Hypnosis has been recognized to be an effective treatment for adults for many years. More recently, studies have shown that hypnosis and hypnotherapy for children, teens, and young adults has been helpful in alleviating a variety of issues. There are now many mental health professionals who have trained in hypnosis who specialize in working with children as young as 2 and 3 years old.
What Is Hypnotherapy?
Hypnosis is a natural, relaxed state of body and mind that every person experiences everyday of their lives. Two examples of this are the moments just before falling asleep and just before waking up. In this semi-waking state, the mind is focused while the critical faculty is temporarily suspended. A hypnotherapist helps people deliberately enter that state in order to more easily create emotional and behavioral therapeutic changes.
Parents with kids experiencing a wide range of issues can benefit from hypnosis based treatment, including:
- Nail Biting
- Behavior issues
- Academic motivation
- School/sports performance issues
- Night terrors
- Fear of the dark and other phobias
Hypnotherapy can be effective either as a stand-alone treatment or in combination with other treatments such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), talk therapy, play therapy, and family counseling.
Any successful hypnosis session relies on the child or teen participating with the therapist. Three ways a child can participate in the process of hypnosis are maintaining focused awareness, following suggestions, and having a willingness to play.
During normal waking consciousness, we are constantly moving our focus from one object to another. This is true for kids and teens as well as adults. Before, during, and after a session of hypnosis the therapist will help the child bring their attention into a sharper focus and keep it there. This can be accomplished by instructing the child to focus on the therapist’s voice, the sensations in their body, or the guided imagery that the therapist uses during therapeutic work.
In all of these instances, the therapist is keeping the child’s attention focused on one object or subject at a time.
Following the basic instructions of the therapist is essential to a successful hypnosis session. The main objective of any hypnosis treatment is to change behaviors and emotional states that have become ingrained and problematic. Following suggestions helps a person temporarily let go of their critical faculty and ridgid ways of thinking, making those changes easier to accomplish.
Suggestions are generally simple and easy to understand. “Close your eyes and begin to relax”, “Now focus your attention on your breathing”, and “Imagine yourself entering a calm, safe place where you feel at ease and relaxed” are all examples of suggestions a therapist might use.
Willingness to Play
A great deal of the hypnotic process has an element of imagination and play associated with it.
Because of its reliance on imagination and playfulness, hypnosis can be an especially effective way to help kids, including very young children. By maintaining an atmosphere of novelty, creativity, respect, and trust, children are more easily able to discover their innate strengths and resources to help create the changes they want. 1
These criteria are only indicators that hypnosis treatment has the potential for positive results. Children and teens who don’t meet these and other criteria may still benefit from hypnosis. Ultimately, the decision to undergo hypnotherapy depends on the consensus of the child, caregiver, and therapist.
How Can Hypnotherapy Help a Child or Teen?
As mentioned before, hypnosis works best when play and imagination are fostered and encouraged. Skillful child hypnotherapists tap into children’s natural capacity for play and make the experience fun and engaging. Even the novelty of the word “hypnosis” itself often stimulates the child’s curiosity and imagination. This makes it more likely that the kid or teen will “buy in” to the treatment and participate in the process.
Many children and their parents are seeking treatment for fears, insecurities, phobias, and anxieties. The hypnotic trance state is characterized by feelings of relaxation, calm, and safety. In this state, the child is able to face their fears in a safe setting and discover new ways of relating to them. In this way, the child and therapist can find collaborative solutions to the problem states more easily than if they are simply talked about.
Example of Hypnosis for a Child
A typical course of hypnosis treatment for children and teens will include an initial assessment, several hypnosis sessions, and some kind of follow-up and support.
Usually, especially with children under the age of 12, the caregiver and child will meet with the therapist and discuss the presenting issue. Having a parent or caregiver present can help put the child at ease and help them feel safe. One way to speed up this process is to have the parent model some of the hypnotic techniques to be used. These joint meetings can continue until the child is ready to meet with the therapist alone.
During the initial assessment and first sessions the child may be asked about their past and current experience of the problem state. As this can be connected with other medical and mental health issues, a therapist will likely ask about any past or current treatments so they can coordinate with other providers as needed.
Some other areas that may be explored before treatment begins include:
- Identifying what triggers episodes of the presenting issue.
- Clearly noting all the physical and emotional symptoms that accompany the problem state, including mental images, inner dialog, looping thoughts, and physical sensations. Even very young children have the capacity to notice and talk about these kinds of experiences.
- It’s also important for the child to clarify their desired outcome from the treatment. For example, feeling relaxed and confident when they are called up in front of their class, or putting the experience of bedwetting behind them.
All of this information helps the child or teen and therapist figure out the best direction to take.
