Sophrology is big in France, but almost unknown in English-speaking countries.

What is it?

According to a recent article in ‘The Guardian‘, Sophrology is a system of mind and body, a little bit meditative, a little bit mindful, eastern principles of centredness and focus fed through a European system of rules that can feel just as exotic. It’s been around since the 50s, when a Spanish medical student, Alfonso Caycedo, had the task of administering electroshock treatment to mentally ill patients; sometimes, if that sounds barbaric, inducing insulin comas beforehand. He was an early asker of a question that medicine has confronted more widely since: why does consciousness have to be shaken so violently in order to heal? Implicitly having decided that maybe western medicine may not have all the answers, he concocted this improbable-sounding mix of Tibetan Buddhism, Japanese Zen and yoga, neurology, hypnosis, psychology, psychiatry and relaxation techniques to produce sophrology. It’s huge in Europe – especially in Spain – but it has also been prescribed by Swiss GPs and reportedly used by the French rugby team. It has never cracked the UK.

A bit vague?

Here is a different, perhaps more reliable source.

Sophrology is a non medication-based method which involves both the body and mind. It combines relaxing the muscles, increasing awareness of breathing and positive thinking, and leads to the search for improved well-being through the integration of the body percept. It generates a feeling of “letting go” and helps to relieve physical, psychological and spiritual suffering.

Is there any reliable evidence?

Very little, it seems.

This study (entitled ‘Efficiency of physiotherapy with Caycedian Sophrology on children with asthma: A randomized controlled trial’) aimed to assess whether in children with asthma, peak expiratory flow (PEF) improved more after a sophrology session alongside standard treatment than after standard treatment alone.

The researchers carried out a prospective randomized controlled clinical trial among 74 children aged 6-17 years old, hospitalized for an asthma attack. Group 1: conventional treatment (oxygen, corticosteroids, bronchodilators, physiotherapy) added to one session of sophrology. Group 2: conventional treatment alone. The primary outcome was the PEF variation between the initial and final evaluations (PEF2 -PEF1 ).

Demographic and clinical characteristics were similar in both groups at baseline. Measures before and after the sophrology session showed that the PEF increased by mean 30 L/min in the sophrology group versus 20 L/min in the control group (P = 0.02). Oxygen saturation increased by 1% versus 0% (P = 0.02) and the dyspnea score with visual analogue scale improved by two points point (P = 0.01). No differences were observed between the two groups in terms of duration of hospitalization, use and doses of conventional medical treatment (oxygen, corticosteroids, and bronchodilators), and quality of life scores.

The authors concluded that Sophrology appears as a promising adjuvant therapy to current guideline-based treatment for asthma in children.

The purpose of the only other study was to evaluate the efficiency of sophrology to improve conditions for the realization of non-invasive ventilation (NIV) in patients with acute respiratory failure (ARF). In this prospective randomized and controlled study, consecutive patients with ARF were included. From the very first NIV session, they received either sophrology during the first 30 min of NIV (S group), or standard care by the same nurse during 30 min (T group). The hemodynamic and ventilatory data were recorded continuously; pain, respiratory difficulty and discomfort were measured with a numeric scale at the end of the session.

Thirty patients were included in the study, 27 have been analysed. Each patient received an average of four sessions NIV during the protocol. There was no significant difference between the two groups in terms of improvement in gas exchange. In contrast, there was a significant difference in terms of reduction of difficulty in breathing (-76%), discomfort (-60%) and decrease the pain (-40%) in the sophrology group (p<0.001). Respiratory rate, heart rate and systolic arterial blood pressure were decrease during NIV.

The authors concluded that Sophrology constitutes aid for the achievement of the meetings of NIV in patients’ IRA.

As both studies followed the infamous A+B vs B design, they tell us nothing about the effectiveness of the treatment. This means that sophrology is a therapy that is totally unproven.

Why then is it so popular in France? Search me!

Does its popularity imply that it is effective? No.

