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Complementary & Alternative Medicine
Index Of Alternative Therapies And Modalities
When deciding to begin a complementary therapy or to see a complementary practitioner, first speak with your primary health care provider.
Before engaging in any complementary medical technique, you should be aware that many of these techniques have not been evaluated in scientific studies. Often, only limited information is available about their safety and effectiveness. Each state and each discipline has its own rules about whether practitioners are required to be professionally licensed. If you plan to visit a practitioner, it is recommended that you choose one who is licensed by a recognized national organization and who abides by the organization's standards. It is always best to speak with your primary health care provider before starting any new therapeutic technique.
Autogenic therapy uses visual imagery and body awareness to promote a state of deep relaxation. A detached but alert state of mind called "passive concentration" must be achieved for autogenic therapy exercises to be carried out. People participating in autogenic therapy are taught relaxation and body awareness techniques. It is believed that these approaches can then be used lifelong to promote a more healthy lifestyle, allowing people to call on their own capacity for self healing and stress reduction.
Autogenic therapy was developed in the 20th century by Dr. Johannes Schultz, a psychiatrist and neurologist. Dr. Shultz was influenced by the research of Professor Oscar Vogt, a psychiatrist and neurophysiologist who studied psychosomatic medicine. In the 1940s, Dr. Wolfgang Luthe added repetitive therapeutic suggestions to the autogenic technique.
In autogenic therapy, achievement of a detached but alert state of mind called "passive concentration" is thought to bring about physical changes. Supporters of this technique assert that autogenic therapy enhances healing and the recuperative powers of the body. Autogenic therapy has been said to rebalance mental faculties and bring closer harmony between the hemispheres of the brain.
Autogenic therapy consists of six basic focusing techniques:
- Heaviness in the limbs
- Warmth in the limbs
- Cardiac regulation
- Centering on breathing
- Warmth in the upper abdomen
- Coolness in the forehead
These techniques are based on autosuggestion; in this way, autogenic therapy is similar to meditation or self-hypnosis. A person using autogenic therapy assumes a comfortable position, concentrates on a goal and uses visual imagination and verbal cues to relax the body. Autogenic therapy may involve imagining a peaceful place followed by focusing on different physical sensations, moving from the feet to the head.
The possible mechanism of action of autogenic therapy is not fully understood. It has been suggested that it works in ways similar to hypnosis or biofeedback.
Scientists have studied autogenic therapy for the following health problems:
Preliminary research reports some improvements in gastrointestinal disorders (constipation, diarrhea, gastritis, stomach ulcers, stomach ache, chronic nausea and vomiting or spasm), although more studies are necessary before a recommendation can be made. Patients with ulcers should be evaluated by a health care provider.
Initial studies suggest possible benefits of autogenic therapy in people with heart or blood vessel disorders (palpitations, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, cold hands or feet). However, this research is preliminary, and additional studies are necessary before a conclusion can be made. Patients with these potentially severe conditions should be evaluated by a health care provider.
Anxiety, stress, depression
Studies of autogenic therapy for anxiety report mixed results, and it is not clear if there is any benefit. For example, one randomized controlled trial suggests autogenic training may play a role in reducing anxiety in patients undergoing coronary angioplasty (catheterization). Another randomized controlled trial found cancer patients receiving autogenic training to have an improvement in stress levels. Early evidence suggests that autogenic therapy may not be an appropriate treatment for depression.
Some researchers have reported improvements in HIV complications, including decreased pain, night sweats, weight loss and diarrhea. There are also controversial reports of longer survival, although these findings were noted before the current era of HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy), which has significantly lengthened survival time in HIV. Research in these areas is not conclusive, and further studies would be helpful.
Early evidence reports some benefits of autogenic therapy in people who hyperventilate, although further research is necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Preliminary research suggests autogenic relaxation may reduce stress and psychosomatic complaints in children and adolescents. Further research is needed before clear recommendations can be made.
Effects of autogenic and imagery training on shooting performance in a biathlon has been observed but not proven to help.
Autogenic training has been used on a group of early-stage cancer patients to reduce stress-related behaviors and improve immune system responses. It has also been used to improve sleep quality in cancer patients, reduce the onset of sleep, and increase sleep duration, although any evidence of benefit is unclear for these uses.
Respiratory autogenic training has been studied but not yet proven for treatment of labor pain.
Early study suggests that autogenic training may increase energy and vigor but decrease physical and emotional problems for people with multiple sclerosis.
Electromyograph and thermal biofeedback, autogenic and progressive relaxation, and symptom-specific recommendations may have potential benefit in patients with neurocardiogenic syncope, but further study is needed.
Obsessive compulsive disorder
Behavioral therapy is often used to treat obsessive compulsive disorder. However, autogenic therapy is currently viewed as a placebo for this condition.
