The active and vivid imagination that children naturally possess may help make them receptive to the alternative-medicine approach known as hypnotherapy, or medical hypnosis.

Hypnosis may help kids who are experiencing certain health or behavioral problems, such as stomach pain or anxiety, said experts who have studied hypnotherapy in children. But they note that much more research is needed to better understand how the technique might work, and which children it might help.

“It is much easier to get kids into a hypnotic state — to bring them away from the here and now and give them therapeutic suggestion — than it is with adults,” said Olafur Palsson, a clinical psychologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders.

Palsson has developed hypnotherapy programs for children and teens who experience stomach pain and intestinal complaints. Reviews of the scientific literature show that “hypnotherapy may be a helpful treatment” for people with irritable bowel syndrome, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “Several studies of hypnotherapy for IBS have shown substantial long-term improvement of gastrointestinal symptoms as well as anxiety, depression, disability, and quality of life,” the agency said on its website.

Children are extremely responsive to imagery, which is a key aspect of hypnosis, making it easier for a therapist to hypnotize them, Palsson explained. The NIH defines hypnosis as a practice that “involves the power of suggestion, by a trained hypnotist or hypnotherapist, during a state of deep relaxation.”

Kids have very active imaginations, and they can quickly enter into a state of heightened imagery and focus, Palsson said. In this hypnotic, or trance-like state, children’s senses are engaged, and the hypnotherapist can weave therapeutic suggestions into the imagery to help the child achieve a goal, such as reducing pain or changing a behavior.

 

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