The many myths surrounding hypnotherapy and hypnosis have been a hindrance to the modality throughout the years, as it is arguably both one of the most well-known and least understood therapies out there. As a result, misconceptions about the safety and benefits of hypnotherapy mean that not as many people will opt for hypnosis as a safe and viable option to elicit positive change to their lives. Fortunately, the benefits of hypnotherapy are becoming harder to ignore.
A group that could really benefit from hypnosis is children. As they are a particularly vulnerable part of our society, we strive to keep children out of harm’s way and want the best for them. Hypnosis to the uninformed may sound like a concerning pairing to the wellbeing of children and young people, however, this couldn’t be further from the truth:
Young people can benefit from hypnotherapy just as much as adults.
We often hear of adults reaping the rewards of hypnotherapy, but there have also been numerous clinical trials and case studies published not only on teens but on children as young as 5 years old. Despite what some may think, no one can be hypnotised against their will. If hypnotic suggestions are made that don’t align with someone’s aims or moral values, they simply will not be effective. A hypnotherapist once told me that if we could control people’s minds with hypnosis, all hypnotherapists would be millionaires.
Hypnosis for children will certainly have its differences to hypnosis for adults: depending on the age and their stage of development, simpler language and shorter sessions may have to be used, and some problems may be more commonly treated for children, such as enuresis. It is argued that children can actually be excellent candidates for hypnosis due to generally having greater imaginative skills as well as being more suggestible overall.
When it comes to assessing if a child or young person would benefit from hypnotherapy, there doesn’t appear to be a strict minimum age, but more of a general assessment for suitability. For someone to be successfully hypnotised, all they need is to:
1) Understand what hypnosis is and what will happen
2) Agree to be hypnotised
3) Be able to keep still and focus comfortably for an extended period of time.
As with many therapies, a caregiver of a child will need to give consent to allow for them to receive hypnotherapy. Furthermore, it is recommended by The National Hypnotherapy Society to have a caregiver present during a hypnosis session if they are under 16 years old. With all that in mind, let’s look at what the research tells us.
As mentioned above, there have been a number of clinical studies and case studies examining the efficacy of hypnosis on children. Below are some examples:
Back in 1993, Banerjee, Srivastav & Palan compared the efficacy of hypnotherapy versus imipramine in the treatment of functional nocturnal enuresis (active bed-wetting at night) in a study with 50 children between the ages of 5 and 16 years old. At the end of the initial intervention, 76% of the imipramine group had shown improvements, as well as 72% of the hypnosis group. However, at the 6-month post-treatment follow up, the positive response from the imipramine group had reduced to 24%, whereas the hypnosis group only dropped to 68%. This showed that not only was hypnotherapy as effective as a pharmacological intervention, but that the changes were longer lasting, too.
In 2007, Vlieger et al., compared the effectiveness of hypnosis and standard medical treatment versus standard medical treatment alone in the management of functional abdominal pain an irritable bowel syndrome-related pain in 53 children. Whilst both groups were able to show an improvement, the hypnosis group also showed a significantly greater reduction in pain. At the 1-year follow-up after the treatment, 59% of the hypnosis group maintained a clinical remission of pain, versus 12% in the group that received standard medical treatment alone. This study highlights that hypnotherapy can be just as helpful for short-term improvements but seems to have a much larger capacity to elicit long-term improvements to one’s quality of life.
In 2009, Lesmana et al., examined the effectiveness of hypnotherapy on 48 children between the ages of 6-12 in Bali compared to a control group, six weeks after the 2002 terrorist attack, with a follow-up two years later. All of the participants in this study met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis. The children were provided a single group session lasting 30 minutes. Their scores on questionnaires after treatment were compared with scores on the same questionnaires two years later, and the scores were compared. They found that the hypnosis group had significantly improved scores compared to the controls, and these improvements were maintained at the 2-year follow-up.
One prospective study by Huet et al., (2011) examined the anxiety and pain felt by 30 children aged 5 to 12 when associated with dental anaesthesia. They measured anxiety levels at the initial consultation, when sat in the dentist’s chair, and at the time of anaesthesia. They found that the children who underwent hypnosis at the time of anaesthesia experienced significantly less pain and anxiety. Given that a visit to the dentist is very often an unpopular event to some children, with this fear lasting into adulthood if not addressed, this study demonstrates a particularly practical element to hypnosis and the lasting benefits that it can provide.
Taking into consideration all that we have looked at, it can be safely argued that hypnotherapy can be not only safe for children but can be a powerful tool for the improvement of their wellbeing, be it with managing problematic and embarrassing habits, to facing their fears head on. This doesn’t mean in any sense that your child could be hypnotised to do the washing up more often, or to want to tidy their rooms. However, they can be helped to make positive changes to parts of their lives that could empower them to grow with confidence and security into adulthood.
Banerjee, S., Srivastav, A., Palan, B. M. (1993). Hypnosis and self-hypnosis in the management of nocturnal enuresis: a comparative study with imipramine therapy. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 36(2), 113-119. Link: https://doi.org/10.1080/00029157.1993.10403053
Huet, A., Lucas-Polomeni, M., Robert, J., Sixou, J., Wodey, A. (2011) Hypnosis and dental anaesthesia in Children: A prospective controlled study. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 59(4), 424-440. Link: https://doi.org/10.1080/00207144.2011.594740
Lesmana, C. J., Suryani, L. K., Jensen, G. D., & Tiliopoulos, N. (2009). A spiritual-hypnosis assisted treatment of children with PTSD after the 2002 Bali terrorist attack. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 52, 23–34. Link: https://doi.org/10.1080/00029157.2009.10401689
Vlieger, A. M., Menko-Frankenhuis, C., Wolfkamp, S. C. S., Tromp, E. and Benninga, M. A. (2007). Hypnotherapy for children with functional abdominal pain or irritable bowel syndrome: A randomized controlled trial. Gastroenterology, 133: 1430–1436.