Following a serious car accident in 1993, R I had herniated disks in my neck and 1 lower back, which resulted in constant radiating pain. Back surgery caused tissue scarring, which led to my developing fibromyalgia (chronic widespread pain).

Chronic pain is the leading cause of disability in the US, affecting more than 90 million Americans. Painkillers, including morphine and related drugs, invariably cause side effects (ranging from constipation to confusion), can be addictive and are only marginally effective for many patients.

Better: Self-hypnosis. It doesn't eliminate pain, but it improves your ability to cope with it. It also lowers levels of pain-causing stress hormones and increases the body's production of endogenous opioids, substances with morphine-like effects. With self-hypnosis, I learned to alter my own relationship with pain. The pain is still there, but the suffering is controlled.

The practice of hypnotism has been distorted in movies and stage shows. You can't be hypnotized against your will, and you can't be made to do things that you don't want to do.

A hypnotic trance is merely an altered state of consciousness. It involves entering a physical and mental state of relaxation from which you redirect your attention to achieve certain goals-including the reduction of pain.

Simple Method

Once you've learned to induce hypnosis, you can do it on your own once or twice a day—preferably for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night Gif you have trouble judging the time, set a timer with a quiet alarm). You might need more frequent hypnosis sessions if you are in severe pain. Most people notice a significant reduction in pain within two months—some improve after a single session.

One common technique to induce hypnosis is the Zarren Marble Method, developed by the noted hypnotist Jordan Zarren…

  • Sit in a comfortable chair, and hold a marble between your thumb and other fingers. Roll it around and notice the texture, colors, patterns and tiny imperfections.
  • Notice how relaxed you are. You're probably blinking more...your eyelids are getting heavy.
  • At this point, close your eyes and close your hand around the marble so that it doesn't drop. Now you are in a state of deep relaxation. If you find that you're thinking of something else, just bring your mind back to the marble.

Once you've entered this hypnotic trance, you can use a number of mental techniques to reduce pain. Try the techniques below and see which ones work best for you...

Deep Relaxation

No one can consciously experience multiple sensations simultaneously. When the sensation of relaxation is dominant, you'll feel less pain.

How to do it: First, before you enter a hypnotic state, choose two or three positive thoughts that you want to implant in your mind. These might include things such as My body is relaxed or with each breath that I take, I relax more and more.

Then go into a hypnotic state, and mentally focus on the thoughts that you've chosen. If your mind drifts, bring it back to the thoughts.

Dwelling on the positive produces physical changes in the body, including a reduction in muscle tension and lower levels of cortisol and other stress hormones. Even when the pain isn't gone, you'll react to it less strongly.


Nearly everyone with chronic pain feels, at one time or another, that there's little hope for the future. Negative thinking increases pain sensations and intensifies suffering.

Decatastrophizing means to stop blowing things out of proportion. This helps separate pain from suffering.

Example: Someone might feel that life is worthless because of the pain. You can decatastrophize by limiting these negative thoughts or feelings. This can stop the transmission of pain signals

How to do it: While under hypnosis, reframe how you think about pain. Rather than dwelling on hopelessness, for example, consider the possibility that pain has a purpose—that it can alert you that you need to do something to heal. Dwelling on pain's purpose can make you feel stronger and more in control.

You also can practice disputation interrupting negative thoughts about pain by redirecting your attention to a thought that reduces stress. Say to yourself, My pain is bad today, but I'm still going to get a lot done.


During self-hypnosis, dwell on thoughts that emphasize your sense of control. Examples…

  • When you notice an increase in pain, tell yourself, I know I can handle this. I've dealt with worse before.
  • If the pain gets stronger, repeat positive thoughts, such as, I will not let the pain get the best of me. I know I can do things to make it more tolerable.
  • Handle the worst moments with thoughts such as, This is only temporary. I will get through it.

When the pain subsides, remind yourself that you coped well--and that you now have a plan to help make it easier the next time.

Important: Minimize physical "pain behaviors," such as grimacing, groaning and complaining. These reinforce the pain and increase disability.


The mind can process only a limited amount of information at one time. This means you can introduce sensations that compete with pain sensations.

How to do it: Create physical sensations (such as rubbing the place where it hurts) that are more pleasant than the pain sensations. Or distract yourself with mental exercises, such as listening to the sound of your breathing.

Try this: Go into a hypnotic trance, and pay attention only to your breathing. Listen to the sounds. Note the rhythm and the ways in which your breathing naturally changes.

The mental activity will reach your brain ahead of the pain sensations. This can close the "pain gate so that you experience less pain.


Again, focus your mind on something other than the pain. The idea is to take advantage of the divide between the conscious and unconscious minds. Your unconscious mind will be aware of the pain, but the pain will be unable to dominate your consciousness.

How to do it: Imagine that your consciousness is floating out of your body—that it is hovering overhead looking down. Think, When my conscious mind floats away to a pleasant place, I leave the discomfort behind.

More Help

If you want to consult with a professional hypnotist, you can find one in your area by contacting the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH), 630-980-4740,

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