Interview with Hypnotherapist Tracy Saunders
What is hypnotherapy? What are its origins?
Hypnotherapy is, as the word would suggest, psychological intervention plus the trance state of hypnosis. In this way, it has been used for well over a hundred years. However, hypnosis is much, much older than that. The ancient Egyptians and the civilizations of India used forms of hypnosis in their “sleep temples”: places where the sick were taken.
The ancient Greeks also used hypnosis; in fact this is where the name comes from: “Hypnos”means sleep.
In the 19th century, an Englishman, John Baird began the practice of hypnosis with his patients. He called it “Neuro-Hypnosis” or “sleep of the nerves”.
Perhaps the most famous practitioner of hypnosis was Sigmund Freud who used it with his clients in Austria but who gradually began to abandon it as he developed his theories of psychoanalysis. Hypnosis became popular as a psychotherapeutic aid during the early part of the 20th century, but the rise of behaviourist theories tended to displace it for a while. Cognitive therapy was to change all that in the ‘70s and hypnosis is a natural addition to a cognitive approach.
In 1956, the British Medical Association endorsed hypnosis, especially as a form of pain relief, and suggested that all medical practitioners should receive training in hypnosis. One very little known fact is that in 1957, the Catholic Church approved hypnosis, especially for childbirth.
Clinical hypnosis was pioneered by Milton Erickson in the mid ‘50’s. He claimed that “all hypnosis is self hypnosis” and I agree with this completely. Ericksonian hypnotherapy is the type adopted by most practitioners of therapeutic hypnosis.
In 1996 a group of experts at The National Institutes of Health technology made the claim that hypnosis was an effective intervention for alleviating pain from cancer and other chronic conditions.
Now, more and more studies are showing the tremendous help hypnotherapy can be. As a form of alternative and/or adjunctive therapy, hypnosis is here to stay.
There are many different types of hypnotherapy, which one do you specialize in?
When most people think about hypnosis, the first thing that comes to mind is the type they have seen on the stage. This often puts people off as they believe that under hypnosis they are likely to do things which they would find embarrassing. What they don’t know is that the people who are running around like chickens have been very carefully pre-selected. These are major extroverts who would do this while conscious, just for a laugh! In any audience there will probably be a constant 6% – 8% of these people and stage hypnotists are very good at filtering these out.
This type of hypnosis is called “authoritative hypnosis”. Some therapists do in fact use it. But a very important thing to note is that hypnosis is NEVER loss of control. The participant is always aware of what is going on and is a fully compliant. I myself do not use authoritative hypnosis and the majority of therapists don’t. What I use is called “permissive hypnosis”. Where we “go” in trance, we go together with the full knowledge and permission of the client.
As to the psychotherapy itself I use a mixture of cognitive and behavioural therapy which is designed to root out causes of psychic “blockages”, and then to eradicate their importance by designing programmes which help the client to make personal changes in their thinking, emotions and behaviour so that they can move on. Along with the use of hypnosis I call this Capture and Release Therapy. This was my work for my Master’s degree in psychology and it is unique to me.
In what circumstances can hypnotherapy benefit children?
One of the most perplexing questions that a psychologist (or anyone else) can put to someone who is suffering say, a phobia, anxiety attacks, depressive states etc. is “Why do you think you feel like this?” An adult might take a stab at explaining emotions and reactions, but a child cannot do this. The beauty of hypnosis is that once the “effect” is known (“He hates school.”) the cause can be reached through hypnosis: sometimes through regression –though I use this very sparingly- but more often through positive visualisation. Kids are really good at this and they respond very well to hypnosis. I also use a lot of story telling, role play in my therapy sessions with children.
For parents who may be wary of hypnotherapy for children, how would you reassure them?
Exactly as I have above. Positive suggestions for change will be given towards the end of the hypnosis session, and most of the time this is very much welcomed by the child. It is not, however, foolproof. Sometimes a child might have a genuine reason for his or her behaviour which has more to do with confusion over his role in the family, for example. This requires more therapy and hypnosis is used as the child begins to get a better understanding of his identity vis-à-vis the others around him. Here more behavioural tactics will be used, and lots of positive reinforcement. The more confident and trusting the child becomes, the sooner she will be willing to try hypnotherapy. It is not always a first resource, but eventually it certainly “speeds up” the progress.
What kind of behavioural /learning difficulties among children in the South of Spain do you come across most?
The usual! Ex-.pat children don’t really show too many differences from their peers in their home countries, with perhaps the exception of settling in and learning the language.
For older kids, the temptation of the Costa lifestyle can bring about behavioural problems such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder that their parents would perhaps not have been exposed to. In both my personal and professional opinion, we don’t give our children nearly enough structure. They may tell you they don’t want rules, but believe me, they do.
Are you seeing increasing numbers of children suffering from depression? What do you believe is the root cause of this?
Yes and no. Sorry for the vague answer but the one thing which often appears to cause depression in children is a break up between their parents. This is exacerbated especially here when one parent is in the home country and the other is here and is made even worse if Mum or Dad take a new partner. Add children from another union and there is often a recipe for depression. The Brady Bunch is a myth.
