnosis in medicine, by scientifically studying the clinical effects of hypnosis and hypnotherapy. The famous hypnotherapist debunked the thesis that people would or would not be hypnotizeable by showing that everyone can be hypnotized, if the proper technique is selected for each patient. In the 'collected papers' of Erickson - brought out by Rossi, MD - a case is even described where Erickson got a non-hypnotizeable patient into trance after over 260 hours. A display of scientific determination! Erickson's insights led to the development of hundreds of different techniques in hypnotherapy, developed by him or his many students. At request of Jeff Zeig, MD, director of the Milton H. Erickson Foundation, as well as Erickson's widow and children, I founded the Milton H. Erickson Institute of Antwerp in order to further develop the spreading of Ericksonian hypnotherapy in our region (www.erickson.com ). That is how I learned as a doctor, teacher and therapist, to use hundreds of different Ericksonian techniques, each of which is useful for a certain medical indication. Hypnosis is no abracadabra or magic. It can be compared to surgery. The patient is not healed because you cut them open. You heal them by, after cutting them open, using the proper - scientifically accurate - technique. Hypnosis requires skill and strategy, which is why the Milton H. Erickson Foundation recommends people to only follow hypnotherapy with doctors or psychologists with a university degree as well as a thorough course in psychotherapy and hypnotherapy. In the case ofFemke we indeed see that hypnotherapy must be complemented with some sessions of general psychotherapy. Both courses on top of the medical or psychological basic degree are often needed to guarantee durable results.
In the case ofFemke I used the technique by Ernest Rossi, MD, and in my experience this is the best technique when it comes to psychosomatic disorders. With the same technique I saw people in my practise get cured after years of chronic migraine attacks, and even patients with many epileptic attacks could sometimes decrease medication while the amount of attacks decreased from several per months to hardly one per semester. Good results are also described in real somatic illnesses, suchasCrohn's disease.
For more typically tension-related illnesses I developed a new technique myself at the end of the 1990s, 'Hypnotic Scaling'. With this, patients with anxiety, phobia, panic, tension, depression, or other tension related issues can learn to regulate their tension or energy levels at a scale of one to ten with the use of a one-time two-hour long session. During the second hour of the session they learn how to apply the technique themselves in the form of self-hypnosis, with the goal of learning to choose at what energy level they want to be at every difficult moment in their lives. For example, students learn how to bring their energy level to a seven, eight, nine, or ten through self-hypnosis and keep it at this level right before an exam and during the exam. Top-athletes learned to put themselves at ten right before starting a competition. Jobless people got themselves a job by going to job interviews at peak performance, being in contact with their own strengths to the largest extent that they can be. Patients with anxiety disorders or a depression can learn to influence their anxiety level or depression level. This gives them a feeling of control over their symptoms, which in its turn improves self-confidence in long-term, leading to healing. Other stress-bound issues like hypertension or high blood pressure or sleeping complaints can also be treated or helped with this. The next course in 'hypnotic scaling' for (para)medics starts in the beginning of 2015.
If you can heal cancer through hypnosis is a more difficult question. There are many cases of miraculous cures that are described and documented in literature. I, myself, once had a patient with an untreatable, terminal tumor - according to his clinical doctor - which was the size of a football. I tried to help him with hypnosis, and the man now walks - twenty years later - on this earth still, healthy as ever. Robert Dilts describes, in his interview with me, how he helped to heal his mother decades ago from a - according to her physician - terminal cancer. Some studies, like the one by David and Herbert Spiegel at Stanford University, could show that the amount of life-months for women with (at the time) incurable metastatic breast cancer doubled by following hypnosis, combined with group therapy. The control group lived for twenty months, while the hypnotherapy group got forty months with a clearly improved life quality. (Effect of Psychosocial Treatment of Patients with Metastatic Breast Cancer, The Lancet, 1989)
Considerations to take into account with these hopeful messages are that very unclear diagnoses of cancer were made in the past, as there were very few measures at the time which could describe genetic subtypes. Another consideration is that the famous gyneacologist and hypnotherapist David Cheeck, MD, who was my friend until short before his death, did not manage to cure his own lymphoma, despite the personal friendship and help of Rossi, MD, himself. I, myself, have also had a few patients whom I have not been able to cure from cancer, including people who were dear to me, despite my best attempts. My personal opinion is that traditional medicine is best for treatment of cancer and that governments and health funds should finance those treatments first of all. But if I had the illness myself, I would - taking all responsibility and financing it myself - invest in hypnosis as an addition to the traditional 'evidence based' treatment. You will understand why, after reading the second part of this article regarding the research by prof. MauroCozzolino and Ernest Rossi, MD.
