Mental health experts say they have possible solution to opioid epidemic

Experts say hypnotherapy can help battle pain, addiction

DETROIT – As the nation struggles with a sweeping opioid epidemic, mental health experts said they have found a possible solution: a way to avoid developing a painkiller habit before it even starts.

Focused relaxation is a mind-opening experience that Cathy McNeilly said helped block out her pain following knee surgery.

"I just used it to do relaxation and visualize myself healing," McNeilly said.

She said her goal was to minimize her potential for using prescription opioids during her recovery. A specialist helped her get started with hypnosis and a custom audio recording to use at home.

"I had a fast healing with no complications," McNeilly said. "I was able to do my rehab quickly."

Mental health professionals said hypnotherapy might also help people living with chronic pain, which impacts an estimated 100 million Americans.

"Sometimes it's a matter of adjusting to the pain or the sense of accepting it, but not being so bothered by it," said Dr. Lisa Lombard, a licensed clinical psychologist.

During hypnotherapy, the body is relaxed and the mind opens to problem solving.

"We look at where a person's strengths are and build on what they are already doing that might be providing them with satisfaction, with appropriate rewards," Lombard said.

The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis said the treatments can be used for gastrointestinal disorders, allergies and high blood pressure.

Experts said hypnotherapy can help pave the road to recovery from opioid addiction.

"You can literally do things like every time you see the color red, you become more and more confident and strong in your conviction to remain opioid-free," Lombard said.

For McNeilly, the unconscious mind held the answer to a speedy, less painful recovery.

"I don't know that everybody gets the same results, but for me, it was absolutely wonderful and successful," McNeilly said.

Experts said hypnotherapy doesn't actually cause pain to leave the body, but allows the brain to adjust to the sensation of pain.

About the Authors: