I thought, for a change, I would write my blog in the form of a case study, so that you can see how I work with youngsters and their parents. Names have been changed to protect my client’s privacy.
We’ll be having a look at the case of Jane Smith, 14 years old – presented with symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
Jane’s mummy called me and said “Elaine I hope you can help me – my daughter witnessed a terrible thing three years ago, and despite endless sessions of CBT, bereavement counselling and various other therapies – she still struggles with nightmares, anxiety and panic attacks . I really hope you can help as you are my last resort and I can’t bear to see my daughter struggling so much!”
Three years ago, Jane found her older brother Simon, hanging in the bathroom at their home. He was 17 years old and had committed suicide. Despite her attempts to do CPR on her son, mum, sadly, could not save him.
Obviously what Jane had gone through, at only 11 years old at the time, was absolutely horrendous. She was suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from finding her brother dead in such a horrific way, plus she was suffering from the grief of losing her brother and from the guilt of not being able to save him. She also had to look after her much younger sister (then only 5) whilst mum went in the ambulance to the hospital and they stayed with neighbours.
All this led to her having severe panic attacks usually without any trigger but if she heard an ambulance or police siren she would be taken back to that dreadful day, the memories came flooding back. The whole family were grieving so it was hard for all of them but whilst the other family members had begun to move forward in their lives – Jane hadn’t.
Jane walked into my consulting room looking extremely anxious. At the age of 14 she was a very slim and attractive girl with a mass of curly dark hair which she attempted to style down in front of her face as if she wanted to hide behind a curtain!
Jane gave me a half – hearted smile and settled down into the comfy therapy chair. She pulled her hair away from her eyes. She was playing with her fingers, picking the nails and occasionally biting them – a sure sign of anxiety. Jane looked down a lot – only really looking up when I asked her a question. I told her she didn’t need to tell me anything about the trauma but that if there was ANYTHING at all she wanted to share – that was fine.
She said: “All I want to do is feel NORMAL again! I want life to be normal – but I know it can NEVER ever be normal again can it – I mean – without Simon!”
This first session, we just talked in very general terms so that I could get to know Jane. I learned that she was fantastic at drama – attended an after- school drama school and wanted to be an Actor. (yes, we can use the word actor for both sexes these days!) Jane also talked a lot about Simon and how he used to be in a band and play the drums etc. This was good news – she was actually happy to talk about Simon!
We did a little bit of hypnosis to help Jane feel less stressed and anxious. When mum came to pick her up, she said “My goodness – she looks so happy!” I glanced at Jane, but her smile had gone and was replaced by a frown and a look of complete sadness.
E = Elaine (therapist) / J = Jane
E: “Jane I noticed at the end of your last session when mum came to pick you up – she mentioned how happy you looked, but immediately your smile faded and you looked so unhappy – do you want to tell me about that? “
J: “Yeah – it happens all the time! I just start to feel happy again and then I remember that Simon died and I feel I shouldn’t be happy!”
E: “But do you think Simon would want you to still be grieving three years AFTER he had died?”
J: “No probably not. It’s just that sometimes I feel when I’m smiling, and happy mum looks at me and then it reminds her that Simon has died and then I feel really bad. It’s like… it’s like I shouldn’t be happy!
E: “Have you sat and talked to mum about this ?”
J: “No, I feel that if I sit and talk to her about Simon she will probably start crying again – then I will feel awful – she’s cried so much!”
E: “Ok well we are going to do a little bit of hypnosis again so that I can put some really positive suggestions into your “ day dreaming