Hypnosis helps sick kids cope with needles: Recent news item: 21/5/2005

By Tim Jeanes for The World Today

An Adelaide doctor is proposing hypnosis as a tool for helping children who suffer from kidney disease.

For many children, the painful prospect of blood tests and daily dialysis can be a scary ordeal.

Adelaide doctor Graham Wicks is one of a few Australian pioneers using hypnosis to treat children with problems ranging from headaches to nightmares.

Dr Wicks delivered a paper at the 33rd Annual Conference of the Renal Society of Australasia in Hobart today, focused on young renal patients.

Such patients face a regular barrage of needles for blood tests and dialysis.

Dr Wicks says the end result can be a phobia that sees young patients having to be forcibly held down, or sedated.

"Sitting for three to four hours, at least three times a week, and having a large-bore needle thrust into an artery - and I've seen patients who've had dialysis for maybe a year or so, aged 12 or 13, who've suddenly said, 'I don't want to have that any more, I cant tolerate it'," he said.

"And even though these children are told, 'If you don't have it, you're running a grave risk of not surviving', I've had patients who've still said, 'Well that'd be better than what's going on now'.

"They're the ones you can really help [with hypnosis]," he said.

Time flies when you're hypnotised

Dr Wicks says the technique can do more than just overcome pain.

"We can also use hypnosis to distort the concept of time, so that instead of feeling as if they're there for three or four hours, it only feels like half an hour," he said.

"So they tolerate it and cope a lot better."

He says children, as a group, are very good with hypnosis.

"We harness their natural ability to use their imagination, to fantasise, and to what we call 'dissociate' [which] means to feel as if they are far away in another place in their mind, and doing something they enjoy doing.

"And children learn them extremely well from about the age of six or seven upwards."

For one mother, the treatment has proven a godsend, to the point where her son can now self-medicate:

"It was a genuine fear, you know how some people have a fear of needles? It was a fear like that, and it was overcome.

"It must work on something, from what I understand it's probably an extreme relaxation where you can eliminate your fears."


Dr Wicks says such tales are common, with sometimes seemingly miraculous results.

One such case involved an eight-year-old girl and her five-year-old brother.

"We came to the next time for their blood tests, and previously each of them had required three nurses to hold them down.

"The little girl walked in, did her thing, turned off the pain, held out her arm for the blood test. And then the young fellow ran in and said 'I can do that', and he did.

"He'd been tuning in when we were teaching his sister and watching her practise and he did the same thing.

Dr Wicks says for the first time there was no need for restraints during the siblings' blood tests.

"Very rewarding, and mother was absolutely ticked pink by this," he said.

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