What is hypnosis? What is self-hypnosis?
Hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness . Some people describe hypnosis as a normal state of focused attention. They say they feel very relaxed and calm. During hypnosis, the mind is more open to suggestion than usual.
Hypnosis is a natural mental state. For example, children are often in a state of self-hypnosis when they are playing imaginary games. Actors and athletes often use it to improve their performance. Because people are open to suggestion while in a hypnotic state, they can learn to change their thoughts, feelings, behavior, and attitudes.
People can take these changes that happen during hypnosis and use them for self-improvement in their usual state of consciousness. For example, hypnosis can be used to help reduce anxiety, control pain, control the perception of discomfort during medical procedures, lessen discomfort of physical symptoms, and break bad habits.
- Read Mind-Body Medicine: An Overview for the background on mind-body medicine, which includes hypnosis. This article is from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health.
- Allow the hypnotherapist to control the subject's mind
- Cause people to fall asleep
- Make the subject forget what has happened
- Make people do things against their will.
What is the history of using hypnosis with children?
Hypnosis of children was first described in 1779 by Mesmer, who reportedly used hypnotherapy to treat a child with visual problems. Historically, hypnotherapy was rarely practiced with children, because people thought that children could not be hypnotized. In the 1970's, however, observations suggested that children were easier to hypnotize than adults, and that hypnosis could be used in the treatment of behavioral and physical problems in children .
What is pediatric hypnotherapy?
As currently practiced, hypnotherapy most often involves teaching a child how to self-hypnotize in order to control bad habits, physical symptoms, and other conditions. The child learns to use relaxation techniques and mental images—similar to a daydream or fantasy—to enter an “altered mental state” (in other words, to induce hypnosis).
Once in this altered state, the therapist makes suggestions aimed at producing the desired change in behavior, anxiety level, or symptom intensity , ,  . These may range from recalling times of feeling happy and well in a child with chronic pain, to thinking of the body as a “computer” that the child can “program” with his or her mind.
The child may also receive specific teaching about their problem as a means of helping them learn to exercise control over their body. For example, a child with nocturnal enuresis (bedwetting) may be taught the basic anatomy and function of the bladder. Ultimately, the child is able to induce self-hypnosis when needed to achieve the desired changes.
- Habit/tic disorders including thumb-sucking 2 , trichotillomania (hair-pulling)  , Tourette's Syndrome  .
Evidence is currently limited to several small studies and case reports (reports of successful therapy in a few individuals, without comparison to another therapy).
- Nocturnal enuresis (bedwetting)  .
Evidence includes case reports as well as one clinical trial, in which hypnotherapy was shown to be more effective than medication. Here is a review of this study.
- Sleep terrors, nightmares, and other sleep disturbances  .
Evidence is limited to case reports.
- Swallowing problems, food aversions, and choking (not related to anatomic problems or disease) .
Evidence is limited to case reports.
- Anxiety and stress ,  .
Case reports suggest that hypnotherapy may reduce episodes of wheezing or shortness of breath, and may decrease reliance on asthma medications.
- Cystic Fibrosis (CF)
A study in adults and children with CF suggests that hypnotherapy can reduce symptoms of cough, shortness of breath, anxiety, and other problems commonly faced by these patients.
- Migraine headaches
See this summary of how hypnosis might help kids with cancer.
- Chronic pain in cancer patients
Initial results from small studies showing that hypnotherapy can be used to manage chronic pain in children with cancer; larger studies are likely underway.
- Nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy 
Several studies comparing hypnotherapy to anti-nausea medications and simple relaxation techniques show that hypnotherapy plus medications was more effective than medications alone in reducing nausea and vomiting. Children treated with hypnotherapy had less pre- and post-chemotherapy nausea and vomiting.
- Treatments: pill-swallowing, injections, and medical procedures
Hypnosis has been shown to be very effective in helping children through painful procedures like shots, IV pokes, even spinal taps and bone marrow studies.
How do I find a hypnotherapist?
Probably the best way for your child to learn to use self-hypnosis is to work with a hypnotherapist for one or two sessions. A pediatric hypnotherapist can teach kids how to enter a state of hypnosis, and give themselves constructive suggestions. Kids with medical conditions need to consult hypnotherapists who are qualified to work with patients.
There are no laws regulating who can be called a “hypnotherapist.” Practitioners range from doctors, to psychologists, to informally trained practitioners. The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) certifies health and mental health professionals who practice hypnotherapy. They have strict certification criteria. In addition, they maintain a search page so that you can locate a certified therapist in your area.
We recommend only consulting licensed medical or mental health professionals with ASCH certification.
- American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH)
- Michigan chapter of the ASCH
- Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis
Written and compiled by Carolyn Lorenz, M.D., Neda Yousif, M.D. and Kyla Boyse, R.N. Reviewed by faculty and staff at the University of Michigan
Updated November 2008
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