Since I last wrote here on the blog, my explorations have moved on from just examining the evidence base for the use of hypnosis with children and started to focus on how to actually induce hypnosis with children. Clinically, there would seem to be a large range of considerations for doing so according to the literature. So today, I am writing about how to choose your induction, offer up some considerations and then finish off with a great induction technique that I use with many children…

With adult clients, my choice of induction would depend upon the type of person the client was, the kind of issue we were dealing with, and of course my own leanings and preferences. Choosing the right induction for a child is not that much different.

Although this article is mainly going to focus on the child’s preferences and requirements, the choice of induction cannot not be influenced by the style and preferences of the individual hypnotherapist. If a hypnotherapist has a particular method that he or she does particularly well, it may be perceived by the child as particularly good because it is done so credibly and fluently, with congruence and belief. Likewise, a hypnotherapist should not really use techniques he or she is not comfortable with if it is going to detrimentally effect the perception of the therapist through the child’s eyes or impair the effectiveness of the technique.

The age of the child and their life experience is going to influence any choice of hypnotic induction, the type of person they are and the preferences the child has are going to influence equally. The type of goal for the session too – if working on anxiety related issues, then the induction may well help to relax the child, and on other occasions, the induction may be influenced by the latter content of the therapeutic session and the techniques employed therein. For example, if you are going to be using a particular kind of imagery within the therapy, you may choose to integrate the same imagery into the induction.

The key for hypnotising children does seem to be having access to a wide range of differing inductions in order to be flexible and to be able to switch approach if required to do so. Have a good repertoire of inductions is essential when working with children. Sometimes there might be some resistance to a particular induction method that requires a quick change to a different induction altogether.

A while ago, one of my previous students, who is now a professional hypnotherapist told me how she incorporated some lyrics of her child client’s favourite music band into one of her inductions and therapy sessions, it worked incredibly well and the client loved it and responded incredibly positively. Even if we are not naturally clued up with youth culture, it pays to research when we know what the child likes.

In addition to having an awareness of the social and cultural backgrounds of the children which we find out about during pre-assessment communication and during early consultation, knowing what the likes and dislikes are is going to ensure we have material and references to use within our inductions as well as understanding a bit about the type and style of induction that is going to work best with the child. Knowing some more details about the kinds of books they read, television programmes they watch, favourite films, the music they listen to, and as well as any video games they like will help in a number of ways.

Often the most successful inductions are those that adhere to the preferences and likes of the child spoken in the language that they know and recognise. Speaking in therapy jargon, or using a vocabularly that is full of long, complex words, or ever talking down to the child will hinder communication and the progress of inductions.

Although I have worked with many adults who fidget and find it difficult to sit still in the therapy chair, children are much less likely to sit still, and certainly not for prolonged periods of time. It is much more likely that they’ll fidget, wriggle and open their eyes from time to time and even start talking or commenting about a variety of things throughout the induction and the therapy session itself. A hypnosis professional needs to be aware of this and learn to be ok with it. It does not always mean the child is resisting.

Often, it simply means, the child is finding what is right and checking in to reassure him or herself. A good hypnotherapist will adapt to that, work with it and let it be an enjoyable experience rather than descending into a problematic scenario that creates more ongoing resistance.

A lot of children dislike closing their eyes and can even get scared when asked to do so, particularly when in a room with a relative stranger (the therapist). Therefore, it is not always necessary to insist upon eye closure, though you might state that it helps them to focus easier if they do so.  Likewise, some children have a negative attitude to the idea of going to sleep; perhaps they had a pet that was sadly ‘put to sleep’ and therefore it is often recommended to use alternative words to ‘sleep’ or ‘sleepy’ as very often used by hypnotherapists with adults.

