John Gruzelier, Andy Champion, Paul Fox, Matthew Rollin, Sheena McCormack,
Pepe Catalan, Simon Barton, Don Henderson
Contemporary Hypnosis, 27 February 2006
Individual differences in personality, in particular cognitive activation, withdrawal and hypnotic susceptibility were examined in a study of self‐hypnosis training in patients with chronic and severe herpes simplex virus (HSV‐2), genital herpes, along with depression, anxiety and activation ratings. Immune parameters were assayed before and after the six‐week training.
Self‐hypnosis almost halved recurrence rate, benefiting 65% of the patients. Furthermore clinical responders demonstrated an increase in natural killer cell (NKC) cytotoxicity of herpes infected cells as well as up‐regulation of nonspecific immune parameters. In replication of a student exam stress study (Gruzelier, Smith, Nagy and Henderson, 2001a) cognitive activation was positively associated with immune function; with improvement in herpes recurrence, improvements in specific NKC cytotoxicity, baseline functional NKC activity and energy ratings, and was unrelated to frequency of practice. No other measure of personality or affect was associated with immune system up‐regulation and improvements in health.
Depression and, to a lesser extent, anxiety improved independently of herpes outcome. Depression and/or anxiety at baseline were positively associated with withdrawal, particularly the affective aspects, and neuroticism, which were associated with immune down‐regulation seen in NKC counts and NKC functional activity at baseline.
Hypnotizability was associated positively with aspects of immune system up‐regulation and negatively with clinical depression. Immune system up‐regulation in clinical responders correlated positively with frequency of self‐hypnosis practice.
This is possibly the first evidence for the efficacy of self‐hypnosis training for a chronic medical illness. Evidence (1) of the benefits to health and (2) of the viral specificity of the immune changes, here in the form of increased cytotoxicity of NKC for cells infected with the herpes virus, gives credence to the value of a psychological intervention for immunity; evidence for which is scarce in the field of psychoneuroimmunology.
The predictive ability of cognitive activation for response to hypnotherapy is in keeping with the preferential effects on both immune parameters and health of hypnosis instructions which require the generation of dynamic imagery in contrast to instructions of passive relaxation imagery (Gruzelier, Levy, Williams and Henderson, 2001b).