Medicine Treats the Cancer - Guided Imagery/Hypnosis Treats the Patient

Last year in Ohio I attended a program entitled Guided Imagery and Self-Healing in Cancer.

The speaker for the evening was Martin L. Rossman, M.D., Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Academy for Guided Imagery and an award-winning author. Dr. Rossman has been a physician for thirty years, and for twenty-eight of those thirty years he has used guided imagery to help his patients who have chronic illnesses. During this time, he has also employed various treatments from Chinese medicine. Although, he did not elaborate on this phase of his practice during this presentation, he did state that the best care for a patient is a combination of medical practices from both Eastern and Western philosophies.

For the evening's presentation, he referred to cancer patients only, but stressed that guided imagery is beneficial for pain management in all-chronic diseases. Throughout his talk, he interchanged the term, guided imagery, with hypnosis.

He gave his personal belief that medical doctors, in general, do not implement guided imagery in their practices because of the amount of time necessary to educate and guide the patient. He also felt that it is not being used because no one really profits from it. There isn't a great deal of money to be made for the medical profession or for the large drug companies.

Dr. Rossman explained to us that imagery is a way of thinking that is natural to us. If we learn to use it skillfully we can create healing.

He asked us to picture people being diagnosed with cancer, people moving along in life, performing their daily routines and looking forward to the future. Then they are diagnosed with cancer. The diagnosis causes these people to hit a brick wall. For most, it feels like a death sentence. Their lives stop and they feel out of control. Suddenly they must make major decisions about their care while at the same time fearing death.

During this period, most patients are reading everything that they can get their hands on as quickly as possible. Some of the sources are good, but, unfortunately, some are not. They may find that some friends avoid them, and that others are giving them advice - again, some good, some not-so-good. They are told that they must be positive at a time when they are naturally panicky.

Dr. Rossman stressed several times throughout the evening that when people are diagnosed, they need to be as relaxed as humanly possible. Yes, there will be fear at first and this is normal. But relaxed patients, who are in control, stand a much better chance of survival. They feel more committed to the decisions they are making about their treatments, and, very importantly, they are a part of their own medical team.

In cancer treatment, the medicine treats the cancer. Healing is a way of treating the patient. Patients must get actively involved with their illnesses. If they don't, the only thing remaining is the medication. Dr. Rossman does not feel that the medical community understands fully that the patient must be involved, too.

With Western medicine, we prolong lives, but we do not work toward giving the patient a better quality of life. The medicine has the sole purpose of eradicating the cancer cells. Treatments such as hypnosis and guided imagery support the patient and make the situation easier to handle. These methods promote healing.

Healing gives vitality and hope. Patients become involved, and this gives them control so that they are not at the whim of the cancer. Healing is nourishing, supporting, vitalizing and encouraging.

The proper way to treat cancer, or any other disease, is to have healing and medicine working together. This would allow the patient to be a healthy person living with cancer. This would also allow him/her to handle the difficult treatments more easily.

Dr. Rossman used the following imagery to demonstrate his point: Imagine a garden. A plant can have mites, spiders, etc. If the plant is not watered properly and has poor soil, pests nibble on it. The plant hasn't been cared for. Then the gardener sprays it with pesticides to rid the plant of pests. However this is not enough. The gardener must also fertilize and water the plant or else it will be vulnerable again. If the gardener takes care of the plant, it can resist infestations. Always nurture in a proper way.

Dr. Rossman explained that there is something in us that knows how to heal. When we were little we got boo boos and they healed. We may have had broken bones and they are fine now. Any cold that we had is now gone. We have been physically hurt many times throughout our lives and yet we heal each time. There is something in us that knows how to meet these challenges and repair the damages. It can be called God, life, nature, DNA or whatever works for the person.

Medical knowledge does not understand all of this. It has been very narrow in its focus. We need to learn to support the healing systems.

Studies are showing that guided imagery and hypnosis make a marked difference in a person's healing. But can it cure cancer? Dr. Rossman feels that at this time no one knows for certain, and he added that statistical data are unimportant to an individual diagnosed with cancer. Patients should concentrate on their own needs and their own care. Dr. Rossman cited several studies where guided imagery and hypnosis were shown to help with the healing.

Carl Simonton was a radiation oncologist who taught self-hypnosis techniques and used guided imagery. He believed that guided imagery could stimulate the healing processes, and taught it to late-stage cancer patients. He had them relax and imagine the immune cells attacking the cancer cells. There was a direct correlation between those who did the most sessions and those who improved.

