In this article we take a look at ADHD Hypnotherapy for Children. Whilst many children with ADHD experience big improvements when they take medication, some children may not respond or have intolerable side effects (in about 10% of cases), some parents wish not to medicate their child, or not rely exclusively on medication.
That means up to 20% of children or adults with ADHD are unable to benefit from medication.
That may be unfortunate, because medication tends to be the easiest, fastest, and lowest cost option.
It is only when medication fails to work, that cognitive therapy tends to be recommended as a “last resort.” However, there is strong reason to believe that therapy should not be overlooked. Research generally shows that complementary therapies can be helpful for ADHD and NHS guidelines state that medication should only be used as an adjunct to behavoural therapy. To quote Dr. Tony Lloyd of the ADHD Foundation UK:
The fact of the matter is that in the UK medication is the first line of treatment and pretty much the only line of treatment. That needs to change.
Furthermore, to quote a press release from the National Council of Hypnotherapy (NCH):
...hypnotherapy can help and offers a variety of therapies which can address the side effects of ritalin. But...there should be a proper psychiatric diagnosis of the problem and a clear pathway for treatment.
ADDitude, which offers strategies and support for ADHD and Learning Disabilities, says some alternative therapies which involve diet and lifestyle changes can help as do others which train the brain to be more focused and less impulsive.
Hypnotherapy is the application of hypnotic techniques in such a way as to bring about therapeutic change and by working with the subconscious mind, it can establish lasting habits for diet, insomnia, anxiety, depression, self esteem and several behavioural problems.
Research has been conducted using alternative therapies including hypnotherapy for ADHD and hypnosis has been found to help people with ADHD focus, concentrate, and control stressful situations.
The Best of Both Worlds: The Power of Combination Therapy
Research that shows that when you combine modalities, such as allopathic medicine (medication) with therapy or coaching, results are even greater than medication alone.
This is well established by research generally, and there are also studies from the field of ADHD which confirm this, such as a study with 48 children which looked at the effects of varying levels of cognitive behavioural therapy on the required medication dosage.
When a child had moderate to high intensity behavioural therapy, their dosage was dropped from 20mg twice per day down to only 5mg, and the child also was less likely to suffer side effects such as difficulty eating, the implications of which are of course significant.
Generally any therapy or lifestyle change which leads to improvements in ADHD, may result in less dependence on medication. I have certainly had some clients report not needing as much medication or even stopping altogether, although this of course should never occur without consultation with your medical healthcare professional.
Admittedly hypnotherapy for ADHD is not likely to be the first thing you think of. Many people wonder if they can be hypnotised with Adult ADHD. The surprising answer is yes. Even more surprising is that children with ADHD are no more difficult to hypnotise than adults.
So let's take a deeper look at what the research shows...
Complementary Therapies for ADHD
There is good evidence for use of Cognitive behavioural therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in the treatment of ADHD, and as I said it may be recommended as an alternative to medication when it doesn't work, or as a complement (best case scenario).
Whilst it is unfortunate that the same amount of research and funding has not been dedicated to researching the modality of hypnotherapy for ADHD, so we cannot make strong research based claims, nonetheless the preliminary research that has been conducted thus far on ADHD hypnosis is very promising indeed.
We also know from the general research, that Cognitive hypnotherapy can indeed help people make significant improvements in focus, mood, learning, and sleep, amongst other things. And that based on this and the preliminary research into ADHD hypnosis so far, and the results that we see clinically with our ADHD clients, that hypnosis for ADHD is indeed productive, and sometimes profoundly transformative.
For example, in a comparison of CBT with hypnotherapy by The Institute of Behavioural Sciences, Helsinki, in 2014, results showed that they both performed as well as each other, but over the long term hypnotherapy outperformed CBT. The authors wrote:
The possible causes discussed for better long-term outcome for hypnotherapy than for CBT include stronger alliance in hypnotherapy, impact of deep relaxation to core symptoms and greater influence of hypnotherapy to emotional regulation. The generalization of the results requires further studies. 
There is some concern that people with ADHD may not be able to focus well enough to be hypnotised. Whilst I have not had a problem hypnotising anyone with ADHD (in fact I'd say they respond very well), nonetheless it is worth pointing out that research at Hassadah-Hebrew University in 2015, tested ADHD subjects' hypnotisability when taking medication, and found better results when they were on medication.
However, it should be noted that you do not need to be taking medication to be hypnotised. I have worked with both children and adults with ADHD who are not medicated, or on the day when a client who takes medication has an “off medication day,” and there has been no obvious difference. They still respond. In fact some of my most hypnotisable clients have been children that are medication free.
But Is There Any Evidence that ADHD Hypnotherapy Can Work for Children?
Whilst studies show that adults with ADHD can be hypnotised, the question is, what of children? Unfortunately, we have fewer studies in this area, but before you discount ADHD Hypnotherapy, consider the following.
A form of hypnosis combined with Neurotherapy, created by psychologist Areed Barabasz, called “Rapid Alert Hypnosis”, found that hypnosis could significantly improve progress in children with ADHD undergoing neurotherapy. ADHD seemed to enhance the results of Neurotherapy [6, 7, 8] and Barabsz has reported that many of the children treated this way have either decreased medication or stopped altogether.