Children are often more resilient than we might think when it comes to moving schools, but I never advise a parent to consider a school change unless there is a real problem such as bullying. When a child feels helpless he or she can develop a “victim” mentality which is very hard to break.
Another area which can cause depression in a child is that one teacher who he or she feels “doesn’t like me”. Early intervention on the part of the parents can often fix this problem before it escalates into a school refusal.
How can hypnotherapy help Dyslexia?
I really don’t think that hypnotherapy can directly help dyslexic children. I know there are claims made to say that it can, but that is not the case in my experience. Dyslexia – real dyslexia-is surprisingly rare, even though well meaning teachers might say a child is dyslexic, many times that isn’t the case at all. But the truth is that we still don’t know very much about dyslexia. I use a program which works less with the phonological aspects of the words (the sound bits) and more on whole word recognition. It is not a quick fix, but it works very well. I have worked with children who had been told they would “never read and write”. That to me is a challenge and one we have overcome together time and again.
The way in which hypnotherapy can help dyslexics is that it can be a tremendous boost to their sense of self-esteem. It can get them out of that state of “learned helplessness” which says I am no good at this, so why try if trying only makes me feel bad? In this way, positive suggestions made directly to the unconscious go a very long way to overcoming learning blocks. One thing I would certainly recommend to any parent who suspects dyslexia or any other special learning difficulty: have a standardised test done. It will be the best investment you could possibly make in your child’s education and personal happiness. As a result of a test – such as the ones I use myself for diagnosis – your child can receive a special educational plan designed for his/her own learning patters. This empowers everyone and most importantly, takes the pressure off the child.
Do you believe that hypnotherapy help with all behavioural/learning difficulties in children?
“All” behavioural and learning difficulties? Wouldn’t that be nice. I’d also be a very wealthy woman!
Which physical conditions in children can hypnotherapy also be of benefit?
Good question. Most psychosomatic conditions respond well to hypnosis: asthma is an example. A large number of clinical studies also indicate that hypnosis can reduce the acute pain experienced by children with burn injuries and broken bones, even chronic headaches such as migraine. Bedwetting is often completely stopped by hypnosis. Problems with sleep disturbances in general are another. Relaxation techniques can help to alleviate many physical ailments. I would suggest your readers Google Hypnosis whatever physical condition concerns them to get a fuller picture.
You work a lot with children attending International Schools in the South of Spain, many of whom have moved there from their native countries, what kind of an effect can this have on a child and how can it be resolved?
I think in many ways I have answered this earlier. I don’t think that children moving to the Costa del Sol find it any more difficult to settle in than it would if they had moved across town or across country. Of course, this depends on the age of the child; and if the child is to attend Spanish school this can be a problem initially, certainly in rural areas. I do not recommend that teenagers are placed in Spanish schools as the methods of teaching are very different. Better to find a place in an international school. Schooling should be the very first thing that parents should talk about with their kids when they are thinking of moving away from the UK; often it is one of the last. If the child has special needs, parents need to remember that SEN facilities here in Spain are very few and far between and that many schools will simply not take children with dyslexia or ADHD. Others may have limited facilities and of course, this is often where I come in.
Most of the time the children adjust far faster than their parents!
Do you work alongside parents to help resolve emotional problems/learning difficulties that a child might be suffering from?
Yes and it is absolutely essential. Children’s emotional difficulties rarely occur in a settled environment. Often the parents will later come to me for help with their own issues.
Are there relaxation techniques that a child can use themselves if suffering from say stress or a particular phobia?
Phobias almost always need professional help or else they will “fossilise”; but any child (and parent) can learn progressive relaxation – visualising muscle relaxation. I usually start with the muscles on either side of the mouth. Try it now. Close your eyes and imagine that there are warm arrows pointing to the muscles, one on each side. Now imagine the muscles as blocks of ice. Now concentrate on “thawing” those blocks. What is happening? Ten to one you have noticed how tense these muscles were in the first place and that are slackening affecting the whole of your jaw line and cheeks. Perhaps your lips have parted slightly and almost certainly your breathing has slowed down. That’s what focussed attention (which is the core of hypnosis) does. It’s easy then to apply that feeling as a template to each part of your body either toes up, or, as I prefer, head down and back up again.
How many sessions of hypnotherapy would a child normally undergo?
I suggest to parents that they consider a block of five sessions. Most of the time the progress when hypnosis is used is more accelerated that conventional therapy without it. Of course, it varies from child to child and condition to condition, but one thing I don’t do is continue sessions if for some reason they don’t show expected progress. At that point, it is more likely that a medical practitioner should get involved, possibly even psychiatric intervention and/or medication. I am a fully qualified psychotherapist/hypnotherapist with Master’s degrees in Philosophy, Psychology and Linguistics with a Diploma in Educational Resources and Special Needs, but I am not a doctor and cannot make definitive diagnoses of mental health conditions, nor can I prescribe.
How can people find you?
My website is at www.headstartcentres.org and my contact numbers are 686 315 328, or 951 896 041 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org My offices are in Benahavís near Marbella, or ask at your international school from Torremolinos to Sotogrande.