Book – Changing Children’s Lives with Hypnosis: A journey to the center
Author – Ran D. Anbar, MD
Publisher – Rowman & Littlefield
Copyright – 2021
ISBN-13 – 9781538153666
Right from the introduction, pediatric pulmonologist Ran Anbar starts off with a powerful and provocative question about bothering with hypnosis in the midst of so much other medical technology. He minces no words in getting straight to the answer, that hypnosis is effective and adds to the benefits of other interventions. He even cites cases of its superiority according to the scientific literature, such as regarding childhood migraines. Dr. Anbar argues that hypnosis additionally provides pediatric patients with something few other medicines can offer: self-determination and self-regulation.
Anbar's writing is compelling, and it's rare to find a long medical book, complete with references to neural activity, that's actually a page turner. That's probably not just because he's an inspiring writer, but also highly due to what an inspired physician he is. His care and creativity shine through every patient story he shares.
Anbar teaches clinician-readers to ask the patient and questions and have them answer during the hypnosis itself, rather than strictly having them passively accept suggestions while in trance. Initial questions can invite the patients to reify the sensual relaxation as a first step to managing the anxiety that exacerbates physical symptoms. Then, Anbar lets the patients soak in the experience and determine for themselves when to be brought back to ordinary consciousness, which he facilitates carefully and methodically.
Anbar immediately encourages young patients to learn self-hypnosis as well, wasting no time in reducing dependency on the doctor. He asserts that hypnosis can help children avoid expensive, invasive procedures in part using his methods, offering case examples from his career work. He also explains to the children themselves that hypnosis is something they already know how to do very well, and he provides them with examples relatable to them. He offers to teach them how to use this skill to do things they didn't know they could do, and their natural curiosity helps them to succeed. He brings homework to the reader as well, providing valuable exercises at the end of each chapter to be tried at home.
Back on the medical professional side, Anbar asserts that hypnosis can be used for both treatment and diagnosis, again including illustrative case examples. Poignantly, one of those diagnostic methods included the avoidance of unnecessary surgery in at least one instance cited. He also focuses on the power of words, images and experiences to help teach patients and families about the courses of action they can take to help themselves and each other. Moreover, he progresses the techniques through the child's developmental stages, when working with long-term patients, to keep the skill levels age appropriate and effective as the child matures. For the oldest of his young patients, he uses hypnosis in the form of mental exercises and experiments. He also employs a great deal of Socratic questioning to guide patients to their own inner resources, no matter what their age.
Utilization of the child's own imagery and metaphors is essential to efficacy as well, as Anbar aptly illustrates further. Indeed, his examples offer an indication that it is not always the medical problem itself that recedes with hypnosis, but sometimes the perception of it. He offers a case example of a child with seizures whom he was able to help suffer less, offering great relief, despite the EEGs showing that abnormalities persisted. In other cases, however, he shows how the body's physiological functioning is itself affected by hypnosis, such as when oxygenation improves with suggestions to relax the patient's chest muscles or to improve neuro-muscular coordination. He also uses physical experiments that demonstrate to the child the power of the mind to affect the body.
Anbar's techniques are so simple and elegant that they appear to engage magical thinking, and it is therefore easy to dismiss his success by writing it off as the children's capacity for fantasy and imagination, just as success with adults is often chalked up to the placebo effect. However, he argues that these factors are noteworthy for their reliability and validity, such that they should be utilized rather than dismissed. He offers particular techniques for working with specific issues, as well. For example, he collaborates with his young patients so they can co-create ingenious imagery that counteracts symptoms, such as imagining raindrops or waterfalls trickling down instead of having fluid come up from the nausea of chemotherapy.
Furthermore, with traumatic memories, Anbar creates distance to whatever degree the child needs to be able to process the issues safely and effectively. He also has the survivors tell their younger selves how well they did indeed make it through their ordeals. Conversely, for prospective traumas, he has his young patients imagine the healed self, which can also help children manage through the steps to coping with a harrowing task or procedure they have to overcome. This hits home personally in a small way, as the present writer herself has experienced a needle phobia in which she, as an adult, has used a similar technique to reassure herself of having gotten through such procedures successfully many times before and to envision good outcomes from doing so again. In the most recent case, she either kept herself from reacting to a vaccine, or she reached the age group that tends not to react to them, though she had reacted to the first dose just months prior--when no such protective suggestion had been given.
Anbar also uses therapeutic hypnosis to heal grief, taking a psycho-spiritual approach too rarely accepted in the medical profession, but now recognized as part of "spiritual competence" in psychology, where one of the values for practitioners is respecting diversity. Even without hypnosis, however, Anbar's bedside manner is fantastic—likely due to his care coming from a place of spiritual compassion. He is able to help children gain a higher perspective, taking the time to ask questions outside of hypnosis. For example, he might ask something like: "If you could trade your illness for health but had to give up all you've gained and learned during your illness about your family's love and your friends' support, would you make the trade?" He often finds the children's answers very insightful and wise.
