Chaplain Paul G. Durbin, Ph.D.


Hypnosis With Children Though children are considered very responsive to the hypnotic state, there is very little written on the subject. Two or three books and a few articles have been published over the last few years, but this is an area where more information is needed.

Except for a few hypnotherapists throughout the nation who specialize in children hypnotherapy, most of the rest of us seldom work with children. I occasionally work with children and have discovered it to be a challenge. I do not write this chapter as an expert in the field of children hypnotherapy but to share with you an experience of working with a child.

Most children over five years old have the necessary verbal understanding to be hypnotized, but even younger children can be hypnotized. Could not the rocking of a baby, singing to a baby, softly talking to a baby be considered hypnotic techniques? Most children have a vivid and active imagination which makes them very susceptible to suggestion. Using the child's natural tendency to pretend and make-believe enhances the use of hypnosis with children. Children tend to have short attention spans and this should be kept in mind when working with a child.

Induction methods and induction talks will vary with the age of the child. It is important to talk on a level which the child can understand. A small child may not know what the word "relax" means but can be told to make a tight fist and let it go to demonstrate relaxation. The child can be told to let his muscles become loose and floppy.

For the best induction, find something the child is interested in, perhaps a TV show, space travel, or heroes. Tell the child that you want to tell them a story and it may be more interesting with the eyes closed. Do not demand eye closure because this may interfere with the induction. In the story, use the child's favorite place, hero, TV show, etc.

One should never use "baby talk", "speak over their head", or "talk down to the child". There should be no unexpected change in tone or content.

Hypnotherapy has been effective for helping children overcome bed wetting, nail-biting, phobias, stammering, asthma, tics, and behavioral problems associated with tension, stress and other difficulties. Compared to adults, children are more physically active, more likely to open their eyes to refuse to shut them, and more likely to speak spontaneously during hypnosis.

Words like "sleep", "tired", and drowsy" should be avoided because many children have negative altitudes about sleep. What if the child had a pet who got sick and the child's parent

said they were going to have "Bobo" put to sleep. The parents return but Bobo doesn't. The child then may associate the "sleep" with death or abandonment.

(1) Ned With The school Phobia: Ten year-old Ned's mother called me regarding her son's school phobia. He hated to go to school and would leave school at his first chance and return home. Over the last several weeks, Ned had not spent an entire day at school. He was seeing a psychologist so I requested that the parents have the psychologist consult me, and I would work with Ned. The psychologist who was working with Ned was a friend and we often referred clients to each other. The next day I received the consult so I called Ned's parents and an appointment was scheduled for the next Friday.

Ned lived in Mississippi, about an hour's drive to New Orleans. Both mother and father accompanied Ned to the session. While Ned and his father filled out the counseling information paper, I talked with Ned's mother. Ned did not want to come, had cried since they had left home and was very upset. His mother told me that he was afraid that he would be admitted to the hospital. On a previous visit to another hospital in New Orleans, Ned had been admitted. Following the hospitalization, there was little or no change in his fear of


When I finished talking to Ned's mother, we walked out of my office into the reception room. I told Ned that he could have either or both of his parents and that we would do not hypnosis without his consent. Ned asked his dad to come into my office with him.

Once in the office, I said to Ned, "You don't want to be here, do you?" "No sir." "I can understand your not wanting to be here for you are uncertain what will happen. I can assure you that you will not be admitted to the hospital and you will return to Mississippi with your parents today. I want to talk to you and explain something about hypnosis so that you can see that it will be a very pleasant experience." He said, "O.K."

"First, I would like for you to tell me in your own words why you are here today." He told a story similar to his mother's account. I asked him if he liked his teachers and he said they were OK. I asked him if he had any trouble with any student which contributed to his fear of school. He said two years ago, one student scared him and he was afraid to go to school but had gotten over it. That student was not even in his school now.

I asked him if I could show him something and he said, "yes." I picked up a paper sack from my desk drawer. I removed a block of wood with a nail standing in the middle of the block and six more nails. I asked Ned if he thought I could balance all those nails on the one standing in the middle of the block. I told him that I could not tie them together nor magnetize them so they would stick together. Ned did not think I could balance the nails. I put them together in the appropriate manner, picked up the nails and they balanced on top of the nail in the block. Ned was impressed. I concluded the balancing act with the statement, "As, I could balance the nails which looked impossible, you can learn to do something which seems impossible to you now such as going to and staying in school."

(2) The Wizard of Oz: (adapted from Krasner) As the Wizard of Oz had been on TV a few nights before, I asked if he had seen it on TV and he said, "Yes." I told him this story adapted form book, The Wizard Within by Dr. A.M. Krasner.

