Forget trendy alternative therapies - according to a new report, therapeutic hypnosis is one of the few proven to help women through the menopause.
Like many women going through the menopause, marketing director Amanda J. often suffered hot flushes at the worst possible moment. At one crucial business meeting last year, she felt so hot and sweaty that she had to nip to the loo and dry her hair with paper towels.
Shortly afterwards, she acted on a friend’s advice to try hypnotherapy. “It was fantastic,” said the 55-year-old. “Within four months, the hot flushes had gone. It’s very difficult to say categorically that it was only the hypnotherapy, but it was very powerful and cathartic and I do believe it helped.”
Many women might be skeptical about being hypnotised out of menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats, which are caused by a change in the balance of the body’s sex hormones. However, a new report published last week suggested that of all the alternative treatments offered to women – from herbal supplements such as black cohosh, evening primrose oil and ginseng to yoga and acupuncture – hypnotherapy was almost uniquely effective in alleviating symptoms of the menopause.
Having reviewed the results of rigorous clinical studies on the topic, a panel of experts commissioned by the North American Menopause Society concluded there was solid evidence that both clinical hypnosis (hypnotherapy) and cognitive behavioural therapy were beneficial. One study showed that women who had hypnotherapy five times a week had a dramatic reduction in the number and severity of hot flushes. By contrast, there was little evidence that exercise, vitamins or 'known' herbal remedies, gave any relief at all.
At first, Amanda was nervous about being hypnotised. “The first session was about getting to know me and clearing out my emotional baggage,” said Amanda, who is married with two grown-up sons. “I sat in an armchair and my hypnotherapist got me to imagine walking down steps, each step taking to a deeper level of relaxation. I wasn’t asleep, but I was very comfortable and relaxed. Then I imagined walking into a barn in the middle of a field, and in there were all the things I wanted to get rid of. Things I thought I’d forgotten, such as bad experiences at work from 20 years before popped back into my head. I packed them all into a ‘suitcase’ and got rid of them. It was a very profound experience.”
In subsequent hypnosis sessions, Amanda was asked to imagine stepping into a cool sea or feeling a cool breeze and then coached in self-hypnosis so that she could visualise that same body-cooling sensation when hot flushes struck her in her everyday life, leading to actual relief of her symptoms.
London broadcaster and journalist-turned-clinical hypnotherapist Lowri Turner uses a similar technique with her patients. “Consciously, you may say to yourself: ‘I really don’t want to panic when I have a hot flush.’ But then the hot flush hits and your unconscious kicks in, making you worry that people will see you’re sweating or red in the face”. “Hypnotherapy is like a massage for your mind. It allows you to address those unconscious mechanisms that are playing on your symptoms and quieten them down.”
In the run-up to the menopause, oestrogen levels decrease, causing the ovaries to stop producing an egg every month. As well as embarrassing hot flushes, this can disturb sleep and cause mood swings, vaginal dryness and loss of libido.
However, fewer than one in 10 women seeks medical advice, with most either grinning and bearing it or resorting to alternative therapies.
Dr Janet Carpenter, who led the expert panel for the North American Menopause Society, said: “Many women try one thing after another, and it is months before they stumble on something that truly works. This information will be critical in maximising the selection of the most effective therapies.”
Turner said she was not surprised by the society’s findings. “The menopause is not an illness, it’s a transition,” she said. “It’s not like you can just take a pill for it because it is as much about your emotional and spiritual wellbeing, especially your self confidence as you age and your changing role when the kids are leaving home.”