Hypnosis with children has been documented since ancient times. Many cultures have rich histories of healing, religious, and/or initiation rites which involve trance or trance-like phenomena in children. In more modern times Dr Franz Mesmer's application of animal magnetism was used in the treatment of children as well as adults. While the Franklin commission's investigation of Mesmer in 1784 concluded that the described clinical effects were not due to magnetism, it also specifically attributed their observations to 'imagination', now recognized as a critical operative ingredient in child hypnosis.
Prior to the development of chemical anaesthesia, Braid and Elliotson successfully applied hypnotic strategies with many children to facilitate their comfort during major surgery. At the end of the nineteenth century, French physicians Liebeault and Bernheim reported the use of hypnotic techniques for childhood habit problems and also reported on child hypnotic susceptibility. In his hypnosis textbook of 1903, J. Milne Bramwell, an English psychotherapist, reported the successful use of hypnotherapy with habits such as nail biting and with recurrent headaches. The use of hypnosis with children in North America did not receive much attention thereafter until the late 1950s when its use was promoted by Drs Milton Erickson and Erik Wright, and the 1960s when the skilled child hypnosis contributions of Dr Franz Baumann led to him becoming the first paediatrician to be President of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH).
Increased documentation of successful clinical applications of hypnosis with children (Gardner, 1976, 1978; Olness, 1975) appeared in the 1970s. During the same time research began to report both the clinical efficacy and psychophysiologic changes associated with self-hypnosis in children. Additionally, the benefits of hypnosis training were recognized for children with chronic illnesses such as cancer, haemophilia, and asthma.
The numbers of child health professionals trained in hypnosis have increased substantially over the past 25 years. Increasing numbers of substantive research projects seek to understand the clinical effects of these self-regulation methods and to apply them with greater precision.
Hypnotherapeutic methods with and without other self-regulation training (e.g., biofeedback) (Culbert, Reaney & Kohen, 1994) offer child health professionals opportunities to facilitate the development of competency and a sense of personal mastery in the children with whom they work. Successful applications of self-regulation include a focus on personal control and decision-making by the child, and specific attention to the child's preferences in using personal imagery skills. Ongoing research examining the characteristics of children's imagery (Kosslyn, Margolis, Barrett, Goldknopf & Daly, 1990) will hopefully provide clinicians more precise guidelines in selecting individual hypnotherapeutic approaches for a given child.
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For anyone concerned that this is a report designed to teach readers how to convince crowds of people to act like chickens or dance to an unheard song just with a carefully placed keyword - relax. While hypnosis is often paraded in that form with large crowds visiting celebrity hypnosis experts to see what wonders they can perform, the majority of hypnosis used is to aid people seeking a solution to a problem they cannot resolve easily with any other method.