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Autogenic training

Professor Edzard Ernst sets out his thoughts on autogenic training – and why it may be of some use to GPs

How many times have I been asked by commentators on this blog to write about autogenic training (AT)?

This has put me in an awkward position: on the one hand, I am interested in AT (we have probably conducted more research in this area than any other unit). On the other hand, I rarely do what people tell me to do (ask my wife!). But here it finally is – a comment on AT (it would probably have come months earlier, had it not been for the bullying).

Most GPs might not know what AT is. It could be described as an auto-hypnotic technique. Patients learn it in a series of supervised small group sessions and subsequently should do AT at home on a regular basis.

AT is easy to learn, costs very little and there is encouraging evidence that it generates deep relaxation. This effect, in turn, is useful in several clinical areas – for instance, for controlling anxiety, headache, insomnia or hypertension.

Perhaps surprisingly, the most recent study of AT comes from Japan (AT was developed in Germany) and suggests that IBS patients significantly benefit from this treatment. Shinozaki et al1 treated 21 IBS patients either with AT for eight weeks or they were given sessions of nutritional advice. At the end of this period, ‘adequate relief’ was experienced by 82% in the AT group and 30% in the control group. The authors conclude that ‘AT may be useful in the treatment of IBS’.

Unfortunately the study is small, not very rigorous and poorly reported. I am nevertheless inclined to believe its findings. Why? Quite simply because there is good evidence that hypnotherapy is effective for IBS. Thus, in my view at least, the AT results seem quite plausible. But – as so often – more research is required.

Professor Edzard Ernst is professor of complementary medicine at the Peninsula Medical School, University of Exeter.

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