Hypnosis in Children
The history of hypnosis in children starts with Mesmer. One of the first patients he treated was seventeen-year-old Maria Theresa Paradies, a blind pianist, whose sight he restored by direct suggestion. Her blindness was apparently hysterical in nature. Cases like this in 1777 and shortly thereafter quickly established Mesmer’s reputation and great popular interest was aroused in mesmeric phenomena. Another important case of that period was that of Victor Race, a twenty-three-year-old shepherd boy, who was treated by the Marquis de Puysegur, one of Mesmer’s students. Victor was a somnambulist and his case is of particular interest in that it makes the first mention and description of somnambulism, as it is still defined. Interestingly enough, Victor was able to determine what type of treatment should be used with him and how he could go about getting better. The story is included in most of his historical texts.
Elliotson, the man who introduced the stethoscope to England, also treated children with mesmerism. Even before this he was an advocate of guidance aimed at parents. After gaining experience with hypnosis, he used it in parent guidance, as well as in psychotherapy with children. Somewhat later Liébault used hypnosis for the treatment of children at the famous Nancy School of Hypnosis. In 1889 Bertillon spoke at the International Congress of Hypnotism in Paris on the subject, “The Value of Hypnosis in the Treatment of Vicious and Degenerate Children.” He stated that many carefully observed facts proved the therapeutic value of suggestion in the following diseases of children: incontinence, nervous twitchings, nocturnal terrors, enuresis, onanism (by which he meant excessive masturbation), blepharospasm (tic of the eyelid), and other functional disturbances of the nervous system. In this address, he also mentioned the value of hypnosis in the treatment of lying, cruelty, idleness, and cowardice.
It is very interesting to observe that the early writers on the subject of hypnosis in children all agree as to its simplicity, the ease of induction, and the high percentage of results. Bertillon, for example, reported 250 cases where, he stated, he had an 80 per cent success in inducing hypnosis on the first attempt. Wetterstrand reported on a great number of cases, with subjects ranging from three to fifteen years of age—actually the youngest was two and a half years old. He claimed 100 per cent results with hypnosis. Liébault treated twenty-three cases up to age seven, where he obtained 100 per cent results; sixty-five cases from seven to fourteen, with 100 per cent results, and eighty-seven cases from fourteen to twenty-one, with 90 per cent results.
Many hypnotists today will find that they can get almost identical results. Children in general are imaginative. It is easy to get them to utilize most of the required techniques. They are keenly interested and hypnosis can be produced very rapidly.
Therapy (medical considerations)
In the therapy of children, particularly from the medical standpoint, it is usually unnecessary to have a very deep hypnosis. Their vivid imaginations and visual memory make gains possible on other levels. Children can be induced to see ball games, listen to concerts, and do all sorts of things while the physician or dentist is working on them, usually with satisfactory results. Gordon Ambrose reported extensive hypnotic work as a psychiatrist with children in a child guidance center. He stated that there are three cardinal rules that should be kept in mind when using hypnosis in children: (1) gain their confidence; (2) tell them what you are going to do; (3) use any technique.
RESPECT FOR THE SELF
In approaching the child hypnotically, either for the correction of habit patterns or for education in any particular regard, one needs always to bear in mind that the child must be taught to respect himself and, in respecting himself, not only to respect his own mind and his own body, but to respect very thoroughly and completely his own capacities to behave, his own capacities to learn.
In the following examples, hypnotic trances were constantly employed.
The most effective technique in child hypnosis is that of speaking simply and earnestly to the child, in such fashion as to fixate his attention. In this way a light to medium trance can be induced, in the process of offering therapeutic suggestions.
SOME SPECIAL PROBLEMS
One of the most important things one needs to accomplish in treating enuresis is to improve the child’s confidence in himself, to get him to stop worrying about his failures. Thus it is better to persuade him—and more particularly, to persuade his family—to stop talking about a “wet bed” and start discussing “dry beds.” In simple language, one must help the child to an understanding of what aggressions are, what parental attitudes are, and so on. Of course, it is frequently very important to include the parent or parents in the treatment.
CASE OF MARY ANN L.
