Why hypnotising kids is wrong!

Increasing numbers of parents are sending their children to hypnotherapists, mainly to cure stress and anxiety over school tests and examinations.

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That’s all fine and good if your child is 15 or 16 years old and the 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 should be beneficial and safe.

Calming anxiety of school exams is one thing, but I am very concerned that very young children (some as young as two) are being hypnotised and ‘treated’ for things like tantrums, bedwetting and fussy eating. These are all part of growing up and children have to learn about boundaries and the difference between good and bad behaviour as they grow – it can’t be given to them on a plate. Bed-wetting is, in any event, something that most children grow out of naturally.

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 very young do not have a fully developed understanding of the subtleties of language and suggestion. Given that hypnosis works with the imagination and very young children tend to interpret ideas literally, I can already see a possibility of emotional conflict. It is common knowledge among stage hypnotists that problems on stage like abreactions are almost always with younger participants – sometimes kids don’t have the emotional maturity to cope with what is after all, an unusual 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. A basic hypnotherapy training course takes about two days. Some courses are better than others of course but some are also 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 and precious little data to support the idea.

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 and the majority are there for problems related to anxiety.

I suspect there is something of a ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ mentality that is also a significant driving force behind this latest fad. It seems that parents, especially middle class parents with disposable income, are more determined than ever that their little darlings 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 get. There is a danger that some parents see hypnosis as a short cut to success in life – for very young children, it isn’t. [Private sessions can cost anywhere between £50 and £350.]

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, 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 a female chaperone should be there.

Some qualified members of the medical profession would say that many hypnotherapists are quacks. True, 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.

A benchmark test would be if the child has achieved a certain level of independence. Does the child go to events on his/her own or with friends where there is no parental supervision?

Children who are old enough to get married, get pregnant, join the army or drive a car are old enough to be hypnotised, but that still begs the question – is hypnotherapy the right sort of treatment for a very young and still developing child? Answer – no it isn’t.

Copyright Andrew Newton 2016. All rights reserved.