I often work with children and often employ hypnosis. A few anecdotes from my experience will show why I find that so rewarding.
Children are developmentally in motion both physiologically and psychologically. They live in a land of discovery where ideas realize themselves and imagination prevails. Children are always in a creative and imaginative trance-like state.
Children have very creative and active imaginations. A child experiencing a problem generally wants help to move forward by learning a variety of skills that will resolve the problem – and children do not come to treatment with the same baggage of myths and misconception as adults.
To help clarify the myths and misconceptions about hypnosis, the therapist can send the child’s parents, prior to the first session, a brochure entitled “Questions and Answers about Clinical Hypnosis” (2013) Gahanna, Ohio: Ohio Psychology Publications Inc. Another good reference is My Doctor Does Hypnosis (Elkins, 1997 Chicago: American Society of Clinical Hypnosis Press).
The therapist is continually confronted with the issue of determining the most effective strategy based on the medical and psychological need as well as the child’s developmental level. The therapist must decide what level of distraction, hypnosis or metaphor would be most helpful.
It is easy to move from a distraction technique to an induction, especially in an emergency situation. A babysitter brought a young girl into the ER with a severe cut on her hand. She had been playing with her brother, slipped and put her hand through a window. She was hysterical with this injury and without her mother.
I happened to be on the psychiatry unit, and the chief of psychiatry said we were going to the ER. When we got there he basically said that I should “do my thing” to calm this girl down.
After putting on a pair of gloves I approached the girl, introduced myself, pulled her arm out straight and said “that’s the prettiest blue blood I have ever seen.” The girl calmed somewhat and said, “That’s not blue; that’s red,” at which point we were engaged in a discussion.
I then asked her to try something and close her eyes. “I wonder if you can use your mind in a creative way to find the right switch to your right hand. With your eyes closed just see all the wires going to your brain and find the one that operates your right hand.” (Meanwhile, the staff had started to clean the hand).
“As soon as you find the right switch let me know by raising this finger on your other hand,” I said. “That’s great and now for just a moment, turn that switch off so the doctor can fix your hand. You will feel pressure on your hand but you will not feel discomfort because you have your switch off.” (The ER doctor puts several stitches in the hand.)
“The doctor is finished now,” I said, “so you can turn that switch back on but you can still control the discomfort and keep it very low. When you open your eyes we can see if the blood was really red or blue.” She opens her eyes and immediately I said, “You were right and the color is red. Isn’t it great to have learned something new? You did a super job teaching the doctors about how you can control your switches.”
In older children hypnotic relaxation, imagery, arm levitation or eye fixation may be the best induction technique, whereas in younger children the TV technique, “Fluffy the dog” modeling, and the magic carpet imagery may be used.
It is important to remember that all hypnosis is really self-hypnosis and that the therapist is only the teacher or director in the process. Graduate students quickly learn that some form of induction (age appropriate) is fairly easy and the child will go where they need to go. The real work begins after the induction in developing various therapeutic strategies and appropriate suggestions.
I also use magic as a way to develop rapport with children. I never refer to hypnosis as magic even though I incorporate a story of a magic carpet or magic castle in some inductions. At the end of a session the child is given a simple magic trick to practice until the next session.
This article is one of many contained in The National Psychologist – May/June 2015 issue. The National Psychologist publication is intended to keep psychologists informed about practice issues. Professional Development Resources provides continuing education credits for reading the paper and completing a brief, online CE quiz @ https://www.pdresources.org/courselisting/category/1/22.
Professional Development Resources is approved to offer continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA); the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR); the California Board of Behavioral Sciences; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy, Psychology & School Psychology, Dietetics & Nutrition, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, and Occupational Therapy Practice; the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board; the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs; and by theTexas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists and State Board of Social Worker Examiners.