The ripple effects of Anbar's work thus impact the children's families both indirectly and directly, with some members actually choosing to learn hypnosis for themselves after seeing the wonders that it has done for the patients. Indeed, those patients who are not terminal are shown sometimes to go on to help others around them at school, in the home, and/or by studying to enter the helping professions themselves.
Part of the key seems to be that Anbar does not simply seek to banish symptoms, whether they are physical, mental, or co-occurring, but to relate and teach his patients to relate to them in new and creative ways that allow for the most positive outcome available to blossom from within. This indeed is true healing work, adding art to the science and technology of pulmonary pediatric care.
Due to Anbar's curious and creative approach, he has been able to establish multiple ways of using hypnosis to tap into patients' subconscious, not only for healing but also for development, growth, and maturation. In some cases, patients wanted to relate to their subconscious such that they could witness or hear their own inner processes. In other cases, patients desired to be able to return to the information gleaned for future reference, and they were able to type out their dialog with the subconscious while in hypnosis. Still others did not want to know what material arose during hypnosis and they did not remember the contents of the sessions regardless of the ameliorative effects.
From doing this work, Anbar was able to recognize certain characteristics of the subconscious, including its superior capacities to those that patients consciously presented. Since hypnotic solutions can come from the subconscious, it was necessary for him to allay fears that conversely the problems may have originated there as well. He was able to explain to one concerned youngster that while the subconscious protects one’s best interests, a symptom could linger due to a person perceiving it as part of their identity. He offered at least one case of a persistent symptom lifting once a child dis-identified from it.
Regarding specific issues, Anbar teaches children to take nightmares to their conclusion in hypnosis while in session, so that the fear within the dream-state does not awaken the child at home. He finds that no matter how much worse the nightmare gets while in hypnosis, it eventually comes to a more hopeful or positive ending in the safety of the therapeutic setting. To build on this phenomenon, he offers a technique that can be used at home to help children choose their own adventures by imagining silly or soothing endings to nightmares. Furthermore, he shows how it’s also important to ask children what they make of the dream at this point, rather than suggesting an interpretation or meaning for them. He adds that these two factors apply even if the dreams originally seem tied to a traumatic memory.
Anbar’s work with daydreams, however, was so poignant it seems best to direct the reader to turn to the pages themselves (158-161) to experience the case histories recounted there. Both the techniques and the results described are exquisite, and they are best left unspoiled by not taking them out of context. Suffice it to say that he offers evidence of the extent to which the subconscious can reveal via hypnosis what one is not conscious of ordinarily.
Another technique for dealing with symptoms directly is clearly explained step by step on page 165. It involves the line of questioning used in ideo-motor signaling, which is a specific method for working with the subconscious. This whole section of the book provides the most bang for one’s buck, and at under $30 this primer is a steal.
Reading this work, it sometimes seems evident that the subconscious takes on the role of the theorized superego, turning a child around past immature behaviors toward greater goodness, kindness, and conscientiousness. This specifically seemed to be the case in Anbar’s experience with a child whose tics only stopped when he was willing to hear his subconscious requiring more noble, brotherly, and protective behavior than what the boy originally considered to be acceptable ways of treating his younger sibling.
Another sweet aspect of Anbar’s therapeutic setting, aside from all of the above skills and techniques, is his fish tank, which plays a prominent role in his building of rapport with children. He uses it to help put children at ease and to offer starting metaphors from which therapeutic work can begin. It’s something he can utilize if a child offers few cues at first as to how to best approach them.
While Anbar works with pulmonology, he is aware of the child as a whole and the various factors that can be contributing to symptoms. In this regard, he has firsthand experience working with transgender children whose subconscious not only does not match the child’s outer gender but actually represents an accurate reflection of the child’s overall gender.
In sum, so much about Anbar's medical professionalism is transparent in his book. He clearly does not play authoritarian games, preferring authenticity instead. He demonstrates that he doesn't shy away from what is often feared: the inevitable dual relationships inherent in life and death encounters, such as the need to deal with families, funerals, or festivities celebrating grand and unique accomplishments that are nothing short of miraculous. He offers candid examples showing that he doesn't hide behind his clinical role when true friendship and unswerving support are called for in the name of healing. He evidently treats his patients with the humanity of a fellow traveler through life's struggles, without overindulging in overwrought displays of his own grief and loss for patients whose illnesses were terminal. His manner shows respect for the dignity, equality, and self-determination of his young patients, which is precisely why he gets behind the use of hypnosis so wholeheartedly.
It is so refreshing to know a doctor who respects patients and their decisions – even regarding life or death interventions – treating them as equals even when they are underage, because those years are sometimes the only ones those patients have. It is clear that Anbar wrote this book in a soulful vein, not in hope of hypnosis being seen as a panacea for disease or for the ills of the medical profession, but as a boon to the empowering of patients and doctors alike, so they could use more of what actually is available as a potent resource: the subconscious, as a function almost analogous psychologically to the physical processes of immunology or homeostasis.