A trance to behave better

Hypnotherapy can help pupils with both stress and academic problems, says Adi Bloom.

It also got one teacher through her driving test.

look into my eyes. You are feeling sleepy. Very sleepy. Now listen - you will do well at school. You will do well at school. When I snap my fingers, you will wake up.

But this is not a dream. David Byron, educational psychologist for Hampshire local authority, has pioneered hypnotherapy as a method of treating pupils with stress, behaviour or academic problems. He works with pupils from the age of seven, who are referred through the educational psychology service.

Initial sessions are spent establishing a rapport, before hypnosis begins with basic visualisation exercises. In a minimum of three or four sessions, Dr Byron teaches self-hypnosis techniques, enabling pupils to practise the exercises themselves at home.

"Most people are worried they will lose control," he says. "They think I'll say, you should do this, or you will feel that. "But it's their choice what happens. They could say in their head, 'I think this is rubbish', and it won't work."

Pupils' parents are in the room at all times. And subjects are able to keep their eyes open if they prefer. Dr Byron recalls a nine-year-old boy who was hypnotised while he bounced around on the sofa.

Dr Byron works with GCSE candidates, whom he helps to relax when they sit their exams. "It is not going to make you pass if you have not done any preparation," he says. "But it cuts out any panic. Then they're able to use exam time to think clearly and logically."

Anecdotally, he says, this has been very effective. One teacher claimed that results for her pupils had far exceeded her expectations after they received hypnotherapy.

He has also worked with bullied children. One 10-year-old girl was upset by repeated teasing at school. After several hypnotherapy sessions, she was able to laugh at the bully. Dr Byron says: "I don't know how she came up with that. I didn't tell her to do it. It just occurred to her. People tap into the resources within themselves and come up with the right thing to do."

Hypnotherapy can be used to tackle behavioural problems, which often have their root in stress or anxiety. Once the underlying worry has been dealt with, pupils are better able to concentrate in lessons, and are therefore less likely to misbehave.

Occasionally, Dr Byron also works with teachers. One was referred to him because she was lacking in confidence and unable to pass her driving test and drive the school minibus.

During sessions with him, she revealed that she was also terrified of interviews.

Three months later, she had passed her driving test and been successfully interviewed for a senior management position.

Charles Ward, general secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists, says: "There's a lot of mythology around hypnosis, and it can be tempting to regard it all as mumbo-jumbo.

"But evidence shows it has a place in the armoury of the psychologist. It's about finding the right technique for each person."

* www.bsech.com

What is hypnosis?

It is a state of deep relaxation, accompanied by reduced awareness of surroundings. Hypnotic trances can occur naturally, for example, when a reader becomes absorbed in a book. Since early history, priests and witch doctors have treated patients by inducing an altered state of consciousness, often using rhythmic chants or drum beats.

In 1765, Franz Anton Mesmer, a Viennese doctor, attempted to heal patients by applying magnets to their bodies and inducing convulsions. His theories were discredited, but his name stuck.

Hypnosis was later investigated by Sigmund Freud. It is still being modified. In hypnotherapy, attention is focused specifically on areas suggested by the therapist.

These suggestions may recreate scenes from the past or, in the case of a phobia, change the way people respond to something.

But contrary to music hall stereotypes, hypnosis is not something that is done to people.

Instead, they must produce a hypnotic state themselves. It has been likened to playing the piano: the teacher can demonstrate, but cannot actually do the playing for the pupil. Most people remain conscious during sessions and they are able to recall what is said to them.

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Adi Bloom

I am one of the reporters at the TES, specialising in educational research, eating disorders, sex education, gender issues and, worryingly, teachers who appear on reality TV.