Unsure of a cure? Give this a trance

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YOUR head is pounding, you have suffered migraines for months and decide you really ought to do something about it.

So you visit your doctor, expecting him to prescribe a course of tablets, a sinus spray or that all-encompassing advice to get more exercise.

The last thing you expect him to suggest is that you are hypnotised to cure the pain.

But that is exactly what Edinburgh GP Alastair Dobbin does to cure patients for all sorts of conditions - from irritable bowel syndrome to fear of flying.

Dr Dobbin has been a medical hypnotist for about 15 years, using the technique to help treat patients alongside more traditional medical methods.

But as his reputation spread, other GPs started to refer their patients to him to see if hypnotism could help them.

So two years ago, when the North-East Edinburgh local health care co-operative had some spare funding, they asked if he would start running hypnotism clinics on a more formal basis.

People came to him for a whole host of complaints including depression, phobias, anxiety, chronic pain and irritable bowel syndrome. He also treated those who wanted to give up smoking.

The results of the two-year pilot scheme, which have just been published, show that 60 per cent of the patients Dr Dobbin treated noticed improvements in their conditions.

For the research, he assessed 120 patients, who filled out forms before and after their hypnotism treatments rating how well they felt.

They said they were more able to cope with life, more able to understand their problem, more able to cope with their problem and more able to help themselves.

Dr Dobbin said the results of his research, published recently in the Journal of the British Experimental Hypnosis Society, show that hypnosis could have a significant impact on treating mental health problems.

Although conditions like migraines and irritable bowel syndrome have physical symptoms, very often they are linked to mental state, therefore hypnotism often improved these illnesses.

Dr Dobbin, a GP at Brunton Place Surgery, says: "We looked at how people improved physically, mentally and socially in terms of quality of life.

"The results were interesting. We found that it was very good for anxiety, phobias and anything to do with mental health. It worked pretty well for a lot of medical conditions, things like irritable bowel and migraines."

So how can putting someone into a trance-like state help alleviate physical symptoms?

"Pain is influenced by our perception of where it is coming from," explains Dr Dobbin. "If you go to the dentist and you think ‘I’m about to have a metal instrument in my mouth,’ then your pain is going to be worse than if you think about the last holiday you had abroad.

"With hypnotism, one of the things you learn to do is to switch off those interferences. A lot of things will improve if you can do that.

"Hypnotism works on two levels - one, it gives you deep relaxation, which is something that not many people are very good at. The other effect it has is to kick in a creative ability we have to solve problems, which human beings are very good at.

"But when we are stressed or upset, we aren’t very good at problem-solving."

The stereotype of using a ticking watch to hypnotise a patient is a far cry from the technique Dr Dobbin employs when treating a patient.

Each person who visits Dr Dobbin is helped to reach a state of deep relaxation which is the precursor to him putting them in a trance. While they are in this state, he talks them through a solution - a kind of unconscious problem-solving.

"I would suggest to your unconscious mind that it could find some solution to this and I would strengthen you emotionally by making suggestions that you could do it. People have the solutions, but I have to help them access it.

"Quite often with hypnotism, you have to look back into the past and find an incident in the past that may have triggered that anxiety."

At the clinic, which runs at Leith Community Treatment Centre, Dr Dobbin teaches his patients how to hypnotise themselves, so they are able to reach a state of deep relaxation on their own.

During his treatment sessions, he will give patients a trigger word or action - and in future all they have to do is say or do this trigger and they will immediately reach the same state of deep relaxation and be able to overcome whatever anxiety or pain they face. This could be counting to 100 or holding their breath.

"Quite often one session is enough to sort out the most complicated problems," he adds.

The only group of people who didn’t experience good results from the hypnotism clinic were smokers - just ten per cent of those who tried hypnotism had managed to give up a year after they attended the clinic. This is surprising, as hypnotism is now a fairly common strategy people use to try to give up smoking. Hypnotism may seem a strange medical practice, but Dr Dobbin says he hasn’t experienced any difficulties getting people to accept his use of it as a mainstream treatment.

Although most people associate hypnotism with glitzy TV shows like The Hypnotic World of Paul McKenna and see it as little more than a form of entertainment, it is actually a well-established medical treatment.

In fact, the Scottish branch of the British Society for Medical and Dental Hypnosis - of which Dr Dobbin is president - boasts 150 doctors and dentists from all over Scotland on its membership books, suggesting the practice is more widespread than sceptics might think.

Dr Dobbin explains: "For quite a long time, I have been taking referrals from colleagues and they have been very accepting of it."

Dentist's drill no longer sparks fear

MARLYN TAIT’S life has changed dramatically for the better since being hypnotised by Dr Dobbin.

The 56-year-old receptionist from Leith had been petrified of going to the dentist since she was a child and had stayed away for more than ten years.

This posed potentially more severe problems than normal, as the medication Mrs Tait takes to control her epilepsy can lead to gum disease. She says: "I was absolutely terrified. I would make several appointments and cancel them."

Mrs Tait, who works in the same surgery as Dr Dobbin, mentioned her problem to him and he offered to hypnotise her to see if it would help.

"The whole process has been revolutionary for me," she says. "I have been to the dentist four or five times now and I can relax enough to smile and laugh when I visit. It has made a fantastic difference to my life."

Mrs Tait thought she had been frightened of going to the dentist because of a bad experience she had during a visit there when she was eight, when she had to have teeth pulled out.

However, while she was hypnotised, Dr Dobbin discovered her fear stemmed from an earlier incident in which her father had panicked when she fell off a swing aged three.

"In my mind the incidents had become linked and I was actually frightened because of my dad’s panic," she explains.

"But the feeling of fear went away after the hypnotism session, although my husband had to come with me the first time I went to the dentist. I get myself psyched up before I go and it’s fine now."