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Hypnosis and ASD

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With the end of the year comes the end of my blogging for PsychCentral. When I was asked to participate in this endeavor, I committed to blogging for only a few months as a trial period. That time has come to an end.

Although the door has been left open for me to return at a later date should circumstances change, I want to say thank you to John Grohol and the PsychCentral staff and to the readers for their interest and comments.

In this last blog, I want to comment on an area that gets too little attention because it is so misunderstood. It’s misunderstood by nearly everyone, not just those in the ASD community. I want to talk about clinical hypnosis.

When I say the word “hypnosis,” what comes to mind? My guess is that it’s mostly the misconceptions of hypnosis: dangling pendulums, controlling people’s minds, Svengali-like staring and stage shows. In the clinical world, hypnosis is nothing like that.

I have had the very unique opportunity to learn how to integrate clinical hypnosis into my work with children from one of the world’s experts in the field -my husband, psychologist, Michael D. Yapko, Ph.D.

Michael has written the classic text used worldwide called, Trancework: An Introduction to the Practice of Clinical Hypnosis (he is currently working on a 4th edition expected out in 2012). He has been a pioneer in writing about hypnosis and depression (see his publications at Michael’s reach goes beyond his publications, as he has spoken to international audiences in 30 countries wanting to learn about hypnosis and strategic psychotherapy. His 100-hour clinical trainings, open only to health professionals, is a powerful training not to be missed.

What is hypnosis? Clinical hypnosis can be defined as a way to focus attention and communicate ideas in an experiential way that benefits a client. Now, who wouldn’t want to learn how to do that?

Hypnosis is not a therapy and it is not a cure for anything. Rather, hypnosis is a tool that, when used clinically, is designed to facilitate positive changes that a person wishes to make. There are different schools of thought regarding how direct or indirect one should be in using hypnotic techniques and communications. Some people advocate for specific philosophies, therapeutic models or approaches, but I personally don’t subscribe to anything other than what works for an individual. My husband recently called me an intellectual anarchist and I’ve come to identify with the label.

The pioneering work of the late psychiatrist Milton H. Erickson is most consistent with how I have intuitively worked with children in therapy. He saw the strengths and resources people had and utilized these in his treatment. It didn’t matter what diagnosis people had, their age, their gender, their intelligence or any other such factors. He respected their individual strengths and found ways to gently introduce new ways to use those strengths in what has come to be called conversational hypnosis. More and more literature is coming out in the domains of mindfulness, relaxation, calming exercises, visualization, and others as well, but the common denominator they all share is an experience that effects positive change in the person through an experiential mechanism not easily defined.

Hypnosis is more often than not a skill that is developed over time. Yes, there are people who experience hypnosis once and make a dramatic change, but it’s not usually the case in working with children.

A person can learn to do this for themselves (self-hypnosis) or have the experience guided by someone else. There are new CDs and DVDs coming out all the time that claim to relax children, help them focus, reduce their anxiety, manage their depression, etc. The key is in knowing what works for YOU, or your child. If a CD doesn’t work or a therapist doesn’t effect change, don’t blame it on the hypnosis. It means THAT CD didn’t work FOR YOU or that therapist didn’t connect with YOU.

That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It means you haven’t found the right connection. Hypnosis isn’t just about talking TO a person; it is about talking WITH a person. That can be done in story form, during a game, playing with toys, using a computer, sitting quietly in a chair or many other ways. There are all kinds of ways to engage a person in perspectives giving rise to meaningful change.

With children, it is likely that the hypnotic communication will be more ‘awake hypnosis’ or ‘active hypnosis’ because most kids don’t sit still with their eyes closed. That’s okay and it is to be utilized. There is so much to learn and do with children hypnotically that is just now being explored, especially with the ASD population.

I have addressed this subject in workshops and have written on the topic as well, but much research is needed in this area to document the efficacy of how best to utilize hypnosis with children on the spectrum. A chapter I wrote entitled, “Working Hypnotically with Children on the Autism Spectrum” was translated and published in an Italian book L’ipnosi con I bambini e gli adolescenti (Ed. Maria Laura Fasciana, 2009 FrancoAngeli publisher). You can download the English version here. (Scroll down the page to get to this particular chapter)

I also wrote a chapter entitled, “The Utilization Approach to Treating Depression in Individuals with Autistic Spectrum Disorders.” In Hypnosis and Treating Depression: Applications in Clinical Practice (Michael Yapko, editor, 2006). You can also find it on amazon

There are so many intriguing aspects of working with children on the autism spectrum. It has been my privilege to know so many families and help effect positive change in their lives.

If there is anything I hope that readers will take away from this blog, it is my continued belief that we focus on the positive, we accept and utilize what our children offer us, that we not subscribe solely to any one theory or model, and that we remain open minded, and attuned to the individual person, not the labels. I wish you all a very happy New Year. Thanks for reading my blogs.

Hypnosis and ASD

Diane Yapko, MA

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APA Reference
Yapko, D. (2019). Hypnosis and ASD. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Mar 2019
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