You may have never heard of onychophagia but a simple show of hands may reveal you have this challenge.  For onychophagia is the term for chronic nail biting..This behavior occurs in different cultures and on different continents.  Nail biting occurs slightly more in males than females.  It is also very common at all ages.  Studies have shown that nail biting occurs between 28 and 33 percent of the time in children between seven and ten. Nail biting peaks in adolescents with 19 to 29 percent of teenagers. As young adults mature, the incidence of nail biting drops but 10 to 20 percent continue to chew their nails.  

     So why do people bite and pick their nails?  There are a lot of different opinions.  Although the old Freudian view of oral fixation is no longer popular, some older studies still lean to psychological reasons.  Newer studies often identify nail biting as a relative of obsessive-compulsive disorder. While some experts describe this as an exaggerated grooming behavior similar to monkeys and apes, others believe there is a genetic link since the behavior is often seen in families,  Stress relief may be important to some nail biters while for others it may simply be a matter of habit.

     In any case, though it can seem like a fairly unimportant habit, I often see clients who complain about it affecting their lives.  Some complain about the embarassment of a behavior that seems childlike or unprofessional while others talk about the discomfort of sore, raw or even bleeding fingers which makes their hands unattractive. And others are very concerned about nail biting being unsanitary.

     Among techniques people have used to overcome onychophaiga are:  keeping a journal  about the behavior to help identify triggers to nail biting, using a relaxation technique like meditation, keeping hands busy with an activity like playing with a stress ball or even the old Internet favorite of painting the nails with a bitter or hot liquid such as something flavored with peppery flavors like Tabasco sauce.  Be aware that some people actually start to like the hot flavors.  Some medical doctors will prescribe medications such as Prozac when the nail biting is severe.  Hypnotherapy can be a valuable tool to help you overcome this habit.  Stop nail biting, feel good and BE WELL.


        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.


         Have you ever heard of onychophagia?  Probably not.  But almost everyone knows someone who bites their fingernails.  If you bite your nails you are not alone.  This is a dirty little secret of a large number of people. Nail biting is a universal behavior in all parts of the world and in both sexes.  It is slightly more common in males than females. Nail biting often begins in childhood with studies showing that between 23 and 33 percent of children between ages 7 and 10 are nail biters.  The number of nail biters reaches its peak with 44 percent of adolescents biting their nails.  Even 19 to 29 percent of young adults and up to 20 percent of all  adults still bite their nails.

         Noone is quite sure why people bite their nails.  Years ago, the Freudian view described nail biting as an oral fixation.  This psychological view of nail biting is no longer particularly popular.  Today experts lean to behavioral and biochemical reasons for nail biting.  Many experts believe nail biting is caused by biochemical and genetic links or is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

         Although nail biting may seem like a relatively unimportant behavior, there can be problems.   My clients give me a lot of reasons they want to quit biting their nails.  They often describe it as a dirty, nasty habit. It is definitely a way to transfer germs from the hands and nails to the mouth.  It can be sore and uncomforable causing swelling and redness.  The broken skin can lead to infections.  Many clients hate that their hands are unattractive.  A trial lawyer told me he did not want to appear anxious and nervous and that unattractive chewed-on nails didn't project the image he wanted.  Others say the behavior itself with fingers in their mouths is unpleasant.

        There are several ways to stop biting your nails.  They range from putting bitter or hot liquids such as pepper sauce on their nails to using  medications commonly prescribed to treat OCD.  Hypnotherapy is a great tool  to deal with nail biting.  No meds - no burning lips - just a strong tool to stop nail biting.