Allan Cyna – Walking the talk of clinical communication in anaesthesia

Allan retired from paediatric anaesthesia in 2023 after 26 years at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide. For most of that time Allan worked across both the Children’s anaesthesia and Women’s anaesthesia departments at WCH – which is no coincidence as children and pregnant women and children are the two groups of patients most susceptible to hypnotic suggestion. Allan has made many contributions to anaesthesia in education, training, research in communication in anaesthesia, clinical hypnotherapy and clinically having looked after the Thursday all day burns list for much of his career in addition to his clinical work in women’s anaesthesia.

One of Allan’s greatest achievements has been his ability to change the way a generation of anaesthetists communicate with their patients and with each other. Through his eagerness to teach in theatre, give talks on the wards, run workshops at SPANZA, ANZCA, ASA , and many overseas meetings and to many other specialties, Allan has quietly “walked the talk” and brought about a cultural shift in our language and thinking about communication. These days at WCH it is unusual to hear patients being asked about their pain or warned about a “sharp scratch”, instead we ask “how comfortable are you?” or ask about a favourite activity. Aspects of my own communication practice changed 20 years ago after a two-hour workshop which later became part of the SPANZA EPIC courses, now running throughout Australia.

Allan has made many contributions to the ANZCA ‘Communication in Anaesthesia SIG’ where he was the inaugural Chair, an active presenter, and organiser of many sessions and the SIG Combined meetings. He has been involved with the South Australian Society for Hypnosis since his arrival in SA, including being the society President and the Director of Studies for their Diploma course since 2015. He is the editor of the Handbook of Communication in Anaesthesia and Critical Care, which was first published in 2010, and is in production for an eagerly awaited second edition.

In walking the talk, Allan has had a magnificent research career and has held the title of Associate Professor in recognition of his PhD in hypnosis for childbirth, and more than 130 peer-reviewed articles. Allan has been the research lead at WCH for many years and has been active in guiding many of our anaesthetic trainees through their first steps in a research career.

Allan has been particularly effective at transferring his understanding of hypnosis to clinical communication in the perioperative period and in pain medicine. A significant example of this has been his conceptualisation of Ericksonian (indirect) hypnosis into the GREAT LAURS acronyms which can be applied to everyday conversation in theatre. It also forms the backbone of the SPANZA EPIC courses. Many of Allan’s colleagues have been inspired to undertake the SASH Diploma of Hypnosis and incorporate aspects of hypnotic communication into their everyday practice and some to use formal hypnosis for patients who struggle with peri-operative issues such as anxiety, phobias, and pain. Allan’s talks through ANZCA, ASA and SPANZA have inspired anaesthetists all over Australia to extend their knowledge through attending NPHTI and other hypnosis courses. Allan has been a major contributor to the content and presentations in the EPIC course. Along with Jody Thomas from NPHTI, he was instrumental in EPICs initial steps in recruiting, training and inspiring local facilitators.

Through all of Allan’s achievement and contribution he has had an enduring interest in his friends, family and colleagues which has not only inspired us to change our language, but to give talks, provide hypnosis, research and to care for our patients, ourselves, and each other. Allan has been generous with his knowledge, his clinical expertise, his time, and his willingness to share these attributes in walking the talk. His greatest contribution has been to think differently and imaginatively about how we perceive the world around us and to share this ability with us all.

On behalf of the EPIC committee, the SPANZA executive and membership, and children everywhere, we are extremely grateful for Allan’s contribution and proud to walk the talk on EPIC courses and spread the reframes and suggestions.

Dr Rob Laing
On behalf of the EPIC Committee and the SPANZA Executive.