Phantom limb pain
Phantom limb pain is a noxious, painful sensation that is perceived to occur in an amputated limb. Thermal/autogenic biofeedback sessions may reduce pain, but further study is needed.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Autogenic training, along with other mind-body techniques, has been studied but not yet proven for its effect on post-traumatic stress symptoms in war-traumatized high school students.
Sports or other physical injuries
The mindset can increase confidence and may therefore decrease the number or severity of injuries experienced by athletes. However, a study of ballet dancers found that although a combination of autogenic training and other coping skills reduced injuries, autogenic training alone did not affect the number or severity of injuries in the dancers.
Autogenic therapy has been studied for a number of other conditions, including asthma, eczema, glaucoma, headache (migraine, chronic, menstrual-related and tension), facial pain (myofascial paid disorders) and thyroid disease. This research is early and is not conclusive. More research would be helpful in these areas.
Autogenic therapy has been suggested for many other uses, based on tradition or on scientific theories. However, these uses have not been thoroughly studied in humans, and there is limited scientific evidence about safety or effectiveness. Some of these suggested uses are for conditions that are potentially life-threatening. Consult with a health care provider before using autogenics for any use.
Blepharospasm (involuntary winking)
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Decreased need for pain medication
Degenerative joint disease
Enhanced athletic performance
Improved performance at work
Improved stress hormone levels
Increased survival time in illnesses
Irritable bowel syndrome
| Ischemic heart disease|
Low back pain
Neuralgia (nerve pain)
Phantom limb pain
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Quality of life
Recovery from heart attack
Reduced heart attack risk
Substance abuse disorders
Ventricular (heart) arrhythmias
Autogenic therapy is thought to be safe for most people, although safety has not been thoroughly studied. Some people may experience a sharp increase or decrease in blood pressure when they do autogenic therapy exercises. If you have abnormal blood pressure or a heart condition, or if you are taking blood pressure drugs, speak with your health care provider before starting autogenic therapy.
Before beginning a program to learn autogenic therapy, have a physical exam and discuss possible physiological effects with your health care provider. If you have a potentially severe health condition such as diabetes, heart disease or high or low blood pressure, practice autogenic therapy only under the supervision of a qualified health care provider.
Autogenic therapy should not replace more proven treatments (for example, prescription drugs, diet or lifestyle changes) for severe illnesses. Autogenic therapy is not recommended for children younger than 5 or for people with severe mental or emotional disorders. If you become anxious or restless during or after autogenic therapy exercises, stop autogenic therapy or continue only under the supervision of a professional autogenic therapy instructor.
Autogenic therapy has been recommended for many conditions. There is early evidence suggesting benefits in some cardiovascular and gastrointestinal disorders. However, there is no definitive scientific evidence that supports the use of autogenic therapy for any condition. Autogenic therapy is generally regarded as safe in most people, although it may not be advisable in young children and patients with emotional disturbances. Blood pressure changes may occur during autogenic therapy, and people with heart disease should speak with a health care provider before starting therapy.
The information in this monograph was prepared by the professional staff at Natural Standard, based on thorough systematic review of scientific evidence. The material was reviewed by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School with final editing approved by Natural Standard.
- Natural Standard: An organization that produces scientifically based reviews of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) topics
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM): A division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services dedicated to research
Selected Scientific Studies: Autogenic Therapy
Natural Standard has reviewed all of the currently available medical literature to prepare the professional monograph from which this version was created.
Some of the more recent studies are listed below:
- Ar'kov VV, Bobrovnitskii IP, Zvonikov VM. Complex correction of functional state in subjects with psychoautonomic syndrome [Article in Russian]. Vopr Kurortol Fizioter Lech Fiz Kult 2003;Mar-Apr, (2):16-19.
- Blanchard EB, Kim M. The effect of the definition of menstrually-related headache on the response to biofeedback treatment. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback 2005;30(1):53-63.
- Devineni T, Blanchard EB. A randomized controlled trial of an internet-based treatment for chronic headache. Behav Res Ther 2005;43(3):277-292.
- Ernst E. Complementary/alternative medicine for hypertension: a mini-review. Wien Med Wochenschr 2005;Sep, 155(17-18):386-391.
- Ernst E, Kanji N. Autogenic training for stress and anxiety: a systematic review. Complement Ther Med 2000;8(2):106-110.
- Ernst E, Pittler MH, Stevinson C. Complementary/alternative medicine in dermatology: evidence-assessed efficacy of two diseases and two treatments. Am J Clin Dermatol 2002;3(5):341-348.
- Essential hypertension and stress. When do yoga, psychotherapy and autogenic training help? [Article in German]. MMW Fortschr Med 2002;May 9, 144(19):38-41.
