Or maybe just feeling a whole lot better, as IC professor Richard
Schissel helps patients manage pain through hypnosis.
Pain management: Professor Richard Schissel
by Bridget Meeds '91
In a pleasant downtown
office with cream-colored walls and comfortable overstuffed furniture,
Richard Schissel is helping people. But here the Ithaca College
professor of speech-language pathology and audiology is not training
clients to speak more clearly or compensate for hearing loss. Instead,
he's using hypnosis to help clients with chronic pain manage their
conditions. It's a step along his long journey to investigate the
value of integrative medicine.
Schissel, a tall, dynamic man, first encountered
hypnosis in 1995 while experimenting with conventional meditation
talk therapy. "It began to occur to me, as I was meditating, that
if I could give myself some suggestions while I was in this beautiful
meditative trance, maybe I could make this time more productive," he
says. "After doing that for a while, I realized that's basically
Intrigued, Schissel began researching the field. In 1998 he traveled
to New Hampshire, where he took a 100-hour course in hypnosis technique.
Once trained and certified by the National Guild of Hypnotists,
he returned to Ithaca and opened a private hypnotherapy practice
specializing in treating chronic pain patients. These people, who
suffer from excruciating conditions such as fibromyalgia and peripheral
neuropathy, often feel that they have reached the end of their
options with traditional Western medicine.
"Ultimately these patients hit the limit where they cannot safely
increase the dosage of their pain medications," says Schissel. "The
physicians are basically saying, 'We have it diagnosed, we don't
know what's causing it, we don't know what to do about it --- so
good luck.' That's when I come into the picture."
Schissel works with the patient's physician, and often with chiropractors,
acupuncturists, and other integrative health care providers as
well. Schissel plans his treatment in three stages. First, he uses
relaxation techniques to help the patient sleep better, reduce
stress, minimize the side effects of medications (such as nausea),
and focus on the moments when the patient actually feels good.
Second, he uses posthypnotic suggestions to change the patient's
perception of the pain --- from an intolerable burning or stabbing
feeling to a more manageable numb feeling. Finally, he tries to
work with the root cause of the pain, to see if it can be eradicated.
Schissel's technique takes a lot of time, but
he feels that's a big bonus of integrative medicine. Insurance
companies are squeezing
Western doctors, he explains, giving them less time for plain old-fashioned
caring. "Most integrative practitioners can afford to and are willing
to spend far more time with a patient," he says, "so we have a
better understanding of how the pain is affecting their lives.
We can intervene at the point at which the Western physician cannot,
or does not chose to, or cannot afford to. We're providing another
level of treatment for the patient. I think that psychologically,
as well as physically, that's very important. And it's one of the
reasons that integrative modalities can be effective."
Schissel is also exploring and supporting integrative health practices
in other ways. He's on the board of the Ithaca Integrated Community
Wellness Center, a not-for-profit community group that provides
free education about integrative health practices. And he administers
the Ithaca College minor in integrative health studies, which combines
courses from the Schools of Health Sciences and Human Performance,
Humanities and Sciences, and Music. This 21-credit minor, first
offered in spring 2002, already has 12 students. Along with their
coursework, the students also have a capstone experience --- which
this year included an independent-study semester in Hawaii for
one student, an internship in Uganda for another, and an independent-study
course in Australia for another.
Although these activities are added on to his
already busy days as a professor, Schissel finds them useful
tools for his primary
work. "Practicing hynotherapy certainly informs my clinical work
and my teaching," he explains. "It raises my own level of empathy
with clients, and I think I can bring all of that to our students."