Soviet Hypnotherapy for Skin Disorders

Soviet Hypnotherapy for Skin Disorders

Copyright (c) Donald Robertson, 2010.  All rights reserved.

These data were reported by I.A. Zhukov in a paper presented at, apparently, the last conference on psychotherapy in the Soviet Union, held in 1956.  Although this is an old study, and doesn’t provide enough information to meet modern research design criteria, it has the benefit of a control group and the figures come from a reasonably large sample of 580 patients.  Participants were treated for different skin conditions in spa resorts at Sochi, Matsesta and the Caucausus, where hypnotherapy was combined with recuperation, sulphur mineral baths and sunbathing.  The patients were mainly (about 92%) women, apparently aged between 20-60, their skin conditions were of one to twenty-five years in duration, and Zhukov says their case histories contained “in all instances some psychological traumata.”  He provides separate data on those patients presenting with eczema, neuro-dermatitis, and psoriasis, which he says in most cases “was quite extensive and affected the head, the trunk, and the legs and feet.”

Comparison of Hypnotherapy and Spa Treatment

Half of the patients constituted a control group who received spa treatment as usual, whereas the other half, the experimental treatment group, received the same spa treatment plus hypnotherapy.  Treatment consisted of seventeen sessions of direct suggestion hypnotherapy based on a Pavlovian conditioning model.  This approach usually involved prolonged periods of deep hypnotic relaxation combined with suggestions of symptom remission and general well-being.  Zheltakov, who presented to the same conference, observed that many of these dermatological patients also suffered from neurotic anxiety and problems sleeping, which might now be described as more “stress-related” or psychosomatic cases.  Zhukov describes his technique as a form of Braidism,

All our hypnotic treatments were conducted by means of the so-called fascination technique (involving staring at some bright object), the spoken word conveying the required suggestion.  Evening hours were chosen for the hypnotic sessions, insofar as this time was most compatible with the resort regimen and permitted us to extend the patients’ sleep to ten or twelve hours.  the sessions were conducted in the patients’ own words.

On average, the control group, who received spa treatment only, reported marked or complete improvement in 23% of cases.  By contrast, those who received hypnotherapy in addition to treatment as usual were marked or completely improved in 63% of cases.  These figures were broadly similar for different conditions, although neuro-dermatitis patients exhibited most improvement with 70% of the hypnotherapy group showing at least marked improvement, compared to 27% of the treatment as usual control group.

There was a follow-up of this study of eczema, neuro-dermatitis, and psoriasis.  Practically all the patients of the experimental group and many patients of the control group were contacted by means of a questionnaire, and 229 answers were received [i.e., a 39% response rate].  The answers overwhelmingly testified to the permanent nature of the improvements.

According to these data, the vast majority of patients, 85% in the treatment as usual group and 98% in the hypnotherapy group, reported at least slight improvement.  However, whereas only 10% of patients in the spa treatment control group were classed as “completely recovered”, three times as many, 31% of the hypnotherapy patients met criteria for full recovery. 

Zheltakov, M.M.  (1961).  ‘The use of hypnosis and conditioned-reflex therapy in dermatology’, in Winn, Ralph B. (ed.), Psychotherapy in the Soviet Union.
Zhukov, I.A.  (1961).  ‘Hypnotherapy of dermatoses in resort treatment’, in Winn, Ralph B. (ed.), Psychotherapy in the Soviet Union.