Virtual reality hypnosis



Scientific evidence for the viability of hypnosis as a treatment for pain has flourished over the past two decades (Rainville, Duncan, Price, Carrier and Bushnell, 1997; Montgomery, DuHamel and Redd, 2000; Lang and Rosen, 2002; Patterson and Jensen, 2003). However its widespread use has been limited by factors such as the advanced expertise, time and effort required by clinicians to provide hypnosis, and the cognitive effort required by patients to engage in hypnosis.

The theory in developing virtual reality hypnosis was to apply three-dimensional, immersive, virtual reality technology to guide the patient through the same steps used when hypnosis is induced through an interpersonal process. Virtual reality replaces many of the stimuli that the patients have to struggle to imagine via verbal cueing from the therapist. The purpose of this paper is to explore how virtual reality may be useful in delivering hypnosis, and to summarize the scientific literature to date. We will also explore various theoretical and methodological issues that can guide future research.

In spite of the encouraging scientific and clinical findings, hypnosis for analgesia is not universally used in medical centres. One reason for the slow acceptance is the extensive provider training required in order for hypnosis to be an effective pain management modality. Training in hypnosis is not commonly offered in medical schools or even psychology graduate curricula. Another reason is that hypnosis requires far more time and effort to administer than an analgesic pill or injection. Hypnosis requires training, skill and patience to deliver in medical centres that are often fast-paced and highly demanding of clinician time. Finally, the attention and cognitive effort required for hypnosis may be more than patients in an acute care setting, who may be under the influence of opiates and benzodiazepines, are able to impart. It is a challenge to make hypnosis a standard part of care in this environment.

Over the past 25 years, researchers have been investigating ways to make hypnosis more standardized and accessible. There have been a handful of studies that have looked at the efficacy of using audiotapes to provide the hypnotic intervention (Johnson and Wiese, 1979; Hart, 1980; Block, Ghoneim, Sum Ping and Ali, 1991; Enqvist, Bjorklund, Engman and Jakobsson, 1997; Eberhart, Doring, Holzrichter, Roscher and Seeling, 1998; Perugini, Kirsch, Allen, et al., 1998; Forbes, MacAuley, Chiotakakou-Faliakou, 2000; Ghoneim, Block, Sarasin, Davis and Marchman, 2000). These studies have yielded mixed results. Generally, we can conclude that audio-taped hypnosis is more effective than no treatment at all, but less effective than the presence of a live hypnotherapist. Grant and Nash (1995) were the first to use computer-assisted hypnosis as a behavioural measure to assess hypnotizability. They used a digitized voice that guided subjects through a procedure and tailored software according to the subject's unique responses and reactions. However, it utilized conventional two-dimensional screen technology that required patients to focus their attention on a computer screen, making them vulnerable to any type of distraction that might enter the environment. Further, the two-dimensional technology did not present compelling visual stimuli for capturing the user's attention. Copyright © 2009 British Society of Experimental & Clinical Hypnosis. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.