Author: Garry Coles

Date: 22 10 2018

Garry Coles, a CNHC registered Hypnotherapist and member of the CNHC Profession Specific Board (PSB) for Hypnotherapy, writes about his experience working in an NHS Oncology Unit...

I’ve being working with the Foundation Centre charity, volunteering once a week in an NHS Oncology Unit at the Royal Surrey County Hospital NHS Trust for over thirteen years. I started volunteering when I was new to hypnotherapy in order to gain experience – and I have never left! Helping patients through their cancer journey is not for everyone however. The environment can be tough, especially when you lose patients you have built relationships with, but it can also be very rewarding.

While working on the NHS Oncology Unit, I get to support the patient through all aspects of their cancer journey - from diagnosis, to fears, phobias and anxieties, pre and post-surgery, treatment side effects, their recovery and much more. I am also involved with patients who are going through palliative elements and end of life care.

To me, over the years, this was just ‘something I did, to give something back, because I could’. I am a hypnotherapist with a scientific and academic background so can’t say I believe in concepts such as karma, but then again….?

Over the years I have learned a lot about cancer and cancer treatments as the hospital enrolled me on many specialist courses. The courses covered aspects of the full cancer patient journey, including overviews of cancer development and treatments, oncology emergencies, survivorship and life after treatment. While studying for an MSc in Clinical Hypnotherapy, I was fortunate enough to become embedded in the Breast Cancer Multidisciplinary Team, enabling me to carry out research into the use of presurgical hypnosis.

The Breast Cancer Multidisciplinary Team is a specialist team at the NHS Oncology Unit consisting of surgeons, radiologists, pathologists, oncologists, radiographer, chemotherapy and breast care nurses. Collectively, they look at test results and formulate treatment plans for each patient. I was invited to join the team as part of my research and attended clinical discussions to ascertain patients who would be suitable for my hypnotherapy research.

My research focused on ‘Presurgical hypnosis and its effects in the recovery quality in wide area excision breast cancer operations’. It consisted of patients completing a gold standard psychological profiling questionnaire (SF-36) on the morning of surgery. Software scoring was then used to formulate a psychological profile and compare against the ‘population norm’. When patients were deduced psychologically as being ‘borderline’ depressive, an intervention group were given scripted hypnosis right before surgery. This hypnotic session gave suggestions for relaxation, pain control, healing, wellbeing amongst other things.

Seven days after surgery the patients completed the same SF-36 profiling questionnaire. They also completed a pain scoring profile with some additional questions. The results were processed with the same scoring software and were subject to additional statistical analysis. The intervention group was compared to a control group and also to previous research carried out around the world. The control group were still scoring psychologically as ‘borderline’ depressive, whereas the hypnosis intervention group had improved compared to ‘population norm’ in most psychological categories. Additionally, the hypnotherapy group indicated that they were perceiving less pain. Further research indicated that in addition to patients perceiving less pain, the intervention group were generally prescribed lower dosages of pain relief medication.

From my research and experience I was able to devise treatment protocols, hypnotherapy scripts and techniques that were best suited to working with cancer patients. Since my research concluded, I have been invited to present masterclasses on my protocols and techniques and speak at conferences and speaking engagements around the world to share my knowledge of working with cancer patients.

This volunteer role has given me so much and makes me question - does karma exist? Is this it in action? I have absolutely no idea, all I know is that ‘just giving something back’ has had profound positive consequences for me!