Hypnosis for First Responders

A review article in Medical Acupuncture stated that first responders should be trained in integrative medicine approaches, including hypnosis, to help relieve pain and stress.

The first recorded use of hypnosis for anesthesia during surgery was by Recamier in 1821. In 1829 Cloquet used hypnosis to perform a breast amputation before the French Academy of Medicine. Around the same time in the U.S. a nasal polypectomy was performed on a patient under hypnosis by P. Wheeler. John Elliotson (who introduced the stethoscope to England) reported numerous painless operations using hypnosis in the journal Zoist. The Scottish surgeon James Esdaile reported over 2,000 minor and 345 major operations using hypnosis in the 1840s and 1850s. In 1849, Crawford Long (who pioneered the use of ether in America) stated that physicians were recommending hypnosis for pain relief during surgery. It was in recognition of the established use of hypnosis for anesthesia that Liston, who performed the first surgery under ether in England, remarked, “Gentlemen, the Yankee trick beats the French one.” He was referring to the American discovery of ether as being more reliable than hypnosis (under the name of “mesmerism”) and developed by French physicians, neurologists, and psychologists.

Chemical anesthetics proved more reliable, but that’s not to say that hypnosis is not useful. Hypnosis has been in use for pain far longer than ether, chloroform, and later chemical anesthetics. Consider that chemical anesthetics are not 100% reliable, either. A report of the Royal College of Anaesthetists suggested that in 1 of 19,000 operations a person becomes conscious while under general anesthesia. In the case of a caesarian section, the odds increase up to 1 in 670.

There is nothing new about using hypnosis for emergency pain and trauma. Hypnosis was in great use as anesthesia during the Civil War, then fell out of use with the development of ether and other chemical anesthetics. The need for rapid treatment of war neuroses during World Wars I and II and the Korean conflict brought renewed interest and activity in hypnotherapy, and resulted in the merging of hypnotic techniques with psychiatry. The British Medical Association, in 1955 reported its approval of hypnosis for the relief of pain in childbirth and surgery. Since then, hypnosis has been widely used and studied.

In 2002 the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health published a study by Levenson and Acosta, two mental health clinicians associated with the NYPD, who were at Ground Zero of the World Trade Center beginning on September 11, 2001 to assist with crisis intervention and Critical Incident Stress Management. Their study considers the stress-response of police officers on site and offers clinical techniques and guidelines for emergency mental health practitioners and first responders for use with victims of critical incidents.