Subjective Assessment of Allergy Relief 
Following Group Hypnosis and Self-Hypnosis:
A Preliminary Study

                    Antonio Madrid, George Rostel, Dale Pennington and David Murphy

Santa Rosa, CA

(reprinted from the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 38:2, October 1995)

Self-hypnosis was taught to 34 self-identified allergy patients who attended two training classes.  They practiced on their own and were questioned two months later.  Seventy-five percent of the subject reported they felt an improvement int heir symptoms; 86% of those who were medicated decreased their medicines.  Practice was clearly related to reported improvement.  "Feeling hypnotized" was not related to improvement.

   Seasonal allergies are a continual source of discomfort to millions of people.  The usual treatment for allergies is symptomatic relief through medication.  Many patients are dissatisfied with this treatment because the side-effects of allergy medicines are bothersome, the medication does not cure the allergy, and being constantly medicated does not seem sensible.

   Existing documentation of the effectiveness of hypnosis in the treatment of allergies is, at best, spotty.  A few articles claim success with allergic skin reactions, dog allergies, nasal constriction, and other psychosomatic reactions (Mason & Cobb, 1958; Perloff & Spiegelman, 1973; Anderson, 1983; Madrid & Barnes, 1991).

   The clinical experience of the authors has been that hypnosis can be quite effective in reducing symptoms associated with allergies.  this paper describes a preliminary study which was conducted to see if group hypnosis and self-hypnosis could have any perceived effect upon symptoms associated with seasonal allergies.

Method

   Subjects

   Fifty subjects volunteered for the study in response to a notice in a local newspaper stating  that aa research project on group hypnosis for allergies would be offered at the local hospital.  The study was conducted in the middle of the allergy season (the last week of March and the first week of April).  The subjects ranged from 10 to 63 years of age.  Unexpectedly, some patients who stated asthma as their primary symptom participated in this study.

Procedure

   Group sessions lasted for two hours each on two consecutive Thursday evenings.  Most subjects participated in both classes.  the format was the same on each evening to insure that everyone had the same training.

10 min.     Introduction
10 min.     The nature of hypnosis
10 min.     The immune response and hypnosis
20 min.     Hypnosis practice with Madrid

20 min.    Hypnosis practice with Rostel

20 min.     Break

15 min.    Practice in self hypnosis

      The introduction was devoted to acquainting the participants with the program leaders, their experience with hypnosis and allergies, and their other qualifications (Psychology, Pediatrics).  The format was very informal and allowed for much interaction between the leaders and the the participants.

    The basic briefing on hypnosis was designed to demystify hypnosis and show that it is a common experience that most people have already had.  Some time was spent on the history of  hypnosis in medicine.

    The medical explanation of allergies focused on the physiology and biochemistry of allergic states, especially emphasizing the cellular cosmos, both healthfully homeostatic and pathologically unbalanced.  The word "homeostasis: was repeatedly emphasized.  Colored blackboard drawings and the mild tedium of the medical lecture were aimed at helping facilitate the participants' anticipation of the hypnotic experience, their receptivity to induction and suggestion, and their visualization of the images presented.

    Special emphasis was placed on the point that hypnosis was not to supplant the physician in any way.  Rather, the subjects were instructed that through autosuggestion, they would be joining their doctors as members of their own health team.  Cases were presented of successful outcome using hypnosis with allergies.

    The first induction (Madrid) was the pencil drop technique presented as follows:

Let a pencil dangle between your thumb and forefinger and state at the tip.  You can listen to what I am saying and disregard everything else.  As you breathe, you may find yourself getting more comfortable.  when you are ready to be hypnotized, your fingers will pull apart and the pencil will drip.  then your eyes will close and you will go into hypnosis.  (Statements about relaxation, eye heaviness, etc., were here given.  After most pencils had dropped, the induction continued.)  there are a number of ways that hypnosis can help you. I will mention several of them, and you will note that your index finger will float when your unconscious mind accepts the one that is mot appropriate for you.
    Some people find that they can ward off pollen and allergens by surrounding themselves in a protective environment.  You can see that protective shield, like a light glowing, pushing off the pollens. 
    Some people find that their allergies improve if they tell their bodies to produce the correct biochemicals.  As simple as that.  Tell yourself that it's time to produce your own medicine.
    Some people find that their allergies improve if they tell their unconscious minds to go inside and make things better. Just do that now.  Your unconscious mind is very strong and smart.  It can make you better.  And, as I said before, if your index finger floats, you know you are using the right suggestion.
    Some people find that their allergies improve if they get their whole body to handle the allergens.  Not just their noses or throats or lungs.  Tell your entire body to fight these allergens or pollens.

    When the group was brought out of hypnosis, a discussion followed about the effects of the first induction.  The group was then hypnotized again (Rostel), using a relaxation-visualization induction.  the following suggestions were then given:

See the blue forces--the cyclic AMP and other cellular homeostatic forces--overwhelming and diminishing the cellular invasive "red forces"--the adverse antigen-antibody reactions releasing histamine and other pathological chemical mediators.  See your tight swollen blood vessels easing, your mucous plugs melting, your tight air passages relaxing. Every single cell in your body is returning to healthful homeostasis so you can enjoy your life as you work and play every moment of the day.

