Hypnotherapy is one of the most widely misunderstood and controversial treatments available. The myths and misconceptions stem from people’s ideas about the hypnotism you might see on a stage. I get it. I, too, was once in an audience where the individuals on stage were instructed to quack like ducks. But stage hypnotism has as much to do with clinical hypnotherapy as movies have to do with real life.
Hypnotherapy has been used to treat complex disorders from pain management to anxiety and depression. Clinicians use hypnotherapy to treat phobias, sexual dysfunction, undesirable spontaneous behaviors, bad habits, and substance abuse – including tobacco use. It can help resolve sleep issues, relationship issues, and challenges with learning disorders and communication. Dentists even use it to help patients control their fears or to treat teeth grinding and other oral conditions.
These challenges and disorders exist across a broad spectrum of age groups, but the group that has the most immediate success with hypnotherapy is children.
In the younger child, play is a natural form of problem solving and expression which uses altered states of consciousness to give life to the child’s experience. For example, children tend to go in and out of a trance while they are coloring. The movement in coloring is so focused that external interference is minimal and a child’s breath can actually slow down.
Beyond the process of coloring, the normally developing child has a naturally large repertoire of imaginative experience to access when in a hypnotherapy session. Children are also more suggestible due to the fact that they have had fewer life experiences. That’s why suggestions from a clinician are more widely accepted by a child as they are likely not to infringe on a child’s core beliefs.
When the child is ready to begin a hypnotherapy session, the clinician will ask her to take a few deep breaths and engage her imagination (no problem there!). As the child starts to talk about her favorite games or imaginary friend or real friend, the child will often drift into a hypnotic state so the clinician can make suggestions to bring about positive change.
Consider a Case Study
Matilda is nine years old. She has trouble with attention and is easily distracted. When it comes to math homework in particular, she says, “I’m good at math, but my brain just won’t let me focus.”
Her parents say they do not want to place Matilda on medication, but they are interested in behavioral alternatives to help her succeed in academics and in life.
The goal in working with Matilda is to teach her breath work, along with introducing a kinesthetic anchor. Placing an anchor is the process of associating an internal response with an internal or external trigger.
During the session, we pick something that Matilda’s brain likes to focus on, like Poke’mon or building with LEGOs. Then we start to build the script and incorporate all the senses of what it is like to play this game (e.g. what does it feel like?).
The script is customized for the child. An example of a suggestion for Matilda might be, “You are calm and focused” while performing a strenuous task like working through math homework.
We encourage Matilda to play the game in the office. The goal is that after rehearsal and repetition with the scripted suggestion, when Matilda sits down to do math homework, she can practice her imaginary work, decrease anxiety, increase mastery and motivation, and regulate her body and mind.
In essence, she is learning to self-hypnotize – a skill she can take with her anywhere she goes.
Is Hypnotherapy Right for Your Child?
First, hypnotherapy is most often used in conjunction with other therapies in the behavioral and medical fields, and the length of hypnotherapy varies depending on the severity of your child’s issues. Parents should note that only trained health care providers who are certified in hypnotherapy are able to help with a child’s diagnosis and treatment. In addition to looking for qualifications, you should find a hypnotherapist with whom you feel confident and comfortable. And of course, the child’s needs always come first. On a less serious note: No quacking will ever be required!