Next are the actual hypnosis sessions. The number of sessions needed will vary from child to child. Some experience satisfying results after one or two sessions while others benefit from a longer program of treatment.
At some point, the therapist will induce the first hypnotic trance, guiding the child into a state of deep relaxation and focused awareness. In addition to the strategies mentioned above a therapist can then employ various techniques to relieve the symptoms as well as address the underlying causes of the problem.
Is Hypnotherapy Effective for Kids?
Hypnosis, self-hypnosis, and hypnotherapy have been shown to be effective helping children and teens with a wide variety of issues including chronic headaches, pain management, and other emotional, self-regulation skills.
The following are useful studies regarding hypnosis for kids:
- A 2007 study of 144 participants showed that children and youths who learned self-hypnosis for recurrent headaches reported reduction in frequency of headache from an average of 4.5 per week to 1.4 per week, and reduction in average duration from 23.6 hours to 3.0 hours. The study also concluded that there were no adverse side-effects for self-hypnosis.2
- A 2016 study assessed the efficacy of self-hypnosis in a therapeutic education program (TEP) for the management of chronic pain in 26 children aged 7 to 17 years. Of those patients, sixteen decreased their pain intensity, 10 reached all of their therapeutic goals, and 9 reached them partially. Self-hypnosis was the only component of the TEP associated with these improvements. The current study supports the efficacy of self-hypnosis in our TEP program for chronic pain management in children.3
- A 2014 review article looked at the efficacy of hypnosis as a therapeutic treatment for children. It concluded that hypnosis is a powerful tool for teaching young people self-regulation skills and suggested more training in pediatric hypnosis be made available.4
- A promising study done in 2010 showed that hypnosis lowered the anxiety and pain associated with dental anesthesia. Thirty children aged 5 to 12 were randomly assigned to 2 groups receiving hypnosis (H) or not (NH) at the time of anesthesia. Significantly more children in the H group had no or mild pain. This study suggests that hypnosis may be effective in reducing anxiety and pain in children receiving dental anesthesia.6
How to Find a Hypnotherapist
Hypnotherapy as a treatment emphasizes personal empowerment and choice. Making an educated choice about your mental and emotional health requires some time and research. Here are a few suggestions for finding and choosing a therapist right for you:
Knowledge Is Power
The more knowledgeable you are about hypnosis, the easier it will be to make an informed decision about which hypnotherapist is right for you. Read articles and books, watch YouTube videos, and listen to podcasts about hypnosis. A little knowledge goes a long way when it comes to making decisions about your health and well-being.
Not all hypnotists and hypnotherapists work with children and teens. Most will be up front about this on their websites and other marketing material. Once you’ve found a potential hypnotist, ask them about any special training, degrees, or experience related to working with children. You can also review testimonials from other parents and caregivers.
Many hypnotherapists offer free initial consultations. These are great opportunities to personally meet a number of different therapists and compare their services.
Interview Potential Therapists
You are about to hire a person to perform a valuable service.
Conduct your initial conversation with a prospective therapist like you would a job interview, for example:
- What is their experience with helping children and teens?
- What kind of success have they had with past clients?
- What kinds of additional support do they offer before and after your sessions?
- Who do they consider to be an ideal client?
In the end, trust your heart as well as your head. If you get the impression that the therapist has empathy for your issue and you feel a sense of rapport, then that person is likely to be a good fit.
At-Home Hypnosis for Kids
Hypnosis is a natural state. It has been shown to be safe and effective for people to use both in clinical settings and at home.6 Most, if not all, hypnotherapists will teach some form of self-hypnosis to their clients.
Here are a few hypnosis-related techniques that parents, caregivers, and children can use at home:
The mechanics of a self-hypnosis session are not that difficult to learn. Scripts for self-hypnosis routines that can be memorized or recorded. Once one has learned how to elicit a trance state for themselves, they can either simply relax or apply the therapeutic techniques they have learned from a therapist.
This mindfulness technique is easy to learn and apply at home. Simply find a quiet space, close your eyes, and bring your attention to each part of the body from the top of the head down to the feet. Spend some time noticing where there is tension or stress and do your best to let go and relax.
Mindfulness for Kids
Part of any successful treatment of problem emotional states is being able to recognize immediately when they come up. Mindfulness skills can help kids identify these states before they become unmanageable and remember to apply whatever antidotes work best for them.
For Further Reading
The following are helpful additional resources for hypnosis for kids:
- Hypnosis Basics is a helpful video explaining some of the basic principles of hypnosis.
- HMI College of Hypnotherapy offers free videos on hypnosis for health and self-improvement.
- The Children’s Mental Health Network promotes and advocates for the availability and effectiveness of high-quality services for children with mental health needs and their families.