Northampton hypnotherapist Dr. Fred Bogin leans in and gently asks the boy sitting in the oversized leather chair before him to think about the feel of the water in a warm shower.
Hands folded in his lap, Jackson Skibel, 13, of Granby nods his head back and sinks into his seat as listens. After a few seconds, he becomes perfectly still.
For the next 20 minutes, Bogin guides the teen to a state of complete calm with his words.
“Continue breathing slowly and comfortably,” he coaxes. “Each time you breathe out, the nervous feelings and stress can leave your body. As the water drips down, it lets you feel more relaxed and comfortable. Continue following that wave of relaxation.”
Bogin is working to put Skibel at ease from his head to his toes in order to key into what he says is a powerful mind body connection that can affect mood and behavior.
The pair are in Bogin’s office on Main Street, Northampton. where Bogin, a retired pediatrician, runs a practice focused on hypnosis for children. He says he treats about 150 children a year ranging in age from 3 to 18, attempting to help them with stubborn habits like nail biting and thumb-sucking, or more serious problems like chronic pain, phobias and depression.Easing stress
In Skibel’s case it is stress relief. He first came to see Bogin a year ago to ease the anxiety that came with switching to a new school, said his mother Jill Skibel.
“The pediatrician mentioned to give it a try,” she said.
While she says her son was wary at first, she urged him to give it a chance. When she was in college, she said, hypnosis helped her to focus on school and she thought it might have the same affect on Jackson.
“He looked sad. He definitely didn’t have the focus that he needed,” she said. “He was just not himself — I don’t know if it was a sadness or a worriedness. It would take him hours upon hours to complete his homework.”
Skibel said that after her son’s second visit with Bogin, Jackson seemed more at ease. After five sessions family and teachers noticed an improvement in him. His grades went up and he is now looking forward to starting the eighth grade at the MacDuffie School in Granby. “He is more back to his happy-go-lucky, life-is-good, self,” she said.Gaining traction
Hypnosis is essentially a trance state attained through relaxation techniques and mental visualization — similar to a daydream or fantasy. It’s a practice that has gained recognition in the medical community in recent decades for helping adults get rid of unwanted habits like smoking or overeating, but more doctors are turning to hypnosis to treat children, Bogin said.
“It’s giving kids this tool that helps them control things in a powerful way,” said Bogin, 67, who was first exposed to the practice as a medical student. “I think that there has been a definite trend toward more and more acceptance of it. It is even being taught in some medical schools.” No dangling watches
After guiding a child through some breathing exercises, Bogin will often invite the patient to think about going to a favorite place, imagined or real.
For Jackson Skibel that’s the sandy beach in Maine, where his family vacations. Bogin has taught him how to take a break when he’s on his own and visualize that soothing place when he needs to. Skibel says that self-hypnosis helps him concentrate, but also can help him get to sleep at night.
“It gave me a little extra ummph,” he said.
Despite common misconceptions and popular depictions of hypnosis as mind-control, during hypnotherapy there are no dangling watches or purple capes. The child remains aware and awake.
“It’s an altered state of consciousness, but you are not asleep, you are aware of what is happening around you and you are in full control,” said Bogin.
When a person enters a trance state, it often allows the individual to become open to new solutions to what ails them, in some cases suggestions that can propel behavior change in daily life, Bogin says. “Hypnosis is really suggestion,” he said. “Suggestion is very powerful actually.”
Researchers from Stanford University have found that hypnotic trances like this actually change the neural activity in the brain producing patterns of activation that indicate an increased ability to focus, according to a study published in the medical journal Cerebral Cortex in July.
By observing MRI scans of patients in a hypnotic state, the researchers also observed changes in the brain that indicate an increase in emotional control and a decrease in self consciousness.Conventional start
Bogin earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Yale University and his medical degree from New York Medical College. Before his retirement two years ago, he would often incorporate hypnotherapy into his work in the pediatric clinic at Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, Connecticut, where he spent the last 15 years of his career.
Along the way, he trained with organizations like the National Pediatric Hypnosis Training Institute, which supports health-care professionals using clinical hypnosis.
“Hundreds of people are being trained every year to work with kids using hypnosis,” said Bogin. “It’s getting more and more acceptance.”
Bogin says he first became fascinated by hypnotherapy during a demonstration he observed as part of his psychiatry rotation in medical school. “I said, ‘that is cool, that is so cool. I am going to learn that some day.’ ”
Only a few years later after doing a workshop at the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis in the 1970s, he started practicing pediatric hypnosis.
Since then, he says, he has helped hundreds of children overcome physical and mental obstacles ranging from problems such as Tourette’s syndrome to phobias of flying.
In one instance, Bogin says, he assisted a 14-year-old competitive skier overcome performance anxiety. In another, he worked with a 5-year-old girl through her phobia of needles used to draw blood for medical tests. For other children, it has been helping them cope with chronic pain.
“It works often enough that I feel like it’s absolutely worth trying,” Bogin said.
That is why he decided to continue with pediatric hypnotherapy part-time when he retired.
“It’s not a money making thing, I enjoy it and I do it to help kids. ”
The children, too, seem to enjoy it, he says.
“It’s kind of a fun simple experience. If they practice and use it, it’s a tool they can use for the rest of their lives.”
Bogin says he used the practice on himself to manage pain, after undergoing major surgery in 2013. “Through self-hypnosis people can bring about profound changes,” he said.Gauging results
Bogin meets with clients every week on Mondays at his office at the Clinic Alternative Medicines, 98 Main St. Typically during the first session, which lasts just under an hour, the child and the doctor will get to know each other and then talk about the specific issues that brought them together.
Since Bogin doesn’t accept insurance and the initial visit is $100, a sliding scale is available for people who might have trouble affording that price. Follow up appointments are $50.
It doesn’t take long to know if the technique is helping, Bogin says.
“When you are doing a session you can generally tell if they are comfortable with going into trance, some kids are really resistant, some kids are really comfortable,” he said.
It is easy to see results with concrete problems, such as bed-wetting or managing pain, he says.
“I have used hypnosis with children for 23 years. Does it always work? Absolutely not. Can it be a powerful vehicle helping children explore the mind-body connection? Absolutely!”
For now, self-hypnosis is still working well for Jackson Skibel and he no longer needs to see Bogin regularly. Sometimes he will ask to go to the bathroom at school to practice self-hypnosis before a test. When he gets frustrated or mad at home, he goes up to his room for a short session.
“It’s going good,” he said. “I’m a lot more calm. The anxiety is gone.”
Lisa Spear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.