The skin – the body’s largest organ

We tend to ignore our skin until we get a cut or a blemish which reminds us of its existence, often thinking of it as no more than mere wrapping to protect the delicate organs of the body.

To begin to understand its problems, it is important to realize that the skin itself is a complex organ, as complex as the heart, the lungs, and the liver. In fact it is the body’s largest organ, and certainly one of the most sensitive ones.

Clearly, skin must be sensitive to its environment to allow us to function properly. For example, when our skin temperature rises, blood flow through the skin increases and sweat glands secrete liquid whose evaporation prevents the body’s inner temperature from rising; when the temperature drops, vessels constrict to conserve body heat.

To sense and respond to the outside world in this and other ways, the skin contains many millions of nerve endings that are closely connected to the body’s control centre – the brain

Thanks to these close links with the nervous system, the skin is acutely sensitive to and reflective of emotional events as well. Think for a moment of the emotions that cause change in the skin:

  • It turns pale and clammy when we experience anxiety
  • It blushes when we’re embarrassed
  • It glows when we’re happy
  • It produces “goose bumps” when we are fearful
  • When stress occurs in our lives, and we experience emotional difficulties, these emotional states can make conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, or other common conditions of the skin much more likely.

Our skin “feels” our emotions

It is important to understand that we don’t always “feel” emotions in the way we may think that we do. At times our efforts to not express or feel emotion can cause the body to express those very emotions in other ways. Our efforts to protect ourselves from our feelings can cause more trouble than the feelings would themselves as our mind and body find other ways or expressing the very emotions we are trying to mask.

Like other organs of the body, such as the heart which is subject to stress, the skin, in a sense, leads an emotional life of its own filled with the feelings a person has avoided in a fruitless attempt to protect themselves. The skin effectively “feels” for you.  It can’t talk in words but its emotional language may be expressed by an appearance of rashes, eczema or an outbreak of psoriasis.

How does emotional distress trigger these problems? As researchers learn more about the skin, the emotions and the brain , the key discovery appears to be the body’s ability to turn intensely experienced ideas and fantasies into physical realities.

This is the same principle which governs the “fight and flight” response. When we perceive danger, real or imagined,  our bodies go into high alert. Most of the changes happen in our brain, nervous system, lungs, heart and muscles before we are even consciously aware of any danger.

Recent research shows that hypnosis helps psoriasis sufferers

Psoriasis is chronic relapsing skin disease which may be triggered by a number of factors, including trauma, infections and most notably emotional stress. For this reason, researchers at the Department of Dermatology, The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, USA carried out a three month study into the use of hypnotherapy in adults suffering with stable, chronic, plaque-type psoriasis.

Five patients received an active suggestion technique in which positive statements relating specifically to the patient’s skin are given , and six patients received a neutral hypnosis technique in which there is no mention of the disease.

Although this was only a small scale study, it suggests that hypnotherapy may be a useful therapeutic treatment for those patients diagnosed with psoriasis who are highly hypnotisable. However, more comprehensive research on a much larger scale is needed, not only to discover the mechanisms and degrees of healing for psoriasis patients, but also to establish which patients are ‘highly hypnotisable’.

Source : A pilot study of hypnosis in the treatment of patients with psoriasis.
Tausk F; Whitmore SE. Psychotherapy Psychosom, 68:221-5, 1999

Research shows that the brain causes our skin to respond to hypnotic suggestion

In a classic experiment, Japanese doctors Ikemi and Nakagawa hypnotised volunteers and told them that a leaf applied to their skin was a toxic plant, such as a poison ivy. The plant was harmless but the subjects’ skin became red and irritated. The same experimenters applied the real toxic plant to other subjects’ skin after telling them it was innocuous. The expected biological reaction of irritation did not take place.

In 1928, Drs. Heilig and Hoff of the University of Vienna used hypnosis to alleviate outbreaks of oral herpes (cold sores). In a separate experiment, they could also trigger new outbreaks in these patients by reminding them, under hypnosis, of the painful events that had triggered them originally (such as a death in the family) and of the itching and tingling that usually come just before the sores appear.

Drs. Kaneko and Takaishi of the Osaka University Medical School used a similar procedure with hives. Fourteen of the twenty-seven patients they treated made complete or near-complete recoveries; only five reported no benefit. They too could bring the symptoms back with hypnosis, either by suggesting skin irritation directly or by bringing to mind situations that aroused anger.

Additionally, two dozen scientific reports, including several large-scale studies, describe successfully treating warts by using hypnosis. In recent years, many more researchers have effectively applied these techniques to a wide variety of symptoms and conditions.
Rather than dividing illness into “emotional” or “psychosomatic” and “physical,” we need to think of emotions as a factor in all skin problems. This is the principle of “mind-body” medicine.

How hypnotherapy helps Psoriasis

The theory is that through focusing the mind, via relaxation and suggestions, we effect tiny changes in blood flow, body temperature, muscle tension, and immune function which makes enormous differences in the physical processes that produce various skin symptoms.
Hypnosis is an complementary therapy that has been used since ancient times to treat medical problems. Today, it is successfully used with a wide variety of skin conditions as well.