The first time I saw the Wizard of Oz, I was in the seventh grade in Avenger, Texas. Classes were dismissed and our class went to see the movie. I guess I enjoyed that movie most of all because we got out of school a half day to see The Wizard of Oz. I have seen it several times on TV since that time and always seem to experience some new or additional meaning.

Each major character in "The Wizard of Oz" carries with it a message. The grand and mighty Wizard turns out to be just a common man who guides the character to the solutions they hold within themselves. The Wicked Witch of the West whom Dorothy and her companions flee in terror, turns out to be defeat with a bucket of water. The problem that each character brings to the Wizard turns out to be something each already had. The Lion always had courage, the Scarecrow had a brain, the Tin Man always had a heart and Dorothy always had the ability to get back home. Their problem was they did not realize their abilities until the Wizard helped them discover their capabilities.

You remember the story of Dorothy and her dog Toto. They made the perilous journey along the Yellow Brick Road with their companions: The Cowardly Lion, The Tin Woodsman and the Scarecrow. The unlikely group went through many exciting adventures and frightening experiences in order to reach the Land of Oz where the Wizard lived. They believe that he-and only he-could grant their wishes.

The scarecrow wanted a brain. The Tin Woodsman wanted a heart. The Lion wanted courage. Of course, the three of them already had these things, but they didn't believe they did. After stuffing the Scarecrow's head with a combination of things the Wizard of Oz declared, "I have given you brains. Hereafter you will be a great man." The Scarecrow believed the Wizard and he felt wise indeed. The Wizard took a silk heart filled with sawdust and placed it in the Tin Woodsman's breast. The Wizard said, "Now, you have a heart any man would be proud of." The Tin Woodsman believed the Wizard and felt tender and loving. The Lion drank a special potion which, according to the Wizard was courage. "Drink this," said the Wizard, "And you will be filled with courage." Believing the Wizard, the Lion drank the potion and feared nothing. Never mind that the Wizard turned out to be an ordinary man, he was extraordinary in that he had the capacity to engender belief. He helped change the course of people's lives by changing their beliefs about themselves.

During the course of the story, the Scarecrow was brilliant, the Tin Woodsman was kind and helpful and the Lion was fearlessly courageous. They knew they could do things...The Wizard of Oz had told them so and they believed him. You have within you the solution to your fear of going to school and you can release those fears if you believe you can.

Instead of tears running down his face, there was now a smile. I talked to him about hypnosis being a very relaxing experience and that he could use his imagination to help him make changes in his life which he desired. I asked him if he would do an experiment with me and he said he would like that. I did "Taste the Lemon" exercise and "Hand Heavy, Hand Light" exercise. He was impressed with the results of these exercises so I asked him to close his eyes and he did. I asked him to open his eyes and he did. I asked him to stand up and he did. I asked him to stand on his head and he looked at me as if I was crazy. I quickly said, "And you would not stand on your head if you had been in hypnosis. You followed my suggestion until I gave one that seemed foolish to you. The same is true when you are in hypnosis." I asked him if he was willing to use hypnosis to help him overcome his fear and he said, "Yes."

His mother told me that he liked going on boat rides with his dad in the canal near their home. I asked him if he would like to go on an imaginary boat ride with his dad and he nodded, "Yes." I told him he could keep his eyes open or he could shut them. He closed his eyes. I developed an imagery of the boat ride and he felt tired so he could lie down in the boat because his dad would be keeping the boat on course. I proceeded with a progressive relaxation technique using the movement of the boat for deepening.

I followed with a desensitization exercise by having him lift a finger at the first feeling of fear, then taking deep breath and blowing the fear out as he exhaled. I went step by step from waking up in the morning, getting dressed, going to school, walking to the school house door, going to his room, teacher beginning class, and went through the school day. I went over each area until there was no finger signal of fear and then went to the next activity. I went back over the entire procedure beginning with his getting up in the morning till he returned home from school with no finger signal for fear.

(3) The Green Dragon: (Adapted from Wallas' Stories For The Third Ear:) (I use this with most clients with a phobia regardless of age)

Now I wonder if you might feel a smile coming over your face today as you release your fears. You have slain your dragon and have released your fears and if it is so, you began to smile. You may try to hold the smile back but the harder you try, the bigger the smile becomes. Ned began to smile. I gave him some self-confidence suggestions and said that he would experience a cycle of progress as day-by-day he had more and more confidence in himself. I then counted him out of the hypnotic state and he felt very good about himself. He asked, "If I need to, can I come back to see you?" and I responded, "Yes, of course."