Using hypnotic suggestion in the rehabilitation of working memory capacity after acquired brain injury: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial

Trials. 2024 Jan 2;25(1):11. doi: 10.1186/s13063-023-07867-z.


Objectives: Establishment of effective evidence-based interventions in rehabilitation of working memory (WM) deficits after acquired brain injury (ABI) is sorely needed. Despite robust evidence for the efficiency of clinical hypnosis in a wide range of clinical conditions, and improved understanding of mechanisms underlying its effects, the potential of clinical hypnosis in cognitive rehabilitation is underexplored. A recent study has shown large effects of hypnotic suggestion on WM capacity following ABI. This randomized controlled trial aims to evaluate and explore the replicability of these findings and examine the generalization of treatment effects. The study will also explore possible mechanisms of change.

Methods: Ninety patients will be recruited from the Sunnaas Rehabilitation Hospital. Inclusion criteria are nonprogressive ABI, minimum 12-month post-injury, ongoing WM deficits, and age between 18 and 67 years. Patients will be randomized to either (a) an intervention group receiving four weekly 1-h sessions with induction and hypnosis, (b) an active control group receiving four weekly 1-h sessions of induction and mindfulness, or (c) a passive control group without intervention. The targeted procedure consists of suggestions about enhancing WM functions, for example through the instantiation of preinjury WM capacity in the present using age regression or through visualizations of brain plasticity. The non-targeted suggestions contain no explicit mention of ABI- or WM-related abilities. Each participant will be assessed at baseline, immediately after intervention, and 6 months after baseline. The primary outcome is the WM index from WAIS-IV and self- and informant-reported WM subscale from BRIEF-A, a questionnaire exploring executive functioning in everyday life. Secondary outcomes include a cognitive composite score derived from tests measuring processing speed, executive functions, learning capacity and memory, and self-reported measures of emotional distress, quality of life, and community integration. Exploratory measures include self-rated ABI and WM-related self-efficacy.

Discussion: Rehabilitation of impaired WM after ABI has hitherto yielded limited transfer effects beyond the training material, i.e., improvement effects on everyday WM capacity, and clinical trials of new interventions are thus warranted. Long-standing empirical evidence demonstrates that hypnosis is an effective therapeutic technique in a wide range of conditions, and recent exploratory research has suggested a high efficacy of hypnosis in improving WM capacity in patients with ABI. However, these extraordinary findings need replication in studies applying scientifically rigorous designs. If successful, our ambition is to provide recommendations and materials to implement hypnotic suggestion as an adjunct treatment following ABI. Study findings may inform future studies exploring the use of clinical hypnosis in other areas of rehabilitation, such as mild TBI, and in other neurological conditions where WM deficit is prominent.

Trial registration: NCT05287542. Registered on March 2022 PROTOCOL VERSION: Protocol version 2.0, December 2023.

Keywords: Acquired brain injury; Clinical hypnosis; Clinically relevant changes; Cognitive rehabilitation; Everyday functioning; Medical hypnosis; Self-efficacy; Working memory capacity.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial Protocol

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Brain Injuries* / psychology
  • Executive Function
  • Humans
  • Memory Disorders / rehabilitation
  • Memory, Short-Term*
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality of Life
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Young Adult

Associated data