Psychologists hypnotise patients 200 miles away

By Richard Woodman

LONDON (Reuters Health) – Patients living on remote Scottish islands in the middle of the North Sea have been hypnotised from the mainland 200 miles away, a psychologist said on Tuesday.

In a novel experiment of "tele-hypnosis," Susan Simpson said patients in the Shetlands had been successfully treated remotely from a psychiatric hospital in Aberdeen.

The Shetlands consist of about 100 islands, fewer than 20 of them inhabited, 130 miles (210 km) north of the Scottish mainland and even further from Scotland's oil capital, Aberdeen.

In the study, phone lines carried video pictures and sound so that islanders and psychologists could talk and see each other on television screens.

Simpson, a clinical psychologist at the Royal Cornhill Hospital in Aberdeen will formally present her findings to a Royal College of Medicine tele-medicine conference in London on Wednesday.

She said 15 patients were offered, and 11 accepted, the novel therapy for conditions including flight phobia, insomnia, social anxiety binge eating. Ten patients said they were satisfied and all wanted more sessions.

"The results of this study showed that patients were significantly more relaxed following tele-hypnosis and significantly more confident about being able to deal with their problems," Simpson told Reuters Health.

The study was launched because the Shetlands are so remote that patients cannot easily access psychiatric services.

But according to Simpson, the method could also prove popular with people who do not like to meet with their therapist.

"A third of the clients in the study said they preferred tele-therapy to face-to-face therapy because they felt they had more control. They felt they could switch me off if they wanted to."

Simpson said hypnosis was induced by asking the patients to close their eyes, focus on their breathing, and visualise images such as going down steps slowly to a place that feels very safe.

This produced a deep, trance-like state though patients remained in control at all times and could not be made to do anything against their will. Because they were relaxed, they were better able to access their own thoughts and feelings and explore ways of coping with their problem.

Simpson said that if larger trials confirm the effectiveness and acceptability of tele-hypnosis, this would have implications for its use to treat more patients with psychological difficulties living in remote areas.

"These patients will gain access to specialist treatments, which until now have not been trialled with teleconferencing nor available to them through the health service."

She called for further research to explore the use of tele-hypnosis in patients with mental health difficulties and to find out if certain patient groups may benefit most from this therapeutic approach.

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