The results appear in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis.
"This is an interesting finding because it begins to shed light on what is it, specifically, about hypnotic relaxation therapy that reduces the hot flashes," said Dr. Gary Elkins, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor's College of Arts and Sciences, who has conducted several studies on hypnotic relaxation therapy. "The finding may indicate that areas of the brain activated by imagery may be identical to those activated by actual perceived events. Consequently, it may be that while a woman suffering hot flashes imagines a cool place, she also feels cool rather than the heat of a hot flash."
While a previous Baylor study has shown that hot flashes can be reduced by up to 68 percent in breast cancer survivors by utilizing hypnotic relaxation therapy, the specific mental imagery used by women for reduction of hot flashes is a new finding.
The Baylor researchers surveyed the 51 breast cancer survivors who participated in a hypnosis intervention study for the treatment of their hot flashes. Participants were asked to identify their own personal preferences for mental imagery for reduction of hot flashes prior to each session. Some participants described actual places they had visited, while other described generalized imagery they preferred.
The results show:
• All participants showed a preference for images associated with coolness, while none used imagery associated with warmth. In fact, when a participant used mental imagery associated with a warm fire, she became relaxed, however the hot flashes did not decrease.
• The most common themes utilized by the participants included cool mountains, water, air or wind, snow, trees, leaves and forests.
• Of the themes, 27 percent of participants visualized water associated with coolness such as a cool waterfall or rain shower. 17.6 percent pictured cool air or wind and 16.2 percent pictured cool mountains. 11.5 percent visualized a cool forest or leaves and 6.8 percent pictured snow. 20.9 percent pictured other things like a cool movie theater or frost on a winter morning.
"These findings really give guidance to what women respond to," Elkins said. "This study supports the idea that the most effective images are those that are generated by the participant themselves, in relation to their own perceptions and life experiences."