This is another example of the power of combination therapy, which I believe is part of the secret to ADHD breakthroughs. As the saying goes, “Don't put all your eggs in one basket.”
It should also be considered that whilst clinical research needs to catch up in the area of ADHD Hypnosis, the research with adults so far is a good indication of what might be expected in children.
In fact, if anything, we often see better results with ADHD children, because they not only enter hypnosis easily, but also have less of the emotional/historical “baggage” that ADHD adults need to process due to years of non-diagnosis and living unrecognised with their condition.
Most hypnotherapists working with children, including children with ADHD, note that they appear to require less sessions than adults, which may be a combination of the factors mentioned earlier (creativity, suggestibility, less historical baggage), as well as their naturally high level of “neuroplasticity” - the brain being more open to change – which is strongly present in the young, developing brain. This is one of the reasons why children learn faster.
We should also note that other approaches, such as meditation and mindfulness, and indeed CBT itself, have all shown promise helping children with ADHD. This is significant, because hypnotherapy bears many similarities to meditation and mindfulness. Indeed, we often purposefully combine these together.
In that respect, Cognitive Hypnotherapy is a hybrid of both cognitive style therapy (e.g. CBT) which research strongly supports as helpful for ADHD, along with hypnosis, another example of Combination therapy that may offer benefits "greater than the sum of its parts."
You can think of Solution Focused Hypnotherapy as being like CBT followed by a relaxation session. We get our clients, young and old, to focus on the positives, challenge negative thinking with rational thinking, and learn to set goals.
The advantage of Cognitive Hypnotherapy, however, is that unlike CBT we also work with the subconscious mind (which is very powerful because the mind is, according to neuroscientists, between 90-99.9% subconscious) and offer the child with ADHD a chance to experience deep relaxation, and that may be why in the study referenced above, hypnotherapy had greater success long term than CBT. In other words, it is an example of the power of Combination therapy.
Why Children With ADHD Can Be Hypnotised After All
In my experience it's a myth that people with ADHD cannot be hypnotised because they cannot focus. What I've found, instead, is that non-ADHD clients do well with longer hypnosis sessions, whilst ADHD clients do well with shorter sessions.
So with a younger client we would only hypnotise them for about 10 mins. Another adaptation we make is to hypnotise a child for only 5 or 10 mins, bring them back out, talk some more, then have another hypnosis session of 5 or 10 mins. This way a child can spend a significant time in hypnosis, but we “chunk it down” for effectiveness.
A good ADHD hypnotherapist is able to notice how each child is different and be flexible enough to find ways to capture the ADHD child's attention. This is why research in this area only gives an approximation to real-life. In real life us hypnotherapists work very differently, and results are dependent upon many factors.
Other differences with ADHD hypnotherapy for children include:
Finding out what interests or motivates the child
Making sessions age-appropriate
Making sessions interesting, motivating, fun and magical
Speaking in age appropriate language and enthusiasm
Giving possibility for a break from the session if required half-way through
Giving opportunity for physical movement/activity during session, if restless
Working in tandem with the parents for maximum results
What Problems ADHD Hypnotherapy Can Help Children With
ADHD hypnotherapy for children can help with:
Focus and concentration
Organising and planning
Confidence and self-esteem
Sleeping/Waking in the morning
Learning to relax and calm
If you are interested in the possibility of ADHD hypnotherapy for you or your child, feel free to contact me for a brief chat or consultation to discuss your requirements. I work with people internationally using online conferencing platforms such as Zoom. I'm always happy to help.
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1). ADHD Treatment Can be Helped With Hypnotherapy, National Council of Hypnotherapy, press release, 2015 https://www.hypnotherapists.org.uk/5950/adhd-treatment-can-be-helped-with-hypnotherapy/
2). The Use of Alternative Therapies in Treating Children with ADHD, Paediatric Child Health, 2002 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2796535/#b77-pch07710
3). A Dose Ranging Study of Behavioural and Pharmacological for Children with ADHD, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 2015 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4090274/?utm_source=ActiveCampaign&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Combination+Therapy+for+ADHD+May+Reduce+Medication&utm_campaign=combination+therapy+power
4). Better Long Term Outcome for Hypnotherapy than for CBT in Adults with ADHD: Results of a six month follow up, Contemporary Hypnosis & Integrative Therapy, 2014 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/264382321_Better_long-term_outcome_for_hypnotherapy_than_for_CBT_in_adults_with_ADHD_Results_of_a_six-month_follow-up
5). ADHD Medication May Enhance Hypnotisability, Traci Stein Phd, Psychology Today, 2015 https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-integrationist/201508/adhd-medication-may-enhance-hypnotizability
6). The Effectiveness of Rapid Alert Hypnosis and Neurotherapy on Attentiveness, Impulsivity and Hyperactivity in Children With ADHD, Child Study Journal, 2000 https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ620289
7). The Effectiveness of Rapid Alert Hypnosis and Neurotherapy in Treating Children With ADHD, ibid, https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ620290
8). Alert Hypnosis: A Review and Case Report, David M Wark, University of Minnesota, American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 2006 https://www.researchgate.net/profile/David_Wark/publication/7083933_Alert_Hypnosis_A_Review_and_Case_Report/links/02e7e5372d71d959cb000000/Alert-Hypnosis-A-Review-and-Case-Report.pdf