Many children (and some adults) are afraid of needles and other medical procedures. Such fears can cause children to refuse to receive essential immunizations, have blood testing in order to monitor their health conditions, or even visit their doctor because they are afraid they might receive a shot.
When working with someone who is afraid of needles it is important to understand the source of the fear. Is it a fear of pain? Is it a fear of being held down? Is it a fear of a foreign object inside the body? Is it a fear of blood? Effective therapy that can be provided using hypnosis depends on the nature of the fear.
For example, children who have been held down in the past in order to undergo a medical procedure may be afraid of losing control. Therapy in this case could be focused on helping the children assert control by using hypnosis to calm themselves and letting their medical provider know when they are ready to begin their procedure.
Children can learn to control pain in a number of ways. A favorite of many kids is learning how to use a “magic glove.” They imagine putting a glove on one of their hands, including thinking of its color, texture, thickness, and warmth. Once the glove is on, the children can be shown that touching or pricking of the gloved hand feels different from that felt by the opposite hand. The sensation achieved with the gloved hand can be numb, ticklish, or as if a feather is touching the hand. The sensation of the gloved hand can then be transferred to a part of the body that might be pricked by a needle.
Another way to control pain is to teach children to imagine a control panel in their brain through which they can dial their discomfort up or down or switch it on or off. By learning to manipulate the control panel (such as the one used the in the movie “Inside Out”) children can learn to regulate their pain perception.
Some children can use comforting hypnotic imagery to better handle pain. For example, a child might imagine being in a comfortable safe place (e.g., Disneyland) which can help keep their mind off the sensations of a medical procedure. Alternatively, young children can blow soap bubbles while they receive an injection and can feel even better by imagining something within the bubbles such as colors, fairies, or ninjas.
The words we use can affect how children react to procedures. For example, who wants to receive a “shot?” During the COVID era we have learned that it might be better to receive a “jab.”
When a needle is about to be inserted through the skin, some clinicians state, “This will hurt just a little bit.” Who wants any bit of hurt? A better suggestion might be, “I wonder how it will feel when you are jabbed? I’m going to make you as comfortable as possible.”
Children who are afraid of blood might be asked to look at their blood to figure out whether they are healthy. “Red blood means that you are very healthy, which should make you very happy,” can be a helpful instruction as the children learn to focus on assessing their health rather than their discomfort.
Sometimes a discussion of why a medical procedure is beneficial is sufficient to help children to better tolerate it.
Helping children to identify the reasons for their fear of needles, can help direct an appropriate hypnotic intervention.
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