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Hypnosurgery is a name used for an operation where the patient is sedated using hypnotherapy rather than traditional anaesthetics. It is claimed that hypnosis for anaesthesia has been used since the 1840s where it was pioneered by the surgeon James Braid.[citation needed] There are occasional media reports of surgery being conducted under hypnosis,[1][2] but since these are not carried out under controlled conditions, nothing can be concluded from them.

There is insufficient evidence to support the efficacy of hypnosis in managing pain in other contexts, such as childbirth[3] or post-operative pain.[4]


John Elliotson 1843 Punch Cartoon Mesmerism

Mesmerism, also called animal magnetism, is the term given by Franz Mesmer for what he believed to be an invisible natural force in animals. He also believed that it could have physical effects such as healing.[5][unreliable medical source?]

James Braid who is credited for pioneering hypnosurgery, first observed mesmerism while he was attending a public performance on magnetism by Charles Lafontaine. After attending two more shows he came to the conclusion that although there were observable physical effects, it was not caused by any magnetic interference. Braid then used self-experiment to prove his idea that mesmerism was achieved by vision and concentration of the subject.[6] Braid therefore claimed that the phenomena demonstrated by Lafontaine had nothing to do with magnetism. James Braid then adopted the term “hypnotism” to prevent his work from being confounded with mesmerism.[7]

It is claimed that hypnosis has been used in surgery for pain management, to control spasms in the alimentary canal, during rehabilitation, and as anaesthesia during an operation.[8][unreliable medical source?]

The first alleged case of hypnosis as an anesthetic in surgery was when Jules Germain Cloquet (1790–1883), a French surgeon, operated on a woman's breast while she was purportedly under the influence of hypnosis. The operation was for the removal of a tumor. Over the course of his career, he claimed to have performed several successful surgeries using hypnosis as the only form of anesthesia.[9][unreliable medical source?]

While stationed at the River Valley Road prisoner of war hospital in Singapore in 1945, with the supplies of chemical anæsthetics severely restricted by the Japanese, Michael Woodruff and a medical/dental colleague from the Royal Netherlands Forces used hypnotism as the sole means of anæsthesia for a wide range of dental and surgical procedures.[10]

Preparing the patient for hypnosurgery[edit]

Hypnotherapy session

At the present time, preparing a patient for hypnosurgery would include having several 50–60 minutes’ sessions of hypnotherapy done by a hypnotherapist. Each individual session focuses on controlling the pain and relaxing the mind. The number of hypnotherapy sessions varies according to the patient and their susceptibility to hypnosis. Generally, the patient would be ready for hypnosurgery after 6 weeks of training.[11][non-primary source needed]

Post-operative hypnosis[edit]

Hypnosis may also be helpful post-surgery in helping to facilitate faster healing in patients,[12][non-primary source needed] with one study reporting faster tissue healing in patients who use hypnosis during surgical recovery.[13][unreliable medical source?] Several other studies have shown a psychological link with healing and recovery.[14][non-primary source needed] In a study of patients up to seven weeks after undergoing a surgical procedure, researchers found greater healing and improvement in patients who had used hypnosis over those who only received supportive attention or standard "standard postoperative care".[8][unreliable medical source?][13][unreliable medical source?]

A recent Cochrane review on the efficacy of various psychological therapies (including hypnosis) on post-surgical outcomes concluded that "the strength of evidence is insufficient to reach firm conclusions on the role of psychological preparation for surgery" and the quality of the evidence was reportedly "very low."[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pain-free alternative to anaesthetics?, BBC, 18 April 2008
  2. ^ Hypnotist puts himself into trance as surgeon saws through his ankle without general anaesthetic, The Mirror, 28 August 2013
  3. ^ Jones, L.; Othman, M.; Dowswell, T.; Alfirevic, Z.; Gates, S.; Newburn, M.; Jordan, S.; Lavender, T.; Neilson, J. P. (2012). Neilson, James P (ed.). "Pain management for women in labour: an overview of systematic reviews". The Cochrane Library. 3 (3): CD009234. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD009234.pub2. PMC 7132546. PMID 22419342.
  4. ^ a b Powell R, Scott NW, Manyande A, Bruce J, Vögele C, Byrne-Davis LM, Unsworth M, Osmer C, Johnston M (2016), "Psychological preparation and postoperative outcomes for adults undergoing surgery under general anaesthesia." (PDF), Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (5): CD008646, doi:10.1002/14651858.CD008646.pub2, PMID 27228096
  5. ^ Wolfart, Karl Christian; Friedrich Anton Mesmer. Mesmerismus: Oder, System der Wechselwirkungen, Theorie und Anwendung des thierischen Magnetismus als die allgemeine Heilkunde zur Erhaltung des Menschen (in German, facsimile of the 1811 edition). Cambridge University Press, 2011. ISBN 9781108072694. Foreword.
  6. ^ In his Novum Organum of 1620, Francis Bacon spoke of an instantia crucis ('crucial instance'), an experiment that proves one of two competing hypotheses and disproves the other. The term crucis, derived from crux ('cross'), delivers a sense of the guidepost that gives directions when a single roadway splits into two. The equivalent term, experimentum crucis ('crucial experiment'), was certainly used by Isaac Newton, and may have been introduced by Robert Boyle.
  7. ^ Yeates, L.B., James Braid: Surgeon, Gentleman Scientist, and Hypnotist, Ph.D. Dissertation, School of History and Philosophy of Science, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, University of New South Wales, January 2013.
  8. ^ a b Cedercreutza, Claes (1961). "Hypnosis in surgery". International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. 9 (3): 93–95. doi:10.1080/00207146108409665. PMID 13691848.
  9. ^ Collyer, Robert. H., M.D. Mysteries of the Vital Element in Connexion with Dreams, Somnambulism, Trance, Anesthesia, Nervous Congestion, and Creative Function. Modern Spiritualism Explained. 2nd ed. London: Savill, Edwards and Co, Printers, 1871.
  10. ^ Sampimon, R.L.H. & Woodruff, M.F.A., "Some Observations Concerning the use of Hypnosis as a Substitute for Anæsthesia", The Medical Journal of Australia, (23 March 1946), pp.393–395.
  11. ^ Fredericks, Lillian E., and Frederick J. Evans. The Use of Hypnosis in Surgery and Anesthesiology: Psychological Preparation of the Surgical Patient. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas, 2001.
  12. ^ Wobst, Albrecht H. K. (May 2007). "Hypnosis and surgery: Past, present, and future". Anesthesia & Analgesia. 104 (5): 1199–1208. doi:10.1213/01.ane.0000260616.49050.6d. PMID 17456675.
  13. ^ a b Shine, Jerry (2003). "Hypnosis Heals". Harvard Magazine. Retrieved June 16, 2013.
  14. ^ Bowers, Kenneth S. (November 1979). "Hypnosis and healing". Australian Journal of Clinical & Experimental Hypnosis. 7 (3): 261–277.