    After a discussion and a 15 minute break, the group was instructed in self hypnosis and two practice sessions of self-hypnosis were conducted.  Participants were then urged to practice self-hypnosis as often as possible in order to maximize the effectiveness of the program.

    The instruction in self-hypnosis was presented as follows:

In the next 15 minutes you are going to practice self-hypnosis. We want you to use the induction that felt best tonight.  Now put yourself into hypnosis and we will talk to you.  (The instructors waited until the majority of participants seemed hypnotized.)  Now consider one of the techniques you learned tonight for reducing your allergies.  Go through the various techniques you learned until one of them has an effect on you.  then stay there and enjoy it.

Instrument

    A questionnaire was mailed to the participants two months after the last class.  In addition to identifying information, the form asked participants to provide the following evaluations:

    a) Primary symptoms
    b) Did you feel hypnotized?  (very, a little, not-at-all)
    c) Frequency of self-hypnosis (daily, couple of times a week, only during an attack, none)
    d) Improvement in condition (total, moderate, a little, none)
    e) Whether the improvement tapered off from last session to now
    f) Whether medications were decreased and by how much
    g) Additional comments

Results

    Of the 50 participants in this study, 37 responded to the questionnaire (74%).  Three responses were discarded because the participant was using the class to learn stress reduction techniques rather an to deal with allergic symptoms.  this left 34 subjects who were studied.  Of these, 23 considered themselves as having springtime allergies, and 11 indicated that they were asthmatic.  some participants did not answer all the questions, and the results reflect this.

    In analyzing the data, the responses to the questionnaire were compressed into three main questions:

    1.  Did group hypnosis and self-hypnosis (hereafter simply called  "hypnosis") have an effect on symptoms of allergy and asthma?
    2. Did practice have anything to do with effectiveness?
    3.  Did effectiveness have any relationship to feeling hypnotized?

1.  Did hypnosis help?

    The effectiveness of hypnosis analyzed in terms of:

    a) whether any improvement was experienced in the two groups (allergic and asthmatic), 
    b) the degree of improvement,
    c) reduction in medication, and
    d) tapering off of improvement.

    Improvement.  Improvement was felt by 76% of the subjects (26 of 34).  Nearly all of those suffering from allergies felt some benefit from hypnosis (21 of 23: 91%).  The response of the two groups to treatment was significantly different (X square=6.332; p<.01).

    Degree of improvement.  The four categories of improvement (total, moderate, a little, none) were collapsed into two categories called "Marked Improvement: (total and moderate) and "Little or No Improvement."

    A market improvement in their symptoms was felt by 35% of the subjects (13 of 34).  this percentage was lowered by the small number of asthmatics that experienced marked improvement.  Only 1 of 11 asthmatics (9%) experienced marked improvement, while 12 of 22 allergics (55%) noted a marked improvement.

    Reduction in medication.  At the time of the study, 22 subjects were taking medication: 16 for allergies and 6 for asthma. 14 of the 16 allergy patients (88%) were able to decrease their medication with hypnosis.  Only one of the 6 asthma subjects could do so.

    Tapering off of Improvement.  The effectiveness of the hypnosis seemed to taper off for some. Of the 23 subjects who responded to this question, 48% reported that there was no tapering off (11 of 23); and of the 52% who reported a tapering off, many reported that there were still noticeable gains that remained, including a reduced need for medication.

2.  Did Practice Have an Effect on Improvement?

    Practice had a definite relationship to perceived improvement of symptoms.  The great majority of subjects practiced self-hypnosis during the two month period following the second class (28 of 33).  Of this group, 86% experienced some degree of relief.  None of the five subjects who failed to practice experienced any relief at all.

    Table 1

Effect of Practice upon 
Improvement of Symptoms

 

Any Improvement

No Improvement

Regular Practice

24

4

No Practice

0

5

X square=11.690, p<.001

    "Regular practice: included the categories :daily, a couple of times a week, or upon attack."  "No practice: meant that there was no practice at all after the last session.  Although the group of subjects who did not practice was very small, practice was clearly related to experiencing some relief (X square=11.690, p<.001).

3.  Did Feeling Hypnotized Have an Effect on Improvement?

    Feeling hypnotized was related to experiencing at least some improvement. Seventy percent of the subjects (24 of 34) reported feeling some degree of hypnosis.  Of the 24 who felt hypnotized, 21 (88%) reported some improvement.  half of the 10 who did not feel hypnotized at all were still able to feel some improvement in their conditions. although it is encouraging that one need not feel hypnotized to get the benefits of hypnosis, the chances of improving are greater if there is some subjective feeling of hypnosis (X square=16.107, p,.002).