- Galovski TE, Blanchard EB. Hypnotherapy and refractory irritable bowel syndrome: a single case study. Am J Clin Hypn 2002;Jul, 45(1):31-37.
- Goldbeck L, Schmid K. Effectiveness of autogenic relaxation training on children and adolescents with behavioral and emotional problems. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 2003;42(9):1046-1054.
- Gordon JS, Staples JK, Blyta A, et al. Treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder in postwar Kosovo high school students using mind-body skills groups: a pilot study. J Trauma Stress 2004;17(2):143-147.
- Groslambert A, Candau R, Grappe F, et al. Effects of autogenic and imagery training on the shooting performance in biathlon. Res Q Exerc Sport 2003;74(3):337-341.
- Gyorik SA, Brutsche MH. Complementary and alternative medicine for bronchial asthma: is there new evidence? Curr Opin Pulm Med 2004;10(1):37-43.
- Harden RN, Houle TT, Green S, et al. Biofeedback in the treatment of phantom limb pain: a time-series analysis. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback 2005;Mar, 30(1):83-93.
- Hidderley M, Holt M. A pilot randomized trial assessing the effects of autogenic training in early stage cancer patients in relation to psychological status and immune system responses. Eur J Oncol Nurs 2004;8(1):61-65.
- Huntley A, White AR, Ernst E. Relaxation therapies for asthma: a systematic review. Thorax 2002;Feb, 57(2):127-131.
- Ikezuki M, Miyauchi Y, Yamaguchi H, Koshikawa F. Development of Autogenic Training Clinical Effectiveness Scale (ATCES) [Article in Japanese]. Shinrigaku Kenkyu 2002;Feb, 72(6):475-481.
- Kanji N. Management of pain through autogenic training. Complement Ther Nurs Midwifery 2000;6(3):143-148.
- Kanji N, White AR, Ernst E. Autogenic training reduces anxiety after coronary angioplasty: a randomized clinical trial. Am Heart J 2004;147(3):E10.
- Kanji N, White A, Ernst E. Autogenic training to reduce anxiety in nursing students: randomized controlled trial. J Adv Nurs 2006;Mar, 53(6):729-735.
- Kircher T, Teutsch E, Wormstall H, et al. Effects of autogenic training in elderly patients [Article in German]. Z Gerontol Geriatr 2002;Apr, 35(2):157-165.
- Kornilova LN, Cowings P, Arlashchenko NI, et al. Individual characteristics of correction of the cosmonauts' vegetative status with a method of adaptive biofeedback [Article in Russian]. Aviakosm Ekolog Med 2003;37(1):67-72.
- Legeron P. Stress psychology and the role of stress management [Article in French]. Ann Cardiol Angeiol (Paris) 2002;Apr, 51(2):95-102.
- McGrady AV, Kern-Buell C, et al. Biofeedback-assisted relaxation therapy in neurocardiogenic syncope: a pilot study. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback 2003;Sep, 28(3):183-192.
- Noh YE, Morris T, Andersen MB. Psychological intervention programs for reduction of injury in ballet dancers. Res Sports Med 2007;Jan-Mar, 15(1):13-32.
- Perlitz V, Cotuk B, Schiepek G, et al. [Synergetics of hypnoid relaxation]. Psychother Psychosom Med Psychol 2004;54(6):250-258.
- Rashed H, Cutts T, Abell T, et al. Predictors of response to a behavioral treatment in patients with chronic gastric motility disorders. Dig Dis Sci 2002;May, 47(5):1020-1026.
- Simeit R, Deck R, Conta-Marx B. Sleep management training for cancer patients with insomnia. Support Care Cancer 2004;12(3):176-183.
- Stetter F, Kupper S. Autogenic training: a meta-analysis of clinical outcome studies. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback 2002;Mar, 27(1):45-98.
- Unterberger PG. High blood pressure and renal lesions: curable with hypnosis? [Article in German]. MMW Fortschr Med 2002;Feb 28, 144(9):12.
- Watanabe Y, Cornelissen G, Watanabe M, et al. Effects of autogenic training and antihypertensive agents on circadian and circaseptan variation of blood pressure. Clin Exp Hypertens 2003;25(7):405-412.
- Winocur E, Gavish A, Emodi-Perlman A, et al. Hypnorelaxation as treatment for myofascial pain disorder: a comparative study. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol Endod 2002;Apr, 93(4):429-434.
- Wright S, Courtney U, Crowther D. A quantitative and qualitative pilot study of the perceived benefits of autogenic training for a group of people with cancer. Eur J Cancer Care (Engl) 2002;Jun, 11(2):122-130.
- Zsombok T, Juhasz G, Budavari A, et al. Effect of autogenic training on drug consumption in patients with primary headache: an 8-month follow-up study. Headache 2003;Mar, 43(3):251-257.
Last updated April 29, 2008
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