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'Lie back and think of snow'

Hypnotherapy sessions are proving a boon for strung-out pupils in Hampshire, reports Karen Thornton

HYPNOSIS is improving school attendance in Hampshire by helping exam phobics and truants overcome their anxieties, including self-harming, obsessive compulsive disorder, sleep problems and perfectionism.

The three-year project, backed by Government money, involves pupils in their own treatment and raises confidence and self-esteem.

Pupils caught lying stretched out on the library floor would usually get a ticking-off and be sent back to lessons. But six or so pupils from Test Valley school in Stockbridge, will soon be relaxing there while learning self-hypnosis techniques to help them tackle their exam fears.

Test Valley has been running the after-school sessions for GCSE pupils for three years. Students say the hypnotherapy sessions have helped stop panic attacks at the exam-room door as well as on other occasions, such as the first day at sixth-form college.

Carol Beacham, the school's special educational needs co-ordinator and an English teacher, said: "I usually join in with the self-hypnosis, it's wonderful. It is so relaxing. Stress stops people from working efficiently. This gives you a burst of energy which makes you feel more positive."

The sessions are run by David Byron, a senior educational psychologist with Hampshire education authority. He also uses hypnotherapy in individual sessions with children, from across the county, for a range of anxieties and phobias which in many cases led to truanting.

Some had quite serious conditions, including Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, others were self-harming, suffered panic attacks or had been severely bullied.

Mr Byron believes hypnotherapy works because it helps pupils change their perception of themselves and makes them feel more in control of their own lives.

For example, he asks pupils to imagine that they are on top of a snowy mountain, feeling on top of the world. They pick up some light, fluffy snow, and blow it away. This represents their disorganised mind. Then they make a snowball, representing an organised, compact focus on their goals.

The snowball is then rolled down the mountain, getting bigger and faster, and knocks down barriers standing in the way of the children achieving their goals.

"What they are learning to do is change their perception. If you feel someone bumped into you on purpose, that would affect how you feel about that person. If you thought it was an accident, your perceptions, and therefore your feelings and behaviour, would be different."

One student was so scared of people that he would not go out and was on medication for an obsessive communication disorder. He was back in school 17 hours a week and doing homework a month after his first sessions. Self-hypnosis allowed him to take his mind off his problems and relax, he said.

His mother told Mr Byron: "Thank you for giving me my son back."

TES Teacher, 28

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