Most importantly, I think it pays to let the choice of eye closure be that of the child. I tend to adopt a fairly permissive approach to inductions with children, finding that authoritarian approaches create issues that I’d rather avoid. We do not permit strong authoritarian approaches to communication in our society so much today, and that way of communicating tends to exist mainly in novels from years gone by. Though, when I say permissive, I do not mean going totally non-stop Erickson styled language and methodology; I think too much complex indirect language use is simply confusing. Being direct and easy to understand is just as important for a child that is following your instructions.

Another point about being too authoritarian is that it can disempower the child and even leave them feeling less capable of dealing or overcoming their issue. Using challenges within inductions or convincers of ‘hypnotic phenomena’ may be best avoided in lots of cases as they risk the child feeling helpless rather than stronger and empowered which is what we want the hypnosis to help them with.

Our main aim is to help the child feel more in control and to develop self-efficacy. To suggest they are losing control or for anything to insinuate that you (the hypnotherapist) have control over them, could harm that sense of control. It is reasonable for a therapist to have an appropriate level of authority, but too much authoritarianism could impair progress.

It may depend on age of the child, and it may depend on the child’s expectations (of which you ought to be helping to forge) of hypnosis, that some may well expect you to carry out a formalised and structured induction method. However, with children, much of the literature tends to suggest that being more informal is also fine.  Some authors suggest that simply asking the child to “imagine you are at the park with your best friend John” or “imagine how happy you feel when you are at a Birthday party” is enough to have the child start to develop hypnotic responsiveness.

Many authors tend to find Milton Erickson’s approach to hypnosis to be a very beneficial one to apply to children. Erickson (1958) believed and highlighted that all children go into hypnosis without any formal induction at times. The skilled hypnotherapist should be able to spot this and utilise it accordingly according to Erickson’s model of using hypnosis with children.

Progressive and positive language is advised throughout and things that are commonplace for hypnotherapists when they communicate apply just as much here – such as giving positive reinforcement and encouragement. Appropriate use of humour and a relaxed sense throughout the process is going to help a great deal too when inducing hypnosis.

I am going to give a few more samples of hypnotic inductions for children in my next blog entry here. Today though, this article should give you plenty of food for thought when choosing your induction.  I thought I’d offer up one of my favourite inductions that I use and leave you with that for now….

A while back, I wrote here about using a coin drop induction for self-hypnosis which you can read about here. I use a very similar process as a form of eye-fixation with children too. Here are some simple steps to follow:

Hypnotic Induction For Children: The Magic Coin:

Step One: Set things up. This is showing the child that things are changing, you are creating a different framework for them to function in.

You then hand them a coin and ask them to hold it. (I use a two pence piece that is brand new from the bank and let them keep their own ‘magic coin’ afterwards – I’m so generous!)

You then simply ask them to sit back and relax, to place their feet flat on the floor or just to position themselves in a receptive position on the chair, to take a slightly deeper breath and as they exhale they relax a bit more. Not all of this will always be appropriate, but just get them to adopt a position and prepare themselves in a comfortable fashion.

Step Two: He or she now raises the arm up to eye level and holds the coin between finger and thumb with the coin facing down towards the floor. You then ask them to focus on the coin as much as they can.

The arm is going to start to get heavy with the child a lot quicker than with an adult, so you need to be concise and deliver your instructions swiftly from here onwards so as not to create discomfort (and thus distraction) in the child. We use the heaviness generated in the arm though…

Step Three: Tell the child that as they feel the arm getting heavier, they will notice that the coin begins to slip out of their grip and when the coin drops, the arm will plop to the position where it began (on their lap, or on the chair arm etc) and the eyes will close ready for us to begin with the rest of the session.

A neat addition is to also suggest that you will catch the coin when it drops and place your hand underneath – this presupposes that it is indeed going to happen.

As I mentioned earlier, I give the coin to the child to take home and then use it to practice self-hypnosis. The ‘magic coin’ then becomes a tool they can continue to use beneficially thereafter.

Cool, eh?

I’ll be back soon with some other hypnosis inductions for use with children. Have a great day…