Researchers in the United States are investigating virtual reality hypnosis to help manage depression and anxiety in chronic pain.
Clinical trials began this summer at Arlington Heights in Illinois with patients using a head-mounted display to immerse themselves in a 3-dimensional world of sights and sounds. The technology guides patients through the same steps clinicians or hypnotherapists would use during hypnosis.
The annual meeting of the American Pain Society was told that patients with chronic pain often find it difficult to visualise the images necessary for deepening trance states, so it is hoped the computer-simulated environment will overcome the problem.
Clinical care consultant Lynda Wargolet explained: "The approach has already shown significant efficacy in case studies."
The overlap between pain and psychiatric conditions is particularly evident in chronic syndromes such as headache, low back pain, nerve pain, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Studies investigating the neural substrates of chronic pain reveal shared biological mechanisms with anxiety and depression.