When I was a lot younger and fairly new to this field, I worked with a lot of clients who suffered from skin disorders. I those earlier days, I did not really seek out the evidence-based approaches for what I was doing. I was originally taught that the skin was a mirror reflection of what was going on beneath; thus acne occurred in greater prevalence among teenagers going through uncertainty and physiological change. Then if you look at other types of happenings upon the skin’s surface, such as getting goose bumps, sweating and changes in temperature, these can all be influenced by thoughts and emotions felt.
Therefore, I used a lot of mental imagery processes for treating the skin’s surface, but also worked on helping clients to be more in control of their thoughts and emotions in order to aid the condition of the skin. Some of this still holds true for me today, though the years have shown me that there is so much more we can do with the use of hypnosis to help with skin conditions.
As of tomorrow, I am again going to be part of an online clinic organised and run by the TalkHealth Partnership, in collaboration with NHS Choices here in the UK. This particular online clinic is looking at skin disorders. The clinics offer lots of support from the panel of experts, but also from charities, support groups and sponsors.
If any of you reading this have an interest in this, have clients who might benefit, or have family, friends or colleagues with a skin condition, this would be an ideal place for them to learn more and ask questions, or seek support.
Naturally, as part of my own preparations, I have been reviewing the literature and research that supports the use of hypnosis in helping with skin disorders such as eczema, psoriasis, ichthyosis, acne, rosacea or other conditions. This blog entry then, is really for fellow professionals interested in the research we have supporting what we can do in our hypnotherapy rooms, however, in coming days I’ll be sharing some techniques and strategies that that have been used within the research that anyone with skin conditions can apply in addition to the conventional medical treatment they are receiving.
There have been a couple of encouraging reviews that have supported the use of hypnosis as a treatment for a range of skin conditions (Scott, 1964; Shenefelt, 2000). However, there have also been a number of case studies to have been peer-reviewed and featured in journals that have show hypnosis to be effective in the treatment of eczema (Twerski & Naar, 1974; Mirvish, 1978; Sokel et al., 1993; Stewart & Thomas, 1995) as well as psoriasis (Kline, 1954; Frankel & Misch, 1973). With psoriasis, there is also a couple of randomised, controlled trials supporting the use of hypnosis as a treatment (Tausk & Whitmore, 1999; Zacharie et al., 1996).
Additionally, hypnosis has been used to help relieve the itching of eczema (Goodman, 1962; Motoda, 1971; Scott, 1960, 1964) and the itching of psoriasis (Biondo, 1975; Cheek, 1961; Hartland, 1970). Within my own therapy rooms, I tend to use the very evidence-based habit reversal (Azrin & Nunn, 1977) protocol to stop the scratching action which also tends to help lessen problems associated with some skin disorders, such as them bleeding or becoming infected and subsequently being made more problematic. The habit reversal has a 99% symptom reduction in studies.
One of the most impressive studies of the use of hypnosis in treating skin disorders was a case study and report by A. Mason (1952), a physician who used hypnosis as a treatment of a patient suffering from congenital ichthyosiform erythrodermia of Brocq (often referred to as ‘fish skin disease’). The report was published in the British Medical Journal in 1955 and showed the dramatic changes in the patient who started off with thick, scaly, immovable skin with an unusual colouration, that “fell off” as a result of hypnotic suggestions. The suggestions were initially given to just the left arm of the patient to show that the effects were attributed to the hypnotic suggestions and the difference between the two arms was incredible. Thereafter, suggestions were given to the right arm and the skin of the arms was 95% clear of the disorder after 20 days of treatment.
This is a rare condition, so there has not been the opportunity to conduct good quality controlled studies, however, there have been other case studies using Mason’s method that have had their results published with favourable outcomes (Bethune & Kidd, 1961; Wink, 1961; Kidd, 1966; Schneck, 1966).
Hypnosis has been used to help deal with and overcome allergic reactions upon the skin and has proven to be successful in lessening sensitivity of the skin and also successful at lessening the reactions to allergens (Fry et al., 1965; Dennis et al., 1965).
The largest body of research with using hypnosis as a treatment for skin conditions has been applied to the removal of warts. A study by Spanos et al., 1988) showed a 50% cure rate (percentage of warts gone) which was much higher than two different types of control groups. The numerous other studies tend to show impressive results (a number of which show 60-70% cure rate) spanning the past 75 years (Sulzberger & Wolf, 1934; Vollmer, 1946; McDowell, 1949; Obermayer & Greenson, 1949; Sinclair-Gieben & Chalmers, 1959; Ullman & Dudek, 1960; Tenzel & Taylor, 1969; Surman et al., 1972, 1973; Ewin, 1974, 1992; Clawson & Swade, 1975; French, 1977; Tasini & Hackett, 1977; Dreaper, 1978; Johnson & Barber, 1978; Chandrasena, 1982; Morris, 1985; Spanos et al., 1988, 1990; Felt et al., 1998; Kohen et al., 1998; Goldstein, 2005).
In conclusion, though we have some very encouraging results from the limited research, there is still not a strong enough body to start suggesting hypnosis can be a full-on alternative, stand-alone treatment. However, for those receiving medical care and treatment, it would make sense to potentially enhance that care with the use of psychological treatments, such as hypnosis.
Therefore, as of tomorrow, my next few blog entries are going to be offering techniques and strategies to directly help with a wide variety of skin-related issues.
