Increasing numbers of parents are sending their children to hypnotherapists for exam stress, eating disorders, anxiety and behavioural issues. Children are receptive and respond well, but it’s less about the hypnosis and more about how the therapist communicates with the child.
There is a story about famous psychologist Milton Erickson who achieved a miracle cure with a nine year-old child who still wet the bed. Invited into Erickson’s office, the child sat still while the mother explained the problem. Erickson’s answer was simple and to the point. He simply explained that he had dealt with many cases of this nature and although some nine year-olds did still wet the bed, ten year-olds didn’t, and when this child reached the age of ten, he wouldn’t either. Of course this advice was delivered directly to the mother, but the child, as children do, was listening to every every word of the adult conversation. The result of the encounter was that the boy stopped wetting the bed the moment he turned ten. Erickson’s genius for turning what could have been a complex problem into the simplest of solutions is he way it should be done. Children are uncomplicated things and respond well to simple solutions!
Normally, hypnotherapy is restricted to teaching the child simple techniques for relaxation, focus of attention and the ability to banish distractions for short periods of time. Add to that the setting of step-by-step achievable goals and so long as there are no promises of stellar achievement or exam results, then the process can be beneficial and safe.
Offering straight forward solutions is all well and good, but I am concerned that very young children (some as young as two) are being hypnotised and ‘treated’. In my opinion, there is such a thing as ‘too young’ to be hypnotised. Of course all growing children have to learn about boundaries and the difference between good and bad behaviour as they grow and develop, but it seems to me that some parents (not to mention some hypnotherapists) are running the risk of using therapy that was never intended or designed for youngsters. The reason is, to me at least, fairly obvious – very young children do not have a fully developed understanding of the subtleties of language. Given that hypnosis works with the imagination and very young children tend to interpret ideas literally, I can already see possibilities for emotional conflict. This is why I am absolutely opposed to hypnotising children under the age of 16 in stage shows. It should be common knowledge among stage hypnotists that abreactions on stage are generally limited to younger participants – sometimes kids don’t have the emotional maturity to cope with what is after all, a highly unusual social situation.
In the UK, as in many other parts of the world, anyone can set up in business as a hypnotherapist. The same is true if you want to call yourself a psychotherapist, which like hypnotherapy, is totally unregulated or monitored. In the same way that some hypnotherapists are better or more experienced that others, some courses are better than others, and some are truly appalling! Mostly, hypnotherapists learn in the job and top up their knowledge from time to time, attending specialised seminars for pain management, painless childbirth, emotional trauma and so forth. Some therapists take additional courses in Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and other suggestion related therapies.
As for the effectiveness of hypnosis as a tool to treat children, there is hardly any hard evidence available. Nonetheless, adverts for children’s hypnotherapy have started to appear on Netmums, the UK’s largest parenting website. The National Council for Hypnotherapy (NCH) said its 1,600 members had reported a rise in the number of youngsters being treated over the past three years. Word-of-mouth referrals passed from parent to parent seem to be the primary reason for the increase in the number of child clients –word of mouth being the best accolade.
I suspect there is a certain amount of pressure on parents to ensure that their offspring should have the best start in life, especially as pressure to do well at school is not only growing but starting earlier as pupils are tested more and places at the best universities are harder to achieve. There is a danger that some parents see hypnosis as a short cut to success in life, but for very young children –those under the age of 10 – it isn’t.
I also sense there is something dodgy about hypnotherapists who do this sort of work without having had any experience in child psychology or working with children. Who checks their background? Do they have adequate insurance? Are they going to be working with the child on their own?
Actually, a child should NEVER be left on their own with a hypnotherapist – not just because of the obvious fear for the child’s safety (although if you’re working online, this wouldn’t be a problem) but because the parent is the best person to communicate and explain a young child’s problems to the therapist. If the therapist feels that it might be more beneficial if the parent is not present, then another trusted adult could be there.
Some qualified members of the medical profession say that many hypnotherapists are quacks. To be fair, some are, but there are also a lot of hypnotherapists who are very skilled at their job. The best have also been trained in other disciplines, such as counselling, and the very best have a much more rounded view of the human condition.
Copyright Andrew Newton 2016. All rights reserved.