A Surprise Medical Solution: Hypnosis

Sumathi Reddy, Wall Street Journal | May 7, 2018

Sarah Blau settles into a wicker chair, stretching her feet onto an ottoman.

In a soothing voice, Laurie Keefer, says, “I’m going to count from one to three, and as I count, your eyelids will get heavy and they’ll close whenever it feels right.”

Dr. Keefer, a health psychologist at Mount Sinai Health System, has Ms. Blau progressively relax each part of her body and guides her to “a place of rest and comfort and healing.”

“Enjoy the beauty of this natural, healing place,” she tells her, “and as you do, something very powerful and healthy and positive is taking place deep inside your body. Your body knows what it needs to maintain healing your gut. It knows how to keep pleasant sensations in and avoid pain and discomfort.”

Hypnotherapy—when patients enter a trance-like state using relaxation and visual images—is often associated with alternative medicine. But increasingly medical centers are using it to treat digestive conditions like acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis, a disease Ms. Blau learned she had in 2016.

Studies have shown hypnotherapy is effective reducing symptoms associated with these gastrointestinal disorders. Insurance companies usually cover the treatments. The body of evidence is strongest for IBS, but a 2013 study found hypnotherapy was effective at prolonging remission in colitis patients. And a 2016 pilot study found patients with functional heartburn reported fewer symptoms.

Dr. Keefer works at the Susan and Leonard Feinstein Inflammatory Bowel Disease Clinical Center at Mount Sinai. There she does hypnotherapy for patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, diseases caused by inflammation of the intestines.

The treatment usually consists of about seven sessions over three months, with home practice in between. Studies have found the effects can last more than a year and work in more than half of patients.

Shawn Thurlow