Rossi, MD, is about eighty years old now and looks fit and healthy. When I met him ten years ago, I was filled with sadness: he limped around with bottles of oxygen to stay alive, and he was completely paralyzed on one side of his body. He had just decided to retire with his spouse and colleague Kathryn Rossi, the evening after finishing a stressful move. 'Now I can enjoy life together with her', he thought. Only hours after that, doom struck. He had a cerebral infarction, got paralyzed at one side, and could no longer talk. From his belief that our brains have the plasticity to recuperate, he decided to heal himself. He told his wife that he would start piano classes, something he could not do before. he did this to have a goal and to train his neurons for a recovery of fine motor skills. Rossi knew that the necro-tissue of the impacted zone excretes substances which stimulate stem cells to migrate to that region, to mature into full-grown neurons or nervous cells.
Armed with self-hypnosis, physical training and a goal, he recovered to a level at which you hardly notice that he once limped on this earth in a half-dead way. He now plays the piano, while of course never becoming a pro. This was not his goal, anyway. A decade later he wanted to deliver scientific proof that hypnosis and self-hypnosis work biologically.
Via Rossi, MD, I got to know professor Mauro Cozzolino a few months ago, who told me about their sensational genetic research on the effects of hypnosis on gene expression in the human DNA and RNA in the leukocytes (white blood cells), which has been accepted for publication in the International Journal of Physical and Social Sciences. At my request, he sent me the publication last week. So, hereby, there is a world premier in Psyche & Brain! Cozzolino and Rossi found 18 healthy volunteers between 30 and 50 years old, 9 men and 9 women, who went through the hypnosis technique by Ernest Rossi. Right before hypnosis, 1 hour after and 24 hours after, peripheral blood was drawn to measure changes in the 'experience dependent gene expression' in the RNA of the white blood cells. The recent development of micro array DNA-research makes it so that, for the first time in history, this is technically possible. Recent research had shown that stress versus relaxation can modulate gene expression. It was then already known that illness or stress could activate certain pro-inflammatory genes, and that stress management in women with breast cancer could reduce this gene expression.
DNA contains the unchangeable genetic code which we transfer from generation to generation. From this unchangeable DNA, our body makes a copy in the shape of RNA. This RNA-molecule in its turn is used to make specialized proteins which fulfill a specific role in our system. Examples are hormones and neurotransmitters, but there also are many other proteins which contain very specific information. Our body can turn off or on the expression of certain genes if it wants to. Most genes which are turned on or of are steered by biological triggers. There, however, is a large amount of genes which are influenced by our thoughts and behaviors. These are called the 'experience dependent genes'. Cozzolino and Rossi researched these experience dependent genes to see if there are genes which are specifically turned on or off by hypnosis. Rossi had been dreaming fo years to show that hypnosis can have a medical effect. The collaboration with Cozzolino's lab now delivered a first start!
After one hour, 46 genes had already changed in their gene expression, which increased by 154 genes after a day. In total, the expression of a whopping 200 genes changed. There are indications that we are talking of a domino or cascade-effect, where the first 46 genes trigger the other 154. In the vignette you can read which 40 psychosocial genome functions are influenced by the 200 genes. In most cases, gene expression of damaging reactions like inflammation or cell-death are deactivated, for better immune protection or stem cell healing, for example. Cozzolino and Rossi believe that this first research is only the start of a new age. With time it will be possible to research more specifically which role hypnosis can play in the treatment of many different illnesses, both somatic and psychosocial ones. Hypnosis could, to be clear, function together with classic medicine, not replace it. It would probably become a part of or complement to the classic treatments. I am personally convinced that we will be able to distinguish genetic subtypes in the future, and that we can measure for which subtypes of a certain type of cancer it will be useful to incorporate stress management, hypnosis, or self-hypnosis to deliver a significant part of the cure, and for which subtypes this is not useful at all. Currently we are not sure about this yet. That is the reason why I would use hypnosis as a complement to treatment of an incurable disease, until science can more clearly define and subtype what will work for whom. Meanwhile, I share the opinion that governments and health funds should only finance the 'evidence based' treatments, as well as the research for new treatments.
Hypnosis is a real physiological process which can clearly help to cure people in certain circumstances. Scientific research now finally has the tools, such as micro-array DNA-research and radiological imaging, to research how hypnosis works and for whom it may or may not be a useful part of a treatment strategy. This research is at the start of its possibilities. That is why it is not yet possible to know for which patients hypnosis will help. But it is so that hypnosis, in case it is performed by a medically schooled professional, will do no harm. So no good, no harm, as long as you are in the right hands. Hypnosis is intensive and several sessions are often needed. It requires more perseverance than the taking of a pil, both for the patient and for the treating person. Hypnosis does not replace human input, which some people like to think, but instead it helps with this. Read the full Dutch article (pdf): Can hypnosis genetically manipulate us?