Category Archives: Cancer

Hypnotherapy and guided imagery for cancer care

Research has demonstrated that mental health therapy is helpful for people who have been diagnosed with cancer. Transformative Therapy is a private therapy practice in Bryn Mawr, PA. We specialize in supporting clients who have cancer and other serious illnesses.

Our integrative approach includes hypnosis, guided imagery, relaxation, and visualization to promote healing and recovery.

Research shows that guided imagery and hypnotherapy can help :

  • Increase feelings of well-being
  • Reduce feelings of depression
  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Reduce side effects of cancer treatment
  • Improve quality of life
  • Reduce fear and anxiety prior to surgery
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce pain, including post-operative pain
  • Temporarily increase numbers of immune system cells
  • Reduce blood pressure, stress, anxiety, and pain
  • Create relaxing brain wave patterns
  • Reduce anticipatory nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy
  • Reduce cancer pain and distress
  • Reduce pain, nausea, fatigue, discomfort, and emotional upset

Sources:  The American Cancer Society; The Mayo Clinic;; Anesthesia and Analgesia

Breast cancer and the LoA: Please don’t be afraid to feel afraid

In my therapy practice in Bryn Mawr, I work with women who have breast cancer. They are often afraid of their fear: the Law of Attraction has become a monster for them. The issue is the LoA and how it applies – and does not apply – to getting and fighting cancer.

I have studied the LoA for years. There is a lot of (I believe rather immature) stuff on the internet about the LoA. “Think well and you will be well”, the teaching goes. I think it grossly oversimplifies the case.

And worse, I think it freaks people out.

Is there nothing to fear but fear itself?

So many women I work with are freaking out because they are scared, and they are scared of being scared. This puts them in a bind. They can’t begin to grapple with the fear, move through it, and let it move through them, because they are afraid that in being afraid they are making themselves sicker.

Because they are afraid of the power of their fear they don’t allow themselves to express it. Consequently, their fear has no way out. It grows in the darkness. And worse, these women feel shame because they have fear.

For most of us, a cancer diagnosis is @%*&# scary.

And then things get better. Most of the time – by far, most of the time – my clients do, too. They learn about treatment options and they start the marathon. They find out that the sun still rises and they still laugh and have fun.

The marathon ends and they reflect on how much they have gained: they know a lot about mindfulness and meditation, complementary therapies, nutrition and natural beauty products. They have learned to tell the people they love that they love them. They don’t sweat the small stuff.

But for many women, the road to recovery is fraught with the boogey man named LoA. They come to me and cry: I am afraid, and I am afraid that my fear is killing me. If I let myself feel afraid, am I making my cancer grow? I am afraid to let myself feel afraid, and I’m still afraid. I have no power over this fear. It feels like life and death.

Don’t suppress your emotions.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I know my clients. I read the research. I talk to people. I listen. And I can tell you that there is not a shred of evidence that feeling afraid makes people sicker. On the other hand, there is research, including a study of 94 women with recurrent or metastatic breast cancer, showing that unprocessed trauma hurts.

David Spiegel, M.D., one of the study authors, says “people do better in the aftermath of traumatic stress if they deal with it directly. Facing, rather than fleeing it, is important… In other words, don’t suppress your emotions.”

Please. Don’t. Suppress. Your. Emotions.

Emotions are not “good” or “bad”. What we do with them, however, has consequences. Suppressed emotions can cause some serious mischief. Keeping our fear pushed down is exhausting. And it’s inauthentic. And we can’t heal what we can’t allow ourselves to feel.

I think that having a dialogue with our feelings is healthy. In English we say “I AM afraid”. Other languages express it as “I HAVE fear”, and there is a certain mindful distancing that comes from framing our emotions this way.

What I want to say to my clients, to all the women who are fighting the fight, to you, is this:

Please don’t punish yourself by fearing your fear. Let yourself feel your feelings. Let the fear move through you. You will find yourself on the other side of that feeling and see how much you have grown.

The role of emotions in cancer

Susie (name changed for privacy) came in to my therapy practice in Bryn Mawr, and she was reeling. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer and treatment was underway. But she wasn’t sleeping. She was trying to keep it all together, and ended up alternating between tears and anger. She was certainly having trouble engaging in life. And she knew that none of that was helping her condition.

Cancer and the mind body connection

The mind-body connection has major implications for our health and well-being. People all across the Western world are taking up practices like mindfulness, meditation, and yoga, and they are doing it with good reason. They feel better, and there is a deep and growing body of empirical evidence showing that emotions play an important role in health.

Resources as mainstream as WebMD and the Mayo Clinic address the role of stress in health. We know that stress and traumatic events impact the hormonal stress response system in ways that impair immune function and can lead to disease―even cancer. And we know that there are ways to combat that impact and improve overall health and wellbeing.

