Hypnosis used to reduce kids' pain, anxiety at Montreal Children's Hospital

Koraly Lefrançois was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease last April and has had to undergo some pretty uncomfortable medical procedures at the Montreal Children's Hospital since then.

The nine-year-old has had a catheter inserted into a peripheral vein and threaded through to her heart, in order for lifesaving treatments to be injected. She underwent a biopsy when a growth was discovered on her inner thigh.

In both procedures, a local anesthetic was used to ease her pain. But that does little to soothe anxiety.

That's where hypnosis comes in.

"At first I was stressed, but after, I was less worried," Koraly said. "The hypnosis calmed me down, and I was fine."

Koraly is one of about 80 pediatric patients who participated in what is being touted as a successful pilot project at the Children's — the use of medical hypnosis as a tool to combat stress and pain when undergoing arduous, protracted procedures.

On a pain and discomfort scale of zero to 10 (10 being the highest), the young patients averaged a score of 5.4 without hypnosis, researchers found.

Under hypnosis, the average score drops to 1.4. That's a huge difference, said Johanne L'Écuyer, chief medical imaging technologist at the Children's.

Inspired by hospitals in France

L'Écuyer, who led the project, said the research team started with minor procedures, working their way up to longer, more difficult ones. The project ended in September, and now the use of hypnosis is increasingly common, she said.

"We do more and more. We do even more invasive procedures as we go," L'Écuyer said. 

"The more radiologists are seeing how powerful this is, the more they push to have hypnosis on longer procedures. Once we did a procedure that lasted two hours." 

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The pilot project was initiated at the urging of Quebec's order of medical imaging technologists. The order's director attended a conference in France a few years ago and discovered the practice in use there.

When he returned to the province, he asked L'Écuyer if she'd like to look into it.

She said she brought a team to France to visit hospitals, and "what we saw there was amazing."

'She's somewhere else'

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Koraly, who is now in remission, would dream while hypnotized, according to her medical imaging technologist, Vicky Fortin.

Fortin would tell her young patient a relaxing story while she underwent each procedure.

"You could see her eyes moving under her eyelids, and that tells me that she's dreaming," Fortin recalled.

"She's somewhere else. She's under hypnosis."

Koraly's mother, Anne Zeestraten, said with the hypnosis, her daughter wasn't scared when told she had to undergo a second procedure.

"She was like, 'OK, yeah, just find some other dream.'"