Telehypnosis "more effective" than face-to-face therapy
14:30 29 January 2002 by Gaia Vince
Telehypnosis, conducted via a videolink, is more effective than face-to-face therapy, a small UK study suggests.
Susan Simpson, a clinical psychologist at Royal Cornhill Hospital, Aberdeen, treated 11 patients in the remote Shetland Islands in Scotland using a video link-up. This allowed her to see her patients during their one and a half hour-long individual sessions.
The patients suffered from eating disorders, insomnia and phobias. Four reported feeling considerably more relaxed and much more confident about dealing with their problems following telehypnosis, compared with normal hypnosis, Simpson found. However, she has yet to investigate the effect on symptoms of a programme of telehypnosis.
Remote hypnosis offers patients an enhanced sense of control over the procedure, Simpson thinks. "They say they feel they have more personal space and feel less self-conscious about being watched - particularly patients with eating disorders," she told New Scientist.
But Tom Connelly, a spokesman for the British Society of Clinical Hypnosis, says that while certain patients, such as agoraphobics, may benefit from therapy in their own home, the experience of visiting a professional must not be underestimated.
"Visiting a therapist at their office brings with it an element of prestige and expectation, and with that comes the motivation to improve. We tend to watch a television screen in a relaxed, less critical way," Connelly says.
Finger movementsSimpson's patients sat on their own in either their GP's surgeries, or rooms in a local hospital. Screens linked to six ISDN lines - three audio and three visual - allowed both Simpson and the patient to zoom in and out, alter the volume and choose what to focus on.
"At the beginning of the session the patient looks at the screen while I talk them through the hypnosis. Then they close their eyes and I monitor their relaxation on the screen by asking them to signal how relaxed they are through finger movements," Simpson explains.
"It's almost like sitting face-to-face. There is a tiny delay, but the quality is so good that it's not that tiring staring at the screen."
Small communitiesRemote hypnosis also offers patients more privacy, Simpson says. "These patients live in small communities; if they get therapy from someone in Aberdeen, at least they know they're not going to bump into their therapist in the supermarket."
The results offer hope to people living in remote or rural areas who would otherwise find it too expensive or impractical to undergo hypnosis, she says.
Simpson is presenting her results at a Royal Society of Medicine conference on telemedicine in London.