When the young girl, Mary Ann L., was brought in for consultation, her parents complained that she wet the bed 365 nights per year. For the initial three weeks of her therapy, she was asked to bring in a report, not on how wet her bed was, but on what percentage of her bed was dry. Some nights one corner was dry; some nights the bed was one-third dry; at other times, it was half dry. At the end of the three-week period, the girl who had previously wet her bed seven nights per week was now wetting the bed twice a week, that is, she had a dry bed five nights a week. Now, after five or six months of therapy, Mary Ann has a dry bed from twenty-five to twenty-eight nights a month and she is no longer worrying about the problem.
Sometimes if one can get children to understand by indirection that wetting the bed is an aggression against the parents, the aggression itself may be employed to curtail the bedwetting. One can say, for example, “Just think how mad mommy and daddy will be when they come in in the morning and find your bed dry! That will really cause a commotion!”
With the childhood anxieties, such as shyness, nightmares, fears, somnambulism (sleep walking), nausea and vomiting, constipation, etc., one needs to discuss with the child the meaningfulness of the activity, the reasons for it, and the purposes served by it. This should be done at the child’s intellectual and educational level. The attitudes involved should be discussed with both child and parents.
The following case report is given in considerable detail, to illustrate at some length the actual comprehensive approach to the child.
CASE OF VICTOR J.
Until the age of three, Victor J, a seven-year-old boy had evidenced no unusual fear of thunderstorms. At that time, however, an early teenage lad was brought into the home for foster care. He and his mother, now deceased, had spent a number of years as Japanese prisoners of war and, as a result of his war experiences, the boy had become highly neurotic and subject to numerous fears.
During his initial months in the foster home, the ex-internee showed almost uncontrollable terror during an actual storm, or even when one threatened. Gradually his apprehension was communicated to the younger child. Victor’s lack of fear was replaced by much the same terror manifested by the foster brother.
Two additional incidents contributed to the smaller child’s attitude. One evening the mother, during a violent wind and rain storm, had opened the door to the carport, preparatory to going outside to secure some porch furniture. A strong gust of wind jerked the door out of her hand, caused her to slip on some wet concrete and, thus unbalanced, she was thrown under the car parked in the carport. The little boy began to scream with terror. It was very difficult to quiet him and assure him that his mother was uninjured.
Some time later, Victor and his father were out driving when a sudden desert duststorm arose, making visibility nonexistent. The father was forced to stop the car and park at the side of the road, as a safety measure. The wind rocked the car noticeably as the two sat in it, unable to see out, waiting out the storm. Following this episode, the child’s fears intensified.
The parents had tried numerous measures in an effort to reassure him. They had quietly talked to him about the necessity for rain and what it meant, especially on the desert. He had had stories about rain read to him, and had been taught poetry about rain, wind, and storms. Although he enjoyed the rhythm of the poems and retained the content of the stories, his apprehension did not noticeably decrease. He insisted that the curtains be drawn when there was rain, or tven an indication of rain, and he often asked to be put to bed, where he huddled fearfully under the covers.
The psychiatrist who was consulted had known the family socially over a long period and consequently many of their family traditions and practices were familiar to him. He was aware that the child still retained his belief in Santa Claus; it was the practice of the parents, from time to time throughout the year, to give the child small presents, crediting Santa Claus with having brought them. When the parents came into the office about the problem, the psychiatrist advised the parents to continue their practice of discussing with the child the need of flowers, grass, trees, and the earth for rain, and of teaching him poems about rain, but he suggested that they also tell Victor it was just possible Santa Claus might leave him a gift if the thunder became loud enough. The little boy was also seen in consultation and was told earnestly and emphatically that Santa Claus would probably have a surprise for him the next time it rained.
The child listened most attentively. When the next storm occurred, he was induced to peer out between the slightly parted curtains from time to time, to check on the brightness of the lightning, the loudness of the thunder, and the volume of the rainfall. He was persuaded to listen expectantly for each thunderclap, to determine whether, in his own mind, the noise was loud enough. He was also given pennies for each flash of lightning that he counted. He went to bed happily, in anticipation of Santa Claus’ visit, and was delighted to find the promised gift the next morning.
A little later the parents reported that Victor had spontaneously begun to ask when it might rain again and whether, because of the rain, Santa might not use a boat instead of his customary sled.
He was seen casually on a number of social occasions and comments were made reinforcing the association of Santa Claus with storms.