15 Responses to Sophrology: the French love it, but does it work?

  • Sadly both studies are hidden behind a paywall so I could only look at the abstracts. Both groups of patients are clearly very unwell with marked breathing difficulties. These acute problems are usually characterised by a high degree of anxiety, which in the case of acute respiratory failure is a large component of the distress felt by the patient, and in the case of asthma can increase the severity of the attack.

    I have never heard of sophrology before, but from your description it sounds like a relaxation technique, so it is hardly surprising that it might be helpful in acute respiratory distress. The theory behind it seems a bit daft, though.

    Perhaps it is worth investigating with a more rigorous trial design.

  • Just to maintain a balanced view on this very biased forum: This latest report says everything we need to know about the corruption of drug companies that work with medical doctors including MD’s/GP’s This is a shocking indictment don’t you think? Here is the report:
    “Four pharmaceutical firms have been accused of illegally colluding to restrict the supply of an anti-nausea tablet, driving the price paid for it by the NHS up by 700%. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said the cost of Prochlorperazine rose from £6.49 per pack to £51.68, after suppliers agreed not to compete.
    The drug is often prescribed to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy”.

    • you are not ‘maintaining a balance’ at all!
      you are reporting on a different subject.
      is that so hard to understand, or are you that thick?

    • This has nothing to do with efficiacy of medicine. the article is about possible collusion to hike the price of a medicine that WORKS – this blog is about ‘stuff’ that does NOT work despite claims from fools that think it does. The ONLY similarity is that the prices of stuff that doesn’t work is also artificially high. I hope to God you are nothing to do with health with your complete lack of logic and ability to follow.

    • The drug is often prescribed to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy

      It used to be. We have much better drugs these days for most chemotherapy regimens.

      Even so, it is shocking that a drug that came off patent decades ago and is cheap to produce as a generic should have its price artificially inflated in this way. There are a few others, too, such as triiodothyronine. Though thank goodness in the UK we have not reached the point where many type 1 diabetics cannot afford the insulin they need to stay alive, unlike in the US.

    • The fact that pharmaceutical companies sometimes behave badly doesn’t mean that altmed works.

  • Who are the Fench?
    Btw I live in Fance and love my Sophrology. Sometimes you don’t need scientific proof to know something works. You just feel miiiiiiillllllles better!

  • It is useless to open the discussion on these subjects. Whoever agrees with the character of a hoax of these fantasies and charlatanices, is usually silent and satisfied. They are idiots with no critical sense and magical mentality who insist on generating khanias with stupid arguments. Excuse my frankness, but there is no other way to face these unscrupulous or ignorant deceivers. They point out flaws in the practice of Medicine as if they were arguments favorable to their charlatanices. They and people of the same kind constitute the evil of the world.

  • The main effect brought about by sophrology sessions is induced by the relaxation of the muscles and mind. It is largely a psychological effect. I doubt it can have any significant impact on physical diseases, except insofar as the mind and thoughts can (and there are hints that they can, especially if the physical disorder has a psychic origin). Anyway the main argument against it is that it’s outrageously expensive, one session clocking currently at 55 to over 70 EUROS per hour. I will book a few sessions and see if I experience a calming and relaxing effect whether it has any lasting impact.

  • This article is very funny! But total BS. First sophrology isn’t used to heal physical illnesses. And any study aiming to test it this way is of utter stupidity. Same as testing Panadol on its ability to grow back a cut limb…Non sense. Sophrology is a set of practices to first deeply relax and second visualise yourself in specific situation. It aims to mentally condition people. I got introduced to it during a program of elite sport training and it greatly assisted every to perform better…As stressful situations already visualised with serenity will occur, we will be better prepare to respond out of stress. Who is the elite athlete who doesn’t practice visualisation nowadays??? The preliminary relaxation is of nature to generate positive outcomes during visualisation which assist in turn to be more relaxed during the event and more focused. The Anglo-Saxon world uses too, just call it different ways…Motivational speech, positive visualisation, NLP!!! 🤷🤔😱

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