Blog Post

Is Hypnosis Safe for Children?

42398291_sA new trend is springing up among parents – hypnotizing children for everything from avoiding the need for medications to getting them to fall asleep faster. So how safe is it?

CBSNewYork is reporting on the trend growing among parents to use hypnosis on their children instead of medication or to improve their performance at school or in sports.

“We’ve tried meditation, relaxation, things like that,” said Silvana Ferrer, whose son, Eric Ferrer-Alfaro, 10, has Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (HDHD). The condition causes a variety of symptoms ranging from frequent daydreaming to being easily distracted. In young Eric’s case, he has difficulty focusing in school.

Because she doesn’t want to medicate him, and other techniques haven’t worked, his mother has turned to hypnosis - at a cost of $125 an hour.

“I’m hoping for the teachers not to call me anymore, or at least call me less,” Ferrer said.

A hypnotherapist named Lisa Machenberg which has taken several hypnosis courses told CBS she has hypnotized close to a thousand children, including her own.

“I started hypnotizing the children at seven months to sleep quickly, calmly, soundly, and deeply all through the night,” she said. When they grew older, she used hypnosis to improve their performance at school and in sports.

"I hypnotize my children and my husband to do things for my benefit all the time," she told Parent Herald last summer. "We have a household to run. Many times, I exert influence so my children are able to get their chores done, so this house runs efficiently."

In Eric’s case, she’s teaching him how to hypnotize himself in an effort to help him face difficult tasks. Whenever he needs to focus, he’s being taught to “breathe in on the word focus, exhale on the word powerful.”

“When he wants to sit and do his homework, when he needs to listen to the teacher, when he needs to curb his impulses — all he needs to do is breath in that power word and it resets the neutrons,” Machenburg said.

A big promoter of “hypno-parenting,” her own children are uncomfortable with the idea and think her “mind games” are a bit much.

"It could get a little crazy when she tries to hypnotize us at every single possible situation that she can,” said her 19 year-old son, Jake Ney. “It could get a little overbearing - she gets in your head."

Psychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez told CBS she thinks putting kids in a trance is going too far and shouldn’t take the place of good parenting skills.

“The idea is not to gain control of your child’s mind, but it’s to teach them what’s right, what’s appropriate, what’s desirable, so they can have control over their own mind,” she said.

Mental health experts say hypnosis is more appropriately used to treat more serious conditions such as extreme pain, bedwetting, or trauma such as the loss of a parent.

They also warn about the dangers of hypnosis in general which apply to children as well as to adults. These include post-hypnotic reactions ranging from depression and drowsiness to increased anxiety and the creation of false memories.

As far as hypnosis in general is concerned, the Catholic Church has only issued a warning – not a condemnation – about the use of hypnosis. Citing a Response from the Holy Office issued in 1840, the Catholic Encyclopedia states that the Church “has condemned only abuses, leaving the way free for scientific research.”

However, because the use of hypnosis is so ripe for abuse, and because the improper use of hypnosis by ill-trained individuals can cause all kinds of adverse post-hypnotic reactions in children and adults (these can be so bad that some countries have actually banned any public displays of hypnosis) it is strongly recommended that people use only licensed (not just certified) hypnotherapists who have medical, psychological, dental or other professional health care training.

Lay hypnotists receive a certification after completing 200 or more hours of training; licensed health care professionals typically have seven to nine years of university coursework, plus residency programs.

The bottom line is that hypnosis is no more safe for children than it is for adults which calls into question why one would pose such risks to a child for something as trivial as helping the household to run smoother. Even in the case of serious conditions, it should always be used with prudence and in conjunction with a licensed health care provider.