Hypnosis For Children: The Evidence, Final Part
This is the final part of my series of articles this week, please do read the previous three blog entries here on the blog this week to make full sense of todays article.
Having looked at a variety of applications for hypnosis with children, some people are likely to be inclined to draw parallels with the efficacy of clinical hypnosis used with adults. For some it makes sense to presume that having a good body of evidence for the efficaciousness of hypnosis for treating anxiety disorders with adults, should translate to mean the same could be said about it’s efficaciousness with children.
We’ve see that children have a higher hypnotic suggestibility and that adds further weight to the previous thought process, yet paediatric medicine and child therapy is a specialist area that requires specialist training and therefore, many believe that more research is required to make disctinctions in the usefulness of hypnosis with children rather than making any assumptions based on adult research.
Looking for researched applications of hypnosis for specific ailments or disorders, there is not a great deal in addition to those mentioned in my previous articles.
Belsky and Khanna (1994) studied cystic fibrosis patients and looked at whether self-hypnosis would be a beneficial treatment of it.
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder which mainly affects the lungs of the individual and produces severe respiratory distress. In this study, Belsky and Khanna aimed to explore whether self-hypnosis could “enhance the pulmonary function and psychological adjustment of cystic fibrosis patients.”
The participants ages ranged from 7 to 18 years, were assigned to a self-hypnosis group and a control group. The self-hypnosis group had three sessions where they listened to a hypnotic induction followed by guided imagery designed to relax them deeply. The children were then given suggestions that they could breathe easily and comfortably and asked to imagine that their lungs were clear, free and comfortable. They were then asked to listen to a recording of the session repeatedly at home.
The results of the experiment indicated that the self-hypnosis group achieved significantly greater improvements in lung function, as well as higher self-esteem, lowered anxiety levels, better health and personal sense of control than the control group. At the very least, this study raises the possibility that self-hypnosis can produce a variety of improvements in children with cystic fibrosis, which is incredibly exciting.
One of the subjects that I am asked about a great deal is with regards to using hypnosis to help children who have learning disabilities. This is also an area that I hear a large number of positive anecdotes about too from fellow professionals.
Additionally, there are a few authors who have reported using hypnosis to enhance academic performance of children, in particular those suffering from learning disabilities (Crasilneck & Hall, 1985; Illovsky, 1963; Krippner, 1966).
L. S. Johnson, Johnson, Olson, and Newman (1981) investigated the effect of group and self-hypnosis on the self-esteem and academic performance of learning-disabled children.
Within the group hypnosis training sessions, the children listened to suggestions for imagery which emphasised improved academic performance and higher self-esteem. They were then given instructions on how to use self-hypnosis and subsequently experience similar imagery on their own.
The results of this study did not indicate any significant differences between the control group and the hypnosis group when academic achievement and self-esteem were then measured after the treatment and at follow-up. Though may authors and researchers have suggested that hypnosis could well still be used with motivational aspects of learning and other applications should be explored with further research.
And this is a very common point, isn’t it? Despite a growing amount of literature and increased number of authors within the field of hypnosis for children, the actual clinical research, especially that containing control measures, is very light indeed. What’s more, controlled studies of hypnosis for children’s emotional or behavioural problems are virtually non-existent. Which seems unbelievable to me.
Due to this lack of evidence and number of studies, there are no interventions for child hypnosis which qualify as efficacious based on EST criteria (EST standing for Empirically Supported Treatment). The only real shining light in this direction is the application of clinical hypnosis for nocturnally enuretic children as described by (mentioned in my previous article) Edwards and van der Spuy (1985), which would just about qualify as a possibly efficacious therapy. The study would need to be replicated (as per EST requirements) in order to enhance it’s standing in this regard.
In contrast, a review of empirically supported child and adolescent treatments by Kazdin and Weisz (1998) described several promising examples of ESTs pointing towards cognitive-behavioural therapy for child anxiety (in particular the use of exposure therapies and relaxation education) and coping skills training for child depression (in particular, modification of cognitive styles, interpersonal skills training, and development of mood-enhancing skills) as interventions that are well supported by the empirical literature. Certainly I have been impressed with the work of Martin Seligman whose The Optimistic Child as a means of preventing depression in children has very strongly evidenced underpinning principles. (Building upon his brilliant work Learned Optimism)
Us hypnosis professionals do tend to know that evidence has suggested that hypnosis can advance the efficaciousness of certain therapies when used as an adjunct, in particular when using cognitive behavioural therapy to overcome anxiety and/or depression (Kirsch et al., 1995) and so perhaps there could be more of a role for hypnosis there too?
All this said, the number of studies that have been conducted with control groups are promising and encouraging. In particular when applied to enuresis, chemotherapy-related distress, and acute pain during invasive medical procedures.
From a personal point of view, I have loved reading about how children can be taught self-hypnosis and already my mind is abuzz with the direction my own work is going with this in mind.
For now, I am running my intensive hypnotherapy training diploma all week next week, so this blog is going to be a bit sparse until I return, but when I am back, I intend to start looking at techniques, strategies and real-life applications of how to use hypnosis with children.
Belsky, J., & Khanna, P. (1994). The effects of self-hypnosis for children with cystic fibrosis: A pilot study. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 36,282-292.
Crasilneck, H. B., & Hall, J. A. (1985). Clinical hypnosis: Principles and applications (2nd ed.). New York: Grune & Stratton.
Illovsky, J. (1963). An experience with group hypnosis in reading disability in primary behavior disorders. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 102,61-67.
Johnson, L. S., Johnson, D. L., Olson, M. R., & Newman, J. P. (1981). The uses of hypnotherapy with learning-disabled children. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 37, 291-299.
Kazdin, A. E., & Weisz, J. R. (1998). Identifying and developing empirically supported child and adolescent treatments. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66,19-36.
Kirsch, I., & Lynn, S. J. (1995). The altered state of hypnosis: Changes in the theoretical landscape. American Psychologist, 50,846-858.
Krippner, S. (1966). The use of hypnosis with elementary and secondary school children in a summer reading clinic. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 8,261-266.
Seligman, M. E. P., (2007) The Optimistic Child: A Proven Program to Safeguard Children Against Depression and Build Lifelong Resilience. Mariner Books.