Working with children using hypnotic techniques can be very rewarding for the therapist, although a few basic understandings must be observed. Remembering that children do not process information in the same way that adults do, the therapist thinks as a child would, relating to him/her on the child's level instead of expecting the child to respond to therapy as an adult would.
My own experience has been that working with children that they can and DO enter hypnosis easily. It is my belief that children are ALWAYS in a state of "hypnosis" and we have to bring them OUT of hypnosis to work with them. If the criteria for "Hypnosis" is a focus on a particular thing, narrowing of attention, filtering out outside influences, or using the imagination to see pictures in the mind, isn't that EXACTLY what children are best at? There is also a general feeling that children under the age 4 cannot be hypnotized. This notion is true only if one adheres to the more traditional techniques. If the therapist is willing to forego traditional methods and ideology, there is no limit to what can be accomplished with the mind of a child that hasn't been tainted by adult experiences.
When working with children, three questions should be evaluated:
Ø What led the parents to bring the child to treatment at this time?
Ø How is the symptom benefiting the child?
Ø Is the therapist comfortable with the use of hypnosis in this particular case?
What led the parents to bring the child into therapy at this time? It is important to know if it is the parents or some other authority figure that is unhappy with the behavior of the child. Some questions may be; who defined the issue as a behavior problem? Frequently, the parents choose a therapist that uses hypnosis because they feel they have " tried everything else". Hypnosis is the last resort in their eyes. The parents may expect magic results or they may expect NO results at all. This expectancy can be passed on to the child and the child be seen as a "failure". The reason a parent is seeking a hypnotherapist will have a major effect on the hypnotherapeutic approach designed by the therapist. It will also dictate if hypnosis is to be used by itself or in conjunction with other modalities such as REM therapy.
The parents or the school often reinforce behavior disorders. If the disorder is being used to discharge tension, the therapist must uncover what is leading to the anxiety and tension. Hypnosis may be used combined with supportive therapy and/or role play/ therapy to allow the child to discover and learn more adaptive ways of coping with these problems. If the child has developed low self-esteem through behavior issues, hypnosis may be useful to strengthen ego enhancement through post hypnotic suggestion.
When looking at the child's issues, take time to remember the world of a child is much, much smaller than that of an adult. Their immediate world can consist of 1-2 parents, siblings, grandparents, friends and teachers. Therefore, when looking for root causes it may be wise to look at the family structure as well. In fighting between parents may manifest itself in forms such as behavioral problems, social skills, bedwetting, and learning disorders. The child needs to be secure in the knowledge that whatever passes between the therapist and themselves will remain in the therapist's office. Even when working with a minor, the rule of confidentiality should come into effect. Therefore the parent/s of the child should be briefed, and notified of the confidentiality clause and be in agreement. Punishment at home from speaking out in therapy destroys the efforts of the therapist to bring about change. The parents must be educated in their role of the supportive therapy as well as explained what hypnosis is and what it isn't. Many have seen the stage hypnotists and are familiar with the "parlor" tricks of hypnosis past. The therapist should be prepared to explain what modern day hypnosis techniques are.
When working with children the therapist should position him/herself in such a way that the child's eye level is equal to or slightly above theirs. This downplays the adult dominance factor. By having the child's eye either the same or slightly above the adults, it sub-consciously tells the child they are equals. Imagine a world where you look up at everyone around you. So take the time to bend down when talking to a youngster, reach them on THEIR level and notice what changes begin to occur.
Children live inside a fantasy world so the common inductions that one would use on adults, aren't necessary when working with children. They are more likely to move around, refuse to close their eyes, open and close their eyes from time to time. What child will simply lay back, close their eyes and "relax"? This is like telling an adult who has just drank 6 cups of espresso coffee to "just relax". Although there is exceptions, simply giving the child permission to be curious and stand, move about normally, is enough to satisfy their curiosity and calm them. The therapist working with children must be willing to abandon "traditional technique" for whatever works for the particular child. What is true for a child may not be true in the adult's eyes. What IS necessary is an increased concentration on building rapport. Without trust in the therapist the child will not make changes. Common techniques to gain rapport is to discuss /talk about everything related to their lives, school, sports, hobbies, pets, likes/dislikes, bypassing the critical presenting issues until in later sessions.
Kids thrive on the use of metaphor, "magic", story telling and role-playing. The child can sometimes act out issues that cannot be verbalized in a "play" or movie where they are the director and set the scene, actors and events. Coloring, drawing, the use of symbols, props, puppets or dolls can also be of use. They are generally fascinated by the concept of being" hypnotized". Lucky for the therapist, imagination is the tool of childhood and simply allowing the child to tell their story, in their own words, mannerisms and time can be the most effective option the therapist can offer. Role playing, allowing the client/therapist role to be reversed can also bring about insights into behavioral issues. When the child can "solve" the therapists "issues" or "problems", their sub-conscious picks up the subliminal messages and facilitates change. "Chair" therapy, that is the placement of an authority figure in a chair where in the child can say, do or act out anything in their own mind without fear of reprisal in total safety can be a MOST useful tool. This technique can also be used to do grief counseling with children whose loved ones have passed on.
ADHD is one of the most common psychological disorders currently affecting
children. Children with ADHD may experience behavioral problems such as
aggression and impulsivity, have difficulty interacting with family members and be
underachievers at school.
For children diagnosed with ADHD, simple relaxation, breathing, self hypnosis techniques, where the child is taught to quiet their mind, slowing and focusing, have been shown to be very successful in allowing the ADHD child to focus, sort out frustration or anger stemmed by the mind working faster than the ability to communicate and direct themselves in a positive manner. One technique I have found to be useful is to have the child imagine a pinwheel or spinning circle. They are instructed to practice speeding the motion up, slowing it down, change directions, colors, size etc. By doing this they are teaching the sub-conscious mind to respond to their own wishes/commands instead of being led by their environment. This allows them to be in control of an environmental situation instead of out of control.
Therapists should also make themselves aware of the possibilities of other conditions co-existing with ADHD, like learning and language problems, aggressive or disruptive behavior, depression or anxiety. One-third of children with ADHD also have one of these conditions.
REM therapy, tapping/acupressure techniques, sound therapies have all been proven to be quite useful to varying degrees in the treatment of children. Again, to be successful, the therapist must put aside ego, abandon traditional techniques and focus on whatever it takes to help the child with their issues to bring about the needed/desired change. Not all therapists will enjoy working with children because of the challenges involved, but for those who choose too, it will be perhaps the most rewarding challenge in their career.
Ron Stubbs is a Registered Certified Advanced Clinical Hypnotherapist in the Greater Seattle/San Juan Island area of Washington state. He has become one of the most well respected hypnotherapists in the Pacific Northwest Area. He is a national speaker, teaches nationally with Dr. Kevin Hogan PHD and Marie Mongan (Hypnobirthing Founder), Specializing in Tinnitus, Pediatric (Child) Hypnosis, Adult Sexual Survivor Abuse, Past Life Regression, as well as general hypnotherapy, giving lectures, teaching classes and seminars on hypnosis. He has helped clients reach their goals of wellness from ages 4 to 90. He is currently teaching Hypnosis/Hypnotherapy certification classes at Everett College and in the fall of 2001 will be teaching Hypnosis/Hypnotherapy certification classes at Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon, Washington. He is also in the process of writing various articles for publication on hypnosis and related subjects. He is the co-owner of Islelife Hypnosis, located on beautiful Camano Island, and can be reached at 360-387-1197 or by email at Islelife@Camano.net.