In 1986, psychiatrist David Spiegel of Stanford released his 10-year study of women with metastatic breast cancer. He compared women who were randomly selected to participate in a support group to women receiving standard medical care. The participants in the support groups were encouraged to share their feelings about having cancer, and also learned to use self-hypnosis techniques. Spiegel designed this experiment as a skeptic. Even though his father was a hypnotherapist, Spiegel did not believe that support groups, relaxation and self-hypnosis techniques would make a difference. He was surprised to find that the average survival time was approximately twice as long in the women who were in these groups. His study, published in the Lancet, has been rigorously examined for experimental design and the results were found to be significant.

Dr. Fawzy, MD, a psychiatrist at UCLA, reported an even more impressive study in the Archives of General Psychiatry in 1993. Fawzy studied patients newly diagnosed with malignant melanoma, randomly assigning them to a control group or a six-week group where stress management, coping strategies, and relaxation skills were taught. Six years later there was a dramatic difference in the groups - participants in the treatment groups had a much higher survival rate, a much lower recurrence rate, better immune function, and better psychological function than control group subjects. The amount of difference for such a brief intervention (90-minute sessions for only six weeks) is startling.

A third more recent study was completed by Dean Shrock, Ph.D. and his colleagues in Pennsylvania, and reported in the Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine Journal in May, 1999. This study showed that early breast and prostate cancer patients who participated in an eight-week support group based on the Simonton method had twice the survival of the control groups.

Olness Review 1996: Guided imagery shown to increase the T cells, which are in the immune system and kill the cancer cells. The T cells increase in number and become more aggressive. In this area, guided imagery is more effective than drugs.

These studies are very encouraging signs that something we do with our minds whether it is sharing our feelings, being with others, learning stress and emotional management skills or doing relaxation, self-hypnosis and imagery, can have a positive effect on cancer.

If guided imagery and hypnosis were drugs, doctors would have to prescribe them to nearly every person fighting cancer or run the risk of malpractice. Having a positive effect on outcome is not the same as a cure, but until there is a cure, simple nontoxic approaches that have positive effects are most welcome.

All patients need to be positive people. Guided imagery and hypnosis do the following: reduce anxiety; eliminate hopelessness; help patients tolerate treatments and allow them to be clearheaded in making difficult decisions; control pain; change poor life-styles; motivate.

Anything is possible. People must break through the mental barriers. For 20 years, no runner could break through the four-minute mile. Then Roger Bannister did it. The following year, 25 others did it. He showed them that it could be done. We are very suggestible. We must believe that we can do it. Dr. Rossman quoted Henry Ford, If you think you can't, or if you think that you can, you're probably right.

Dr. Rossman noted that the most common way that an individual uses guided imagery is in worrying. We think about things that might happen, and this is not a productive use of the imagination. Worriers can worry themselves sick, and this is a very powerful mind-body connection. Each of us learned how to worry - we were not born worrying. Dr. Rossman suggested that we take the worrying energy and turn it into positive energy. As a positive energy it will have the opposite response in the body - it will heal. He called it positive worry.

Dr. Rossman gave several examples of the mind-body connection. He asked if anyone could salivate on cue. A few people raised their hands. He had us close our eyes and do guided imagery. We were directed to go to our kitchen, cut a lemon, and then taste it. Many in the room were surprised to find that they salivated after this imagining. He also cited sexual fantasies as a very strong mind-body connection.

He then talked about chemotherapy. He suggested that people should have a different approach to it. He said that if it's what you choose, really choose it - want it to happen in order to cure the cancer. He said not to anticipate the nausea; it isn't necessary. Welcome the chemotherapy; savor it; feel it. Be afraid if necessary, but allow many other good emotions to also accompany you.

At the conclusion, he asked us to meet our inner healer He said to see this entity any way that we wish. There was no wrong way. Mentally talk to the healer and ask questions The inner healer has the answers It can also give a hug when needed We are never alone.

At the end he told us to take a deep breath. He said that every time we take a deep breath we are giving our healing system a boost.

I benefited greatly from attending this program. It was the first time I presented myself as a certified hypnotherapist to strangers. I distributed my business card to others around me and easily answered any questions that were asked Since Dr. Rossman spoke so highly about hypnosis to several hundred in the room, I felt this was a seal of approval for what I have chosen to do. I shook his hand after the program and told him how much I enjoyed it.

I expected my practice to be mostly weight loss, smoking cessation and improvement of the golf game at the beginning. What I am finding is that more people are interested in using hypnosis for pain management, guided imagery and letting go of the past. I have already worked with several on these topics. I also give my notes from this program to those who have questions. Many people have told me that this gives them a feeling of hope.

I have been looking into teaching self-hypnosis classes and guided imagery classes. I have already contacted Youngstown State University about these topics and they are definitely interested. I feel confident that I can guide people to help themselves.

Sandy Ewing, C.Ht., L.L.C. is a member of IMDHA.

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