“This book is, first and foremost, a book of action,” writes psychotherapist Lynn Lyons.
“This might surprise most people, based on the common vision of hypnosis as still, quiet, or passive.” But, she continues, “Hypnosis is a bridge from stuck to solutions.” When it comes to using hypnosis with children, “there may be moments of stillness, but in the larger frame of helping families, it’s all about inducing movement — sometimes literally.”
In Using Hypnosis with Children: Creating and Delivering Effective Interventions, Lyons changed some of my assumptions about hypnosis. Like many people, I imagined it to more closely resemble guided meditation. I got an immediate vision of a relaxed person sitting with their eyes closed, sifting through their subconscious with the help a verbal advisor — their hypnotist. In reading Lyons’s book, I learned that hypnotherapy is often more about visualization and re-direction, especially with children.
While I cannot speak on behalf of professional therapists, I can say I understand the idea of re-direction well. For much of my twenties I worked as an early childhood education teacher, primarily with preschoolers. I often worked independently with the younger half of the pre-k room: those transitioning from the toddler room. The challenges with this age group are vast, but the most difficult transition came when free play ended and bathroom stops before nap time began. Any teacher knows this combination of events is often a recipe for tantrums — no child wants to put away their toys for a bathroom stop, let alone for nap time.
In order to ease this transition, I invented a playful game called Baking Time. Baking Time consisted of sitting in a circle with the children and using our imaginations to go through the steps and motions of baking an item containing several ingredients, such as cake or pizza. They loved it so much they began to request it each day. As I began to make it routine, I noticed I experienced zero troubles transitioning them to nap time.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Baking Time was a form of hypnosis!
Lyons explains that children ages three to seven are in a preoperational phase, where huge changes occur in their cognitive and emotional development. They are often at the peak of their hypnotizability.
“Imagination and magical thinking are prominent, with easy and frequent movement between fantasy and reality,” Lyons writes. In hindsight, Baking Time highly illustrated her point. The children did not blink; they were completely absorbed in their imaginations. Their hands vigorously stirred imaginary mixes as if they were holding real bowls. They gladly washed their hands in the imaginary sink — and, as I later discovered, they carried this attitude with them when they had to wash their real hands in the bathroom.
“Hypnosis with children in this state is fluid and interactive,” Lyons writes. I can support this with my firsthand experience. As I read Lyons and started to recall the absence of tantrums about hand washing, I realized what a positive impact the hypnotic game had on my students.
Lyons addresses hypnotism for pre-teens and teens, too. She highlights the key differences in developmental thinking among various age groups, and explains how those differences affect the style of hypnosis one should use. Pre-teens may be more resistant, she writes, due to new awareness and underdeveloped coping skills. They will inevitably require different types of induction and discussion than a five-year-old. Teens, meanwhile, can more easily tap into their imagination with their eyes closed, whereas small children can be playful with their eyes open. Lyons lists these types of differences throughout each chapter.
To help serious hypnosis practitioners, Lyons addresses specific challenges: anxiety and depression, physical pain, sleep problems. In one chapter, on parents as allies, she offers techniques in parental management and involvement. While Lyons addresses questions like “Should parents be allowed to stay in the room when working with a child?” in earlier sections, her inclusion of a chapter dedicated to cultivating positive parental involvement further serves the book. As a teacher, I know that parental involvement in school is crucial and strongly impacts a child’s performance. Having parents as allies in child therapy is likely no different.
This book is full of useful strategies for opening dialogue, managing child and parent expectations, creating a safe working space, induction games, and helping children create useful coping strategies for all types of situations (blood draws, insomnia, depression, and so on). While it does contain a few spare examples, this is not a step-by-step guide for those just starting out in hypnotherapy. There are no complete templates to work with, and, while Lyons contends that each session must be tailored to each child, this means the book may need a more instructive companion for those starting out in the field.
Despite this omission, however, Lyons seems to provides clinicians with a near-complete text to help navigate the various facets of hypnotherapy. Even as a former pre-k teacher, I learned a lot about what hypnosis looks like in young minds.
Using Hypnosis with Children: Creating and Delivering Effective Interventions
W. W. Norton & Company, September 2015
Hardcover, 400 pages