In the last week, I have had a number of parents call my office asking if hypnotherapy can be used with children. The good news is that not only can children be hypnotized but that children are generally more hypnotically responsive than adults. Children tend to have active imaginations and few, if any, preconceived ideas about hypnosis.
Although some hypnotherapists work with children under the age of 5 or 6, there is little published research on the effectiveness of hypnosis with toddlers. I have found that it is difficult for young children to focus enough to address their needs. If you are seeking hypnotherapy for a young child, you may need to interview several hypnotherapists to find one who has worked successfully with very young children.
By the age of six, most children are able to comprehend metaphors and have the emotional, linguistic and cognitive capability to make excellent hypnosis subjects. A study by Olness and Gardner in 1988 found that most hypnotic ability is limited in children less than three years of age and reaches its peak during middle childhood up to the age of fourteen.
What kinds of things could hypnotherapy be used for in working with children? Last week I worked with an eleven year old boy who sucked his thumb, a young teenager who had test anxiety and another who procrastinated and a ten year old who wet the bed. Hypnotherapy can be used in many of the same areas as with an adult. Habit modification is one of those. Where an adult doesn't want to give up cigarettes, a child may have difficulty giving up his "blankie". Undesirable habits like hairpulling, nail biting and overeating may be addressed just like with an adult client.
Hypnotherapy may also be used in dealing with childhood trauma like physical, mental or emotional abuse. These issues should be addressed in hypnosis by a psychotherapist who has hypnotherapy training or as an adjunct therapy to the work being done by the psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor or psychotherapist. Note that not everyone who practices hypnotherapy is an appropriate practitioner for a traumatized child.
Other psychological applications of hypnosis with children include: tics, learning disorders, behavior disorders, anxiety and somatoform disorders. Medical issues that may be addressed with hypnotherapy include: eating disorders, pain management, treatment of nausea and/or vomiting and bed wetting. Again, These issues should be evaluated by appropriate medical doctors and mental health professionals who may refer a child to a hypnotherapist as part of a treatment plan.
A couple of notes about the session itself. The parent or guardian who brings a young child to the session will be in the room during the entire session. Teenagers often prefer their parent to wait in the waiting room so they can talk more openly during the clinical interview that precedes the hypnosis. Some teenagers are also self-couscious about how they might look during hypnosis (is my mouth open?). I suggest that the child make the decision after the age of 12 or 13.
During my time with the child before hypnosis, my primary goal is to build rapport with the child. Sometimes I will tell a story or have a toy to help establish that rapport. I will try to identify an interest to build a relaxing metaphor. One child last week pictured himself in a "wonderland of toys" (his words). I suggested he imagine himself there putting his favorite Lego toy together. Another child liked Sponge Bob Square Pants so he imagined himself in the pineapple house under the sea and eating crabby patties.
Hypnotherapy is a tool for change. It can be a valuable tool for children as well as adults. If you are thinking about hypnotherapy for your child, find a well-qualified, highly trained person and then give your child and the hypnotherapist a chance to work together.