Azrin, N. H., & Nunn, R. G. (1977) Habit Control In a Day. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Bethune, H. C. & Kidd, C. B. (1961) Psychophysiological mechanisms in skin diseases. Lancet, 2: 1419-1422.
Cheek, D. B. (1961) Possible uses of hypnosis in dermatology. Medical Times.
Dennis, M. & Phillipus, M. J. (1965) Hypnotic and non-hypnotic suggestion and skin response in atopic patients. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 17: 253-258.
Frankel, F. H. & Misch, R. C. (1973) Hypnosis in a case of long-standing psoriasis in a person with character problems. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 50: 332-363.
Fry, L., Et al., (1964) Effects of hypnosis on allergic skin responses in asthma and hay fever. British Medical Journal, 1: 1145-1148.
Goodman, H. P. (1962) Hypnosis in prolonged resistant eczema: a case report. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 5: 144-145.
Hartland, J. (1970) Hypnosis in dermatology. British Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 1: 2-7.
Kidd, C. B. (1966) Congenital itchthyosiform erythrodermia treated by hypnosis. British Journal of Dermatology, 78: 101-105.
Kline, M. V. (1954) Psoriasis and hypnotherapy: a case report. Journal of clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 2: 318-322.
Mason, A. A. (1952) A case of congenital itchthyosiform erythrodermia of Brocq treated by hypnosis. British Medical Journal, ii: 422-423.
Mirvish, I. (1978) Hypnotherapy for the child with chronic eczema. A case report. South African Medical Journal, 54: 410-412.
Motoda, K (1971) A case report of the counter-conditioning treatment of an eczema patient by hypnosis. Japanese Journal of Hypnosis, 15: 46-49.
Schneck,, J. M. (1966) Hypnotherapy for ichthyosis. Psychosomatics, 7: 233-235.
Scott, M. J. (1960) Hypnosis in Skin and Allergic Diseases. Charles Thomas, Springfield, Ill.
Scott, M. J. (1964) Hypnosis in dermatologic therapy. Psychosomatics, 5: 365-368.
Shenefelt, P. D. (2000) Hypnosis in dermatology. Archives of dermatology, 136: 393-399.
Sokel, B., Christie, D., Kent, A. & Lansdown, R. (1993) A comparison of hypnotherapy and biofeedback in the treatment of childhood atopic eczema. Contemporary Hypnosis, 10: 145-154.
Spanos, N. P., Stenstrom, R. J. & Johnston, J. C. (1988) Hypnosis, placebo, and suggestion in the treatment of warts. Psychosomatic Medicine, 52: 109-114.
Stewart, A. C. & Thomas, S. E. (1995) Hypnotherapy as a treatment for atopic dermatitis in adults and children. British Journal of Dermatology, 132: 778-783.
Tausk, F. & Whitmore, S. E. (1999) A pilot study of hypnosis in the treatment of patients with psoriasis. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 68: 221-225.
Twersky, A. J. & Naar, R. (1974) Hypnotherapy in a case of refractory dermatitis. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 16: 202-205.
Wink, C. A. (1961) Congenital ichthyosiform erythrodermia treated by hypnosis. Report of two cases. British Medical Journal, i: 741-743.
Zacharie, R., Oster, H., Bjerring, P. & Kragballe, K. (1996) Effects of psychologic intervention on psoriasis: a preliminary report. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 34: 1008-1115.
(Please note, the full references for all the wart studies have not been written up here, but if you would like them, get in touch – I was losing the will to live writing up the full bibliography!)
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Sounds amazing!! After years of unexplained ” contact dermatitis ” yes please!!! Where do I sign up?
Amy, remember this is something that should not be used as a sole alternative to any other treatments, and certainly should not result in shunning of conventional medical care and advice.
However, I’d recommend a suitably qualified and experienced hypnotherapist who can put a treatment plan in place for you – though make sure they adhere to evidence-based principles to utilise the research that I have discussed here in this entry. Any issues, send me a PM and I can assist.
Good luck with it, I hope you find a solution, A.
A good article Adam, thank you. An excellent selection of references too. Useful studies by Nick Spanos who I have long admired.
Palliative medicine was the reason for my interest in hypnosis in medicine in the late 70s. Outside pain management and symptom control, IBS was the next problem to be tackled with high levels of success. Applications in dermatology came later. We show our feelings and distress through our skin. The skin can be highly volatile and once the various cascading reactions of inflammatory cells are activated the drug regimes can be very potent. Adding hypnosis to a treatment schedule can have significant beneficial effects.
In the mid 90s I had a chance to hear and chat to the surgeon Dabney Ewin, who after Active service in the Korean War brought Hypnosis into the management of acute burn victims. Results showed reduced infection rates, time in hospital, need for potent analgesia, as well as less expected scaring and quicker rehabilitation.
It was with admiration that I read your blog, having thought of setting up a series of hypnosis programmes online in the mid 90s, I decided that bespoke tailoring to the individual is the only way. Generic “off the peg” Hypnosis may work but will not be as effective as recruiting as much of the individuals personal resources as possible in a bespoke individual tailored programme. There are many issues at stake here, from the complex details of the past medical, psychosocial history, and life’s experiences, and expectation. Hypnosis is a wonderful tool that must be used with respect, and responsibly. Every practitioner will learn how much they don’t know as they learn more and more. I wish you all the best with your project.
Thank you Michael, lovely to hear from you and I very much appreciate your response here.
With my very best wishes to you, Adam.