What does Yoda, the diminutive green Jedi Master from Star Wars, have in common with modern clinical hypnosis?
They both advance messages of self-empowerment and mindfulness, according to Andrew Barnes, MD, a pediatrician at University of Minnesota Physicians.
Barnes, an assistant professor who is board-certified in Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, regularly uses clinical hypnotism to assist young patients with a variety of conditions—from bed wetting to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. He’s one of three UMPhysicians providers, including Dr. Betsy Murray and Dr. Michele Strachan, who specializes in this area.
Forget the stereotypical image of a mustachioed hypnotist mesmerizing subjects with a pendulum, Barnes said. The goal of hypnosis is to teach patients how to help themselves.
“This isn’t just a bunch of mumbo jumbo,” Barnes said. “That [idea] is so damaging, because that’s the myth of it. But we know it’s not magic, because when we do it there are real brain changes and body changes happening.”
Daniel Kohen, MD, a recently retired program director in Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics at the University, introduced Barnes to the topic when Barnes was a medical student at the University of Minnesota. Kohen, who authored the authoritative text in the field of pediatric clinical hypnosis, showed a documentary that demonstrated the benefits of hypnosis among pediatric cancer patients at an educational session Barnes attended.
The film was fascinating and inspiring, Barnes recalled, but it wasn’t until later, when Barnes was on a pediatric rotation, that he revisited the idea. At the time, Barnes was disillusioned with his chosen profession. Children should be enabled to take an active role in their own care and medical outcomes, he thought.
Now, Barnes sees himself as a coach or a guide. He teaches children and their parents how to use the principles of hypnosis as a tool to control pain, cope with invasive medical procedures, or manage other issues—like autism or ADHD.
“It’s about a relationship. It’s about enabling, not manipulating—facilitating self-efficacy, mastery, competence and resilience,” Barnes said.
Views on how to define hypnosis vary from clinician to clinician. But Barnes prefers an adaptation of a description coined by Dr. Laurence Sugarman, a noted pediatrician and hypnotherapist. To Barnes, hypnosis is an interaction that invokes neural networks associated with trance phenomena to access and change unhelpful subconscious or unconscious psycho-physiological response patterns.
In layman’s terms, Barnes said, patients are taught to find and use inner resources to heal or make positive adjustments.
Clinical hypnosis, Barnes said, relies on the age-old idea of “mind over matter.” Patients using clinical hypnosis, he noted, can exercise some control over their body temperature, blood pressure and heart rate, among other physical aspects.
That physiological connection can be used to address a number of issues.
At the start of a typical session, Barnes uses a process called induction to help a patient relax and enter into a state of heightened inner awareness and responsiveness.
Once there, Barnes will deliver suggestions for self-empowerment and encouragement. For example, a physician practicing hypnosis might help a child who wants to stop bed wetting by suggesting imagery and metaphors focused on maintaining urinary control while asleep.
“A child’s brain and body can quickly develop a new pattern of responding to the signal of a full bladder,” Barnes said.
Barnes will then teach the child how to perform self-hypnosis, giving the patient significant control of his or her own care outcome.
The concept of clinical hypnosis has gained significant traction in the medical community in recent decades, Barnes said. He recommends that clinicians be trained and certified through the before incorporating hypnosis into their medical practice.
“This makes people feel like they have control over what used to be uncontrollable,” Barnes said. “From that comes resilience, and kids will use these skills to overcome other challenges down the line. It’s very powerful in that way.”