Research on Hypnosis for Pain

Hypnosis was first used in medicine by German physician Franz Mesmer, who used it to treat patients in Vienna and Paris. While the technique was discredited because of Mesmer’s mistaken belief that hypnosis is caused by an occult force passed from practitioner to patient, some clinicians remained interested in possible applications. Notably, Austrian physician Sigmund Freud, known as the father of psychotherapy, became impressed with the therapeutic potential of hypnosis in the treatment of neurotic disorders while on a visit to France; upon his return to Vienna, he applied hypnosis to help patients remember disturbing events that they had seemingly forgotten. Continued research interest in this technique resulted in its being used in the treatment of soldiers who experienced combat neurosis in World Wars I and II.1 Currently, some research is pursuing applications of hypnosis in treating pain.

 A summary of recent research findings in the field of hypnosis in chronic pain management published in 2015 in American Psychologist indicated that clinical trials have suggested the effectiveness of hypnotic techniques in alleviating chronic pain and that neurophysical studies have revealed significant evidence of an effect of hypnotic analgesia on brain and spinal cord functioning which differ when different specific hypnotic suggestions are made. Although the results of hypnosis were variable between individual patients (which can be understood through patients’ hypnotizability scores), research also found hypnosis to potentially have significant benefits beyond simple pain relief, including improved positive affect, relaxation, and increased energy.2 Both historic applications of hypnosis as well as modern findings suggest that continued research into hypnotic analgesia is worth pursuing, especially for those patients with chronic pain that does not respond well to other analgesic techniques. Additionally, the risks associated with other analgesic treatments like opioid medications, which have addictive properties and high costs, motivate physicians and researchers to seek safer and less expensive forms of pain management.

To investigate hypnosis as a non-pharmaceutical option in pain management, Thompson et al. conducted a systematic review of randomized controlled experimental trials studying the analgesic potential of hypnotic techniques at the University of Greenwich in London in 2019. As hypothesized, Thompson et al. found through their analysis of 85 experimental pain trials that the efficacy of analgesic hypnosis was highly dependent on individual patient suggestibility: while high and medium “suggestibles” experienced a 42% and 29% pain reduction through hypnosis respectively, only minimal benefits were found for low “suggestibles.” The authors of this paper concluded that hypnosis may indeed be an effective and safe alternative to pharmaceutical intervention for pain relief in some groups. The authors noted, however, that high quality clinical data were needed to establish generalizability of these results in chronic pain populations, especially considering the observed variability of effectiveness of hypnotic treatments for pain.3

Further evidence-based research into hypnosis as a treatment for pain is necessary, perhaps with a focus on determining what factors contribute to a patient’s susceptibility to hypnotic techniques.


(1)  Hypnosis | Definition, History, Techniques, & Facts | Britannica.

(2)  Jensen, M. P.; Patterson, D. R. Hypnotic Approaches for Chronic Pain Management: Clinical Implications of Recent Research Findings. American Psychologist 2014, 69 (2), 167–177.

(3)  Thompson, T.; Terhune, D. B.; Oram, C.; Sharangparni, J.; Rouf, R.; Solmi, M.; Veronese, N.; Stubbs, B. The Effectiveness of Hypnosis for Pain Relief: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of 85 Controlled Experimental Trials. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 2019, 99, 298–310.