Montreal Children's Hospital employs medical hypnosis to reduce anxiety, pain

MONTREAL — A Quebec hospital is touting the use of medical hypnosis after the results of a pilot project suggested it can reduce pain and anxiety in patients.

The trial conducted at the Montreal Children's Hospital also resulted in a reduction in the amount of medication administered to perform medical imaging procedures.

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"Patients don't move. It works perfectly. It's amazing," said Johanne L'Ecuyer, a medical imaging technologist at the hospital.

The pilot project originated when L'Ecuyer and colleague Maryanne Fortin travelled to France to meet with teams from Rouen University Hospital Centre and Hopital Femme Mere Enfant in Lyon.

"What we saw there floored us," L'Ecuyer said. "Examinations that we do under general anesthesia here are done there under hypnosis — it was very impressive."

A French medical imaging technologist — also a hypnotherapist — was invited to train a few members the hospital's medical imaging department.

In all, 80 examinations were conducted for the project between January and September 2019, focusing on two imaging procedures known to trigger anxiety — the insertion of a central catheter and a procedure used to examine a child's urinary tract and bladder.

Ultimately, the success of the procedure comes down to trust.

"The most important thing is that the patient feels confident with the person who will do the procedure," L'Ecuyer said. "The hypnosis procedure starts as soon as the patient is in the waiting room."

Crucial to the success are the technologist's verbal and non-verbal cues — to smile and to show empathy, which lays the foundation for a bond of trust with the patient.

Hypnosis is not a state of sleep: it is rather a modified state of consciousness of which anyone is capable, young or old. It's to this altered state that the technologist will guide the patient — an imaginary world that will dissociate itself more and more from the procedure that awaits.

"The technologist must establish a story with the patient," L'Ecuyer said. "The patient is left with the power to choose what he wants to talk about. Do you play sports? Do you like going to the beach? We establish a subject that we will discuss throughout the procedure. The technologist is completely dedicated to the patient during this examination."

Everything that happens next during the procedure must be related to this story — an injection becomes the bite of a mosquito; a product that heats the skin becomes the sensation of the sun and a machine that rings becomes a police car that passes nearby.

"The important thing is that the technologist associates what is happening outside the patient's body with what they see in their head," L'Ecuyer said. "It requires creativity on the part of the technologist, imagination, a lot of patience, a lot of empathy and a lot of kindness. It's a different way of doing things."

After each procedure, young patients were asked to rate their discomfort and pain on a scale of 0 to 10. To date, the average score is 5.1 without medical hypnosis and 1.7 with hypnosis.

The procedure intrigued staff when it was introduced, but L'Ecuyer said she asked everyone to wait until the results of the pilot project were in.

"It spread like wildfire (in January) that someone from France was here to train the technologists," L'Ecuyer said. She said she had a line of staff at her door wanting to take the training.

Given the success, she expects it will grow beyond medical imaging.

"There are plenty of departments to benefit from this," she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Dec. 5, 2019.

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