BU researchers champion hypnotherapy treatments

By Maegan Rocio

Staff Writer

Hot flashes can be dealt with in a “cool” way.

The Mind-Body Medicine Research Laboratory at Baylor and its national associates are researching how to use hypnotherapy and “cool” mental imagery to treat menopausal women who are experiencing hot flashes.

Dr. Gary Elkins, professor of psychology and director of the Doctor of Psychology graduate program at Baylor, said by focusing on a mnemonic mental image associated with cooler temperatures, on average, women were able to reduce their hot flashes by approximately 70 percent.

Elkins said because of the positive results from a 2008 study, the Mind-Body Medicine Research Laboratory is offering and replicating the same treatment through a five-week program for women who have menopause. Elkins said the treatment currently offered at the laboratory does not involve any gimmicks.

“The goal of hypnotherapy is to empower the woman toward gaining greater control,” he said. “It’s nothing like a sideshow or hypnotizing with a watch or any type of embarrassment like that. It’s really where the woman is learning a skill or technique that can have an effect that is safe. There are very few side-effects associated with hypnotic relaxation and if it’s effective, can be a useful technique for a lot of women.”

Elkins said his research team and its affiliates are further studying the benefits of hypnotherapy for menopausal women.

“What we’re doing presently is another larger study in which 180 post-menopausal women are being randomized in either a control group or to a hypnosis treatment group,” he said. “And we’re looking at whether hypnosis intervention will work as well with women who are in the post-menopausal phase as opposed to breast cancer survivors.”

Elkins said the current research team developed its idea from the previous research conducted in 2008. “In this study, we looked at hypnosis for treatment of hot flashes among breast cancer survivors,” he said. “The reason why we became interested in this area of research is because, in the past, as women entered menopause or began to have hot flashes, estrogen or hormone therapy has been the standard treatment.”

Elkins said the research team looked for alternative treatment options and decided on hypnosis. Elkins said the 2008 study enrolled 60 female breast cancer survivors who randomly received five sessions of hypnotic relaxation therapy, sessions that focused on mental imagery.

“During those sessions, the women went through hypnotic induction that involved suggestions for relaxation and in-suggestions for mental images that could be related to reducing hot flashes,” he said. “For example, in one of the studies we published, most women had a preference for some type of cool imagery, such as being near a waterfall or walking through the mountains on a snowy winter day. Something like that would directly reduce the experience of hot flashes.”

According to Elkins, the purpose of an earlier project, ‘The Woman’s Health Initiative’ study conducted in 2003 by the National Institute of Health, was to assess the benefits of hormone therapy for women entering menopause. Elkins said the study was stopped early when researchers discovered the hormone replacements, estrogen and progestin, were associated with an increased risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular disease.

“That meant that there was a need to identify a safe and effective non-hormonal treatment,” Elkins said. “When women are diagnosed with breast cancer, they go through treatment that might include surgery, it could include radiation or chemotherapy, but following that, virtually all women are put on drugs to prevent the recurrence of breast cancer. What those drugs do is shut down all estrogen production.”

Elkins said he and his colleagues hope the current treatment will come to completely replace hormone therapy. “We are in the sense that many women, due to the risks associated with hormonal therapy, cannot take hormone therapy,” he said. Vicki Patterson, the laboratory coordinator for the Mind-Body Medicine Research Laboratory, said she thinks, without a doubt, hypnotherapy is an essential skill for all women going through menopause.

“It’s something that once a lady has learned it, she has it forever,” she said. “There’s no refilling a prescription or going backward. It’s a tool that she can use for the rest of her life.” The Mind-Body Medicine Research Laboratory is located at 77 Cottonwood Street in Waco. ‘The Woman’s Health Initiative’ study conducted in 2003 and the randomized trial study in 2008 were both funded by the National Institute of Health.