As a pediatrician, I am used to working with parents to help provide the best possible care for their children. One of the big differences between hypnosis therapy and traditional medical therapy is that the child needs to play an active role for the therapy to succeed. Therefore, most of the interactions involving hypnosis are centered on the child. The role of the parent in hypnosis therapy varies depending on the nature of the hypnosis instruction, the age of the child, and the child’s preferences.
Parents sometimes ask if they can be in the consultation room while their child learns how to use hypnosis (Anbar, 2021).
For example, I explained to 13-year-old Amelia’s mother, “As long as Amelia wants you in the room, you are more than welcome. Parents learn a lot about how their children can help themselves by observing the learning process.”
Having parents in the room can be especially valuable when children learn about the power of positive words (link). In this way, the parents can learn at the same time about how to talk better with their children.
“Does your mother ever tell you, ‘Stop yelling’?” I asked Amelia.
“Well, yelling is a negative word. What should your mother say instead?
“I wish you would stop yelling?”
“No, that’s still negative. It’s using the ‘yell’ word that is negative. When your mother says that you might yell even more. Think again, what should your mother say?”
“How about I wish you would be quiet?”
“That’s right,” I respond, as I look at Amelia’s mother. I detected a knowing look that appeared as she took in a new way to talk to her daughter.
“There is one time when I recommend that the parent leaves the visit,” I further explained to Amelia and her mother during the early part of her treatment. “This is when Amelia’s subconscious (link) says that there is something bothering her which she is unaware. When the subconscious says that Amelia can find out what this issue might be, this is when I suggest that you not be present.”
I addressed Amelia, “Do you know why that is?” She shook her head.
“The subconscious might want to bring up an issue that you may not want your mother to find out about.” I explain. “In general terms, can you think of what kind of issue would you prefer remain private?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Here are some examples,” I continue. “I’m not saying that any of these affects you, but you’ll get the idea. Maybe you did something wrong and don’t want your mother to find out because then you would get in trouble. Perhaps there is something upsetting you and if your mother found out she would become upset too, and you don’t want to upset her. Or worse yet, perhaps your mother would try to fix the problem, and you don’t want her to become involved.”
“Yeah, I get it.”
“Once you find out what the issue is, you are more than welcome to tell your parents about it. But what you and I will talk about will remain confidential. I will not tell anyone about it unless you ask me to. The only time I would break this promise is if you tell me that you are going to harm yourself or someone else. Does that make sense?”
Parents often want to know about their role after their child is taught how to use clinical hypnosis. The answer depends on the age of the child. In children under the age of 8 years or so, it is often helpful for the parent to help guide the child in their use of hypnotic imagery.
For example, hypnosis with young children might involve telling a story that presents suggestive metaphors: Six-year-old Connor was afraid of undergoing a brain scan with magnetic resonance imaging because the scanning machine was very loud and required that he lay still for half an hour. Sometimes, children of that age require anesthesia to undergo the scan.
Connor’s favorite story was about Madeline in Paris. In that story, he told me that Madeline is tucked in bed at the end of one of her adventurous days.
“That’s great!” I said. “Madeline can help you!”
Connor liked that idea.
“When you lie in the scanner, your mother will tuck you in, just like Madeline. Then you will hold very, very still, just like Madeline. And then when the scan is over you can get up, just like Madeline, and get some good food, just like Madeline.”
We arranged for Connor to wear headphones during the scan, through which his mother read him the Madeline story, and he was able to lie still like a champ for the entire scan. No medicine required!
Parents can also remind their young children about how they can blow their worries away in soap bubbles, or practice “Yo yo” breathing with their children by holding an imaginary string connected to the child’s belly button and raising their hand up and down. The child can follow the movement of the hand by moving their diaphragm with their breath, and this helps them breathe deeply. Such breathing exercise can be very calming.
As children become older, I remind parents to allow their children to use hypnosis techniques on their own. Parental reminders can become counter-productive, especially with teenagers who can resent their parental involvement. A teenager may reject a parent’s advice because it makes them feel infantilized, patronized, or controlled.
Imagine the common scenario in which a parent asks a teenager to perform a chore, and the teen responds in a surly manner.
“Why don’t you use your hypnosis to calm down?” an exasperated parent might say.
In response, the teenager may choose never to do hypnosis again, just to spite the parent.
Furthermore, part of the benefit of learning to use hypnosis to control one’s emotions and symptoms is to improve the capacity for self-regulation. Parents who remind their teenage children to employ hypnosis are giving the message that they do not trust their children to take care of themselves. Such a message can hurt the children’s self-esteem and slow their progression towards becoming self-sufficient. Finally, part of effective therapy involves teaching teens to learn how to use their skills independently since their parents will not always be around when employment of a hypnotic technique would be beneficial.
Therapy with hypnosis is most effective when it is adjusted to fit the needs of each individual. Similarly, the level of parental involvement with hypnosis should be based on the specific needs of their child.
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