Treatment trends for HIV/AIDS are changing, again. High tech molecular medicine is relying more and more on the oldest of medicaments, the mind of the patient. Toward this end, hypnotherapy is increasingly becoming a common choice.
Following the advent of drugs known as ‘protease inhibitors’ in 1996, AIDS death rates in the USA and other developed countries declined sharply. In combination with similar drugs in an ‘antiretroviral cocktail,’ the new treatment model was termed ‘highly active antiretroviral therapy’ (HAART), and the declared procedure or protocol was to “hit fast and hit hard.” Newly infected individuals were immediately placed on a ‘cocktail’ and encouraged to watch their immune cells (T-lymphocytes) increase as the HIV decreased.
The era of HAART was very exciting for patients, doctors, ancillary providers, caregivers, and the media. Unfortunately, the era of HAART was very short-lived. Long-term toxicity of the medications and the challenges of maintaining very stringent treatment regimens forced a new protocol, ‘observation.’ An HIV-infected individual is now monitored on a regular basis, and when the ‘numbers’ reach a critical level, a cocktail is prescribed. HAART has now become simply ART (Antiretroviral Therapy).
While this new protocol seems to ease certain concerns, there is a certain hazard in ‘observation.’ An HIV-infected client recently complained to me that he felt his doctor was not really doing enough for him. When I probed further, he said that on his last clinic visit he reviewed his previous cell counts with his doctor, had blood drawn, and scheduled another visit in three months. He stated that somehow he wanted his doctor to do more. Looking up, he then commented that what his doctor had done was to send him to see me, the hypnotherapist. I reassured him that his doctor had made a wise decision. Hypnosis would help him to take control of his situation, and increase his ability to endure every treatment that awaited him.
We met for just a few sessions. During that time, he was able to express and resolve some of the feelings he had about becoming infected with HIV. I taught him self-hypnosis and methods to manage stress, reduce pain, nausea, fever, and fatigue. He was also able to greatly increase the length and quality of his sleep. Together, we charted a life-path for him that put him in the driver’s seat, hands firmly placed upon the wheel. Upon completion of our time together, he stated that he now felt he had a great sense of personal control. Living with HIV/AIDS was not something that was happening to him in a blur of medical appointments and treatments. He was a person living his life with goals and ambitions; managing his HIV infection was a part of his life, but not its full measure.
The transformation of this client’s coping ability is a model for the power of hypnotherapy in the management of all health-related challenges, not just HIV/AIDS. It is well documented that patients who take an active role in their treatments have better outcomes. It is equally well documented that hypnotherapy helps to enhance this active role. The myriad of techniques and processes a hypnotherapist may employ are tremendously helpful, from progressive relaxation to reduce tension and anxiety, to inner journeys or dialogues to resolve conflict. These interventions bring individuals into a greater understanding of themselves. More than simply alleviating symptoms, they also help clients to access and evaluate feelings and expectations regarding their health challenges. In turn, this greater understanding can dramatically impact attitude, the most potent of all curatives.
Because hypnotherapy is so powerful in helping to mobilize the “will to heal,” I have begun to argue for it to be the first protocol employed in the management of all health challenges. I founded an organization, First Medicines, to fulfill this mission and recently traveled to Geneva, Switzerland to speak about this at the United Nations. I implored UNAIDS and the World Health Organization to take advantage of the growing registry of First Medicines programs and practitioners in its global AIDS outreach. While in Geneva, I was fortunate to meet a doctor from Nigeria who invited me to help him in his village clinics. One day in conversation he informed me that another member of our delegation was currently in treatment for prostate cancer. He said he was very impressed with the discipline with which our friend managed his well being, taking care to eat well and get plenty of rest. He related that many in his country would, upon hearing this news, go to a corner and die. This despair at illness is not unique to Nigeria, but perhaps with hypnotherapy this sense of helplessness could be converted to hope for all suffering, everywhere.
Treatment trends are indeed undergoing great changes. Progressive medical providers are now treating people, not diseases. As this paradigm continues to shift, greater importance will be placed on empowering and inspiring patients to take control of their treatments and outcomes. First Medicines, through its continued efforts to train hypnotherapists worldwide and lobby for greater application in medical treatment is leading the movement to make hypnotherapy, indeed, the first protocol.
Timothy L. Trujillo