THE 'LITTLE BRITAIN' hypnotist may say "Look into my eyes - and you're under", but new research suggests self-hypnosis could be the way forward for young people.
David Byron, senior specialist educational psychologist for Hampshire County Council, revealed the success of an innovative hypnotherapy project at a conference in Glasgow last week.
The Hampshire Hypnotherapy Project has been used for six years to help teenagers with anxiety problems, as well as being the focus of research at University College London. These problems affect the young people's education and their social and emotional wellbeing, and frequently disrupt school attendance and home life.
Mr Byron studied 10 young people who had undergone hypnotherapy and 10 who were taught more traditional relaxation techniques. Both approaches helped to reduce anxiety, but hypnotherapy seemed to work better, with a reduction in feelings of hopelessness and an improvement in self-esteem. The benefits appeared to continue in subsequent months and there was a high level of satisfaction among parents, with one saying, "Thank you for giving me my son back."
Children and parents attend sessions together. The child establishes a number of things he or she would like to change. Children typically receive four sessions in which they are taught how to self-hypnotise and work on their targets. They then make three follow-up visits over six months.
Mr Byron said: "It seems to empower the students to change their lives, and it's not me doing it, it's them. I'm just showing them how to do it."
He stressed that it was important to get away from persistent stereotypes about the technique. "There is a lot of mythology about hypnosis and how you are put under somebody's spell - it's rubbish. What it does is put people more and more in control of themselves."
He said that young people gradually built up a clear, easy-to-remember route through the process of hypnosis. "It's like learning how to get from their house to the nearest shop. "They should become very familiar with the route.
"I take them through different little experiences each time; they gradually build up a repertoire."
Mr Byron added: "The benefit of the self-hypnosis is that they are doing it when they want.
"It also enables individuals to focus more on the issues they want to focus on, because they're able to empty their heads of other issues."
One boy seen by Mr Byron frequently - and wrongly - thought that he was finding cancerous lumps on his body. After hypnotherapy the boy found no lumps and his mother "could not believe" the change.
Teachers observing the youngsters in school, however, saw greater change among those using more traditional relaxation techniques. Mr Byron believes this may be because their impact is more physical, while the effects of hypnotherapy are more cognitive and emotional.
He said: "I think there is a direct contrast between the pupils' and parents' observations with those of the teachers, because the teachers have less time to become aware of the changes going on inside the pupils' minds, especially in the teenage years."
Steps for taking control
The young person learns to focus on something, perhaps imagining that they are watching television; or think about something that creates a little stress, such as a power cut that has stopped a clock and means they could miss a pleasurable day out; they would work through that sense of panic.
The young person then imagines different parts of the body relaxing.
They think of a special place, then count to 10, taking steps towards that place.
Without realising it, their breathing slows down.
They are encouraged to build up details of the special place, thinking, for example, of sounds and things that move.