Table 2

Degree of Improvement as a Function of
Feeling Hypnotized

Degree of Improvement

 

Total  Moderate A Little  None
Very Hypnotized 0 6 1 0
A Little Hypnotized 0 5 9 3
Not At All Hypnotized 0 0 5  

X square=16.107, p<.002.  Krukal-Wallis H with Degree of Improvement as dependent = 13.6855, p<.001

    In this study there was a relationship between degree of feeling hypnotized and the degree of improvement.  Six of the seven subjects who felt "very hypnotized: experienced a marked amount of improvement in their symptoms.  Of the remaining 26 who did not feel very hypnotized, 20 reported no improvement or just a little improvement.

    These figures were weighted by the high percentage of asthma subjects who were neither able to be very hypnotized nor to achieve marked improvement.  Of the 10 asthma subjects who answered the depth of hypnosis question, only one was able to feel deeply hypnotized, and he alone experienced marked improvement.  From this limited sample one could say that unless an asthmatic really experiences hypnosis, he will not feel improvement to any great extent.

    The same is not true for allergy patients. A third of them (6 of 17) who did no feel very hypnotized nevertheless experienced marked improvement.

Discussion

    the results of this preliminary investigation of the effects of hypnosis upon reported allergy/asthma symptoms, while based on self-report procedures and in the absence of a control group, suggest that subjects who are hypnotized in a group and learn self-hypnosis can experience significant symptomatic relief and can decrease their use of medication.

    The results also suggest that the hypnotic suggestions employed in this study were significantly more effective in the relief of allergy than of asthma symptoms.  Not only did more allergy patients report improvement, they also reported greater levels of improvement.  Allergy patients also reported decreased use of medication by a factor of more than 5 to 1 over asthmatics.

    Of the 23 subjects who reported some form of relief, 11 reported that the results held up during the two summer months following the training sessions.  Twelve subjects reported that the benefits had tapered off, although there still were significant pains including a reduction in medication.  This tapering off might have been prevented by a midsummer refresher session or through the use of supplementary tapes which were, in fact, requested by many of those who participated.

    the effect of practice upon improvement was dramatic.  While 86% of the subjects who regularly practiced experienced improvement, none of those who failed to practice felt any improvement at all.  some who reported only limited relief used hypnosis only at the onset of an attack.  This may suggest that more regular practice could improve their results.

    It seems that initial success in feeling some degree of hypnosis during the group sessions was important to improvement.  Subjects who reported feeling a significant depth of hypnosis during the sessions practiced more at home and also reported the greatest levels of relief. Interestingly, 5 of the 10 allergy patients who reported no feeling of being hypnotized during the sessions nonetheless experienced improvement.  By contrast, 6 of 7 subjects who reported being deeply hypnotized, including one asthmatic, experienced marked improvement.  since no measures of hypnotic depth were employed, it is interesting to speculate on how these subjects judged their level of hypnosis.

    It is interesting to note that while 6 of 23 allergics felt they had achieved deep levels of hypnosis, only 1 of 10 asthmatics did so, and that while 12 of 23 allergics experienced marked improvement, only the same 1 of 10 asthmatics did so.  The authors wonder if this marked difference in improvement between allergic and asthmatic subjects may have resulted from a differential ability between the two groups to achieve the hypnotic state.  

    It should be noted that in contradistinction to many investigations of hypnosis, this study did not involve regidly standardized inductions or suggestion sets.  Rather, it was characterized by the variety offered and the considerable choice available to subjects in terms of which induction they preferred and which suggestions for improvement seemed appropriate for their individual needs.  Furthermore, subjects were given multiple sequential trance experiences (fractionation) and more than one hypnotist was involved in both sessions.  It may well be that replications of this study which do not incorporate these elements would yield different results.

    As alluded to previously, this study was limited in a number of ways.  for one thing, all subjects were volunteers for a study involving group hypnosis and may not be representative of allergy/asthma patients in general.  furthermore, no attempt was made to verify either symptom complexes or allergic etiology, nor were objective measures of symptomatic improvement undertaken. Some participants may have had no immunologic or IgE mediated basis for the production of their production of their symptoms.  for another, there was no control group involved. thus there may have been symptom variations unrelated to the treatment protocol.  also, the followup period was limited to only 2 months and it is possible that the tapering effect noted may be significantly different over greater time periods.  (It is interesting to note, however, that a few subjects reported to the authors that the improvement got better even in the next allergy season.)

    All data in this study were self-reported data and not only involved reports on subjective experience but incorporated imprecise measures of improvement.  Although greater objectivity and precision would be desirable, the patient's own experience of improvement is an important part of improved health and is, in fact, his immediate goal. It was just such subjective experiences of relief following hypnosis that this sutdy was designed to explore.

References

Mason, A. A., & Cobb, S. (1958). Allergic skin responses abolished under treatment of asthma and have fever by hypnosis.  Lancet, 1, 877-879.

Perloff, M.A., & Spiegelman,. J.  (1973).  Hypnosis in the treatment of a child's allergy to dogs.  American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 15, 269-272.

Anderson, E. L., (1983).  Effect of hypnotic instructions on the nasal congestion of 24 hay fever sufferers.  Dissertation Abstracts International, 44, 1050.

Madrid, A. D., & Barnes, S. V. d. H. (1991).  A hypnotic protocol for eliciting physical changes through suggestion of biochemical responses.   American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 34, 122-128.