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Clinical hypnosis reduces pain, anxiety for children with serious burns: study

Hypnotherapy may reduce anxiety and pain amongst children being treated for serious burns, a new study has found.

Study lead Stephen Chester, a PhD candidate with the University of Queensland (UQ), said previous research had shown adults with burns benefited significantly from hypnotherapy through reduced pain and anxiety, lower medication usage and shorter hospital stays and added the UQ research team was keen to investigate medical hypnosis in children as they are generally more responsive to hypnotherapy and therapeutic suggestion than adults.

“We are not replacing pain and anxiety relieving drugs, but examining whether medical hypnosis and medication together can help these young patients who have often been through a very traumatic time,” Chester said.

The research team conducted a randomised controlled trial at Brisbane’s Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital involving 62 burns patients aged between four and 16. Children were randomly assigned to either the hypnotherapy or standard care group. The team measured pain, anxiety, stress, and wound healing at each dressing change.

Chester said: “Children in the hypnotherapy group reported 70 per cent lower pain and 67 per cent lower anxiety scores on average, compared with those receiving standard care before their second dressing change.

“Before the third dressing change, the hypnotherapy group had 90 per cent lower pain and 84 per cent lower anxiety. These results are clinically significant.”

Last year, Chester trained as a hypnotherapist with the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis. He said while he initially approached it with some scepticism, he soon realised anaesthetists and dentists already use these techniques without labelling them as hypnosis or hypnotherapy.

“One of the great things about it is that it has no side-effects and it’s completely safe.”

Chester said the clinical benefits demonstrated in the trial could extend beyond the burns ward.

“Children are often anxious when they’re being treated for fractures and asthma, and about injections and needles,” he said. “If more clinicians were trained in hypnotherapy we could reduce the stress for many children, their families, and the hospital staff who treat them.”

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