French firefighters learn hypnopsis to calm trauma victims

FRANCE - Look me straight in the eye. Your mind is emptying, your body is relaxing, says the firefighter, using the calming words of hypnosis to help a trauma victim - a technique being pioneered by fire crews in the eastern French region of Alsace.

At the Haguenau fire station, 120 firefighters have been trained in basic medical hypnosis which they can use to soothe someone trapped under rubble or in a car following an accident, or even a person suffering an asthma attack.

The idea is that hypnotherapy can complement traditional first aid assistance, reported AFP.

"These are verbal, gesticular and respiratory techniques that aim to ease pain and anxiety, but that obviously doesn't replace traditional first aid," said Ms Cecile Colas-Nguyen, a nurse and member of the fire brigade, and a trainer in hypnosis.

While firefighters arriving on the scene of an accident get to work tending to the injured or cutting a victim free, staff trained in hypnosis establish a more personal link with the person and divert their attention away from the trauma of the scene.


Typically, the firefighters speak in a calm and measured voice and are careful to avoid any negative words. Instead of focusing on the person's pain, the emphasis is on their well-being.

"While my colleagues take care of your safety, your mind will take off to the ski slopes and your body is going to stay here," a young firefighter at a training exercise tells a pretend victim who has confided a love of winter sports.

Haguenau station manager David Ernenwein said he is "convinced" that the method is useful.

"We have all noticed that when we hold someone's hand, things go better, even if we did not label it as 'hypnosis'. The first thing that we can do to help people is to calm them down, and this technique has given us the tools to be able to do that, to help people suffer less," he says.

For the moment, this use of hypnosis is unique to Alsace but Mr Yves Durrmann, the brigade's chief doctor, said he believes firefighters all over France should use it.

Officials at the Interior Ministry are cautiously optimistic about the Alsace experiment.

"We have known for a while that hypnosis works. It is not a placebo," said Mr Stephane Donnadieu, a medically-trained firefighter and advisor to France's rescue operations directorate. But you need properly trained people. That is the challenge, as crews only receive short training."


In Singapore, more women in recent years have been opting for hypnobirthing techniques rather than drugs to relieve the pain of childbirth.

They learn breathing and visualisation techniques in the belief that it can help them achieve a relatively stress-free and successful labour, reported The Straits Times in 2011.

The use of hypnobirthing as a non-medical form of pain relief has been shown in studies to benefit women in labour. They have shorter labours, use no drugs for pain relief and expend less energy, said hypnobirthing practitioners in the article.

In a small study of six Iranian women who had normal vaginal deliveries, published in the International Journal Of Clinical And Experimental Hypnosis in 2009, all said they felt strong and alert rather than tired during labour.

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