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.