The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute define a stroke as when oxygen-rich blood that traditionally flows to the brain has been blocked. Almost immediately, brain cells begin to die when this happens. If there are significant brain cells that are damaged during this moment, a stroke is the end result. The body signals that a stroke is happening when there is a sudden weakness in the arms and legs and overall outer extremities. A person may also have trouble speaking and seeing at the same time. Recent research indicates that hypnosis can be used to assist a person and regaining motor skills that have been damaged during a stroke event.
A 2006 study from Harvard University reported on several clinical hypnosis case studies working with six individuals that had previously experienced a stroke. The premise of the study was to highlight how the mind can overcome previous thinking of physical non-use of extremities due to having a stroke. Each candidate had to undergo several visioning or imagining sessions where they were encouraged to identify with moving upper limbs that had not been used in years. Each candidate also was dominant with their right hand prior to the stroke.
The hypnosis sessions were carried out in three stages alternating between imagining using motor skills prior to the stroke followed by visualizing the same task being completed successfully after the stroke with their eyes closed. By the third stage of the hypnosis sessions, confidence levels were increased which directly influenced their performance. The researchers also observed greater improvements in each of the subjects’ range of motion as well. During follow-up, each candidate also mentioned that the confidence during the hypnosis sessions improve their outlook on life as well as gave them greater motivation to move on with their lives.
And 2013 issue of Cortex, researchers focused on identifying whether or not hypnosis could be influenced if a patient’s right hemisphere was previously damaged. They conducted a study with sixteen patients who were stroke victims which had damaged either the left or right hemisphere. The groups are split evenly between men and women and they all were right-handed. Each individual volunteered to be a part of the study is a part of the local university medical center outreach.
There were five men and four women whose left hemisphere was damaged due to having a stroke while the other seven had damage to their right hemisphere. While the initial research was to determine if there would be extreme differences in results with damage to either hemisphere, scientists’ findings were quite the contrary. It was traditionally thought that the left hemisphere is associated with linguistic abilities which would generate a greater willingness to be open to hypnotic suggestions. However, the patients who had damage to the right hemisphere were just as successful as their counterparts. While the differences between the two hemispheres were highly anticipated, researchers concluded that more studies need to be conducted to form a stronger hypothesis.
In the 2012 issue of Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, another study was done to explore whether or not the right hemisphere would be open to hypnotic suggestions following a stroke event. In this study, a 58-year-old woman participated in 20 min. hypnosis sessions after having a stroke two years prior. Her stroke had impaired her frontal and temporal areas of the right hemisphere.
This patient had eight hypnosis sessions that lasted over three weeks. Follow-up testing was also conducted after each session. Relaxation techniques were initially applied followed by more direct suggestions to manipulate hand movements. The patient started showing significant range of motion after the third session. Researchers attributed the success due to continuous hypnosis sessions to elevate her trance state. By the fifth and sixth sessions, the patient’s results became more reliable and consistent.
One point to highlight is the fact that this patient had greater improvement when she was able to concentrate on the task at hand. On several occasions during the relaxation techniques, the patient recalled other scenarios that happened in her life at a younger age which took her off task. Whenever there was a lack of focus, this patient was unresponsive to the hypnotic suggestions. It was only after the clinical hypnotherapist was able to get her back on task that she was able to increase her range of motion using her left hand. Ultimately, the researchers were able to get the patient to anchor her experience with hypnosis with their daily routines which proved optimal.
There continues to be the frontiers of development in the areas in which clinical hypnosis can be used to complement the more traditional medical treatments. In this case, patients have been seen an increased range of motion as well as improved confidence after following hypnotic suggestions to improve their lies after a damaging stroke incident. As more research develops in this area, there’ll be continued crossover therapeutics employing both traditional and alternative methods.