In one study of 94 women with metastatic or recurrent breast cancer, stress was correlated to disease: women who had not experienced significant stressors remained disease-free for longer periods of time than those who did experience significant stress.

So, what are you supposed to do if you are upset?

There is good news even for people experiencing tough times. You can fare better if you deal with your emotions. According to David Spiegel, M.D., one of the study authors, “people do better in the aftermath of traumatic stress if they deal with it directly. Facing, rather than fleeing it, is important… In other words, don’t suppress your emotions.”

Please, don’t suppress your emotions. Many people who have been diagnosed with cancer experienced a significant loss in the two years before diagnosis. I can’t tell you how many times when I’m doing energy healing on a person with cancer I hear the phrase “un-cried tears “. Tears are not shameful, and we should throw away the silly lyric “big girls don’t cry” and its implication that even little boys shouldn’t. Tears are cleansing and we do ourselves a great service when we cry them.

The “Type C” personality

Not shedding those tears is an aspect of the “type C personality”, a term dubbed for the traits commonly seen among people who have been diagnosed with cancer. In the Cancer Report, Susan Silberstein, Ph.D., of the Center for Advancement in Cancer Education, outlines the traits. They are:

  • Repression of negative emotions (as mentioned above)
  • Feeling hopeless, that there are no options, or a lack of control
  • Not having deep emotional ties or being in toxic relationships
  • A tendency to keep the peace at any cost, to put others’ needs first, or even to be unaware of their own needs
  • A feeling (often unconscious) that they do not deserve happiness, success, or even life
  • A need to gain attention through the disease which they could not, or did not, receive otherwise

No, it’s not your fault

Now, this does not imply that getting cancer is anyone’s fault. None of us has everything all figured out. We all need to learn and grow, and some of us will learn through the experience of disease. Thankfully, when we know what we are meant to be learning, it is a little easier to set ourselves to the task at hand, and that’s why this information about the mind-body connection and the “Type C personality” can be so empowering.

When I work with clients who have cancer, we spend a lot of time re-working their emotional patterns. We create a safe space to cry. We reframe the work ethic to create less stress and a more balanced life. We practice shifting emotional boundaries to create healthier relationships. We shine the light on those tendencies to “stuff it” and practice speaking up. All of these are skills that can be learned, and learning them leads to a happier, and healthier, life.

As for Susie…

Susie and I worked together for several weeks. During that time she had a few “aha” moments. On her first visit, she cried. But after the tears were released, she started to feel lighter and clearer, and certainly more optimistic. We used some hypnotherapy and guided meditation techniques to help her find her voice. When she used it, she found that, far from driving people away, her relationships actually improved.  She evaluated her work schedule and found ways to be more efficient and less stressed. And she became confident that her treatments were working. Susie managed to learn some of the lessons her cancer had to teach and was able to get back to the joy of living.

And that, it seems to me, is pretty much the point. 🙂

The Benefits Of Hypnosis For Cancer Patients

Hypnosis can be a helpful tool for cancer patients. I use it often in my therapy practice in Bryn Mawr, where I support many clients who have cancer and other serious illnesses.

Hypnosis is a relaxed state of mind. When we are hypnotized our brains are using alpha and theta brainwaves, just as we do in meditation and some stages of sleep. These relaxed brainwave patterns allow us to more open to suggestion, or “suggestible”: we are more likely to believe what we are told, and we are able to change how we think and feel about things. We can use this suggestibility to our great benefit in many areas of life, from emotional wellbeing to health. Indeed, there is a growing body of clinical data supporting the use of hypnosis for people with cancer across all phases of treatment, from detection/diagnosis, through various types of treatment, and into survivorship.  Here are some highlights from the literature:

Cancer Detection/Diagnosis:
Hypnosis has been shown to decrease anxiety, distress, and pain for people undergoing biopsy. The studies published have focused on breast cancer screening.

  • One study showed that women undergoing needle biopsies who had been hypnotized experienced significantly less anxiety and pain
  • Another study found that breast biopsy patients who had been hypnotized experienced less pre- and post-biopsy distress and less post-biopsy pain.
  • A third study found less pre-biopsy upset, depression, and anxiety, and more relaxation, among women who had been hypnotized.

Cancer treatment:
Hypnosis can support every mainstream form of cancer treatment. It has been helpful for surgical patients, has reduced side-effects of chemotherapy, and has helped with the effects of radiation.

Surgical patients who received hypnosis pre-operatively had less anxiety, pain, pain medication, emotional upset, and fatigue, and had shorter treatment time.

  • One study found patients in hypnosis treatment groups had better outcomes than 89% of patients in control groups across a wide range of clinical outcomes including pain, pain medication, negative affect, blood pressure, nausea, fatigue, and treatment time.
  • Two other studies, here and here, found that just 15 minutes of hypnosis before surgery led to less pain and pain medication, less nausea, fatigue, discomfort, and emotional upset.

Anti-nausea medications have improved quality of life for patients receiving chemotherapy. However, some patients still experience chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting.  Hypnosis has been shown to help alleviate these treatment effects.

  • A meta-analysis found statistically significant reductions in nausea and vomiting for patients who received hypnosis.
  • A second review of the literature also found that hypnosis improved chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting.

Patients undergoing radiation treatment are often affected by fatigue and emotional distress. Hypnosis helps:

  • A study of women receiving radiation for breast cancer found that the hypnotized women did not become fatigued during treatment whereas those who were not hypnotized did become fatigued as treatment progressed.
  • Another study showed that hypnosis significantly reduced negative affect and increased positive affect.

According to the American Cancer Society, in January 2014 there were 14.5 million cancer survivors in the United States. Many experience impaired quality of life after treatment, including neuropathy and pain, cognitive problems, fatigue, fear of cancer recurrence, hot flashes and sexual dysfunction (American Cancer Society). Hypnosis may help with the after-effects of cancer treatment:

  • A study of hypnosis to treat hot flashes and other treatment after-effects showed that hypnosis significantly improved hot flashes, anxiety, sleep, and depression.

Advanced/Metastatic disease:
Metastatic and recurrent diagnoses can be very distressing for cancer patients. Metastatic patients often experience pain and suffering, as well as emotional distress. Hypnosis has had a measurable impact on quality and even quantity of life for these patients:

  • Two studies, one from 1983 here, and a more recent one from 2009 here, both showed that women with metastatic breast cancer who received hypnosis experienced significantly less pain and suffering and improved mood.

Two other studies have shown intriguing effects of hypnosis on length of life.

  • In the first study, published in the 1980’s, survival time was significantly longer in the women who received supportive group therapy with hypnosis (mean of 36.6 months) compared to no-treatment controls (mean of 18.9 months).
  • A replication in 2007 found that survival time for metastatic breast cancer patients with ER-positive cancers was not significantly affected by the hypnosis intervention BUT for ER negative patients, the hypnosis group had a significant longer survival time than the non-treatment controls.

Hypnosis delivery: live or recorded?
There is a plethora of guided meditations, guided imagery, and hypnosis on the market, for free or offered at a low cost, including the ones I’ve published on my podcast here. While these recordings can be helpful, live hypnosis is better: -)

  • Two meta-analyses, one here and one here, both showed that live hypnosis had a larger effect size than recorded hypnosis.

For those who are living with cancer and undergoing cancer treatment, hypnosis can be tremendously helpful to address a wide range of symptoms, from emotional distress to physical pain. Relaxing and opening ourselves up to the mind-body-spirit connection improves quality of life and overall wellbeing.

My typo as a metaphor, and it’s OK to ask for help

I sent an email newsletter last week and it had a big mistake in it. The second paragraph makes no sense. It says: “Have you ever considered that what we do that with our spaces, we can do that with our energy fields?”

I knew what I meant.

I usually have a second set of eyes proofread for me, but this time I was late getting it sent and was impatient. I read it several times, and read it out loud. Reading my writing aloud is a good way to make sure it makes sense. But this time it didn’t work.

The problem was that I knew what I meant to say, so I didn’t notice what I actually typed. Knid of lkie you can udnresantd waht tihs syas.

I should have used my proofreader.

Which brings me to the point: We should always use our team!

Humans are social creatures. When we tell ourselves, very stubbornly, “I can do it all by myself” we are likely mistaken. The stubbornness itself is probably a sign that we are mistaken.

Of course there are lots of things we are supposed to do alone, but in the bigger scale, “no man is an island unto himself”. We humans thrive in relationships. We are happy in community. We gravitate to groups, try to find our tribe, we work out our issues in relationship with others.

When my little sister was in a high chair and just learning to talk, she wanted to do everything all by herself. One night we were having stir-fry with soy sauce, she was at that age of budding independence and wanted to pour it “all by herself”. The over-sauced food made her shudder.

This is what happens to us even as adults when we stubbornly, and I dare say immaturely, decide that we can do “it” ―anything, everything―all by ourselves. We shudder as we learn the hard lessons of ego, and come to realize the beautiful reality of interdependence.

I see many brave and strong clients who mistakenly believe that asking for help in time of crisis is a sign of weakness. I have done this too, but I try to remember what I remind my clients.

Getting help is not a sign of weakness: It is a sign of humanity. Sometimes we find that the best thing we can do is to ask for help, to let others in. When we deny ourselves the help, and deny others the opportunity to be of service, we throw things out of balance.

Sometimes we give, and sometimes we take. Sometimes we lead, and sometimes we follow. But we never travel alone. And when we forget that, we have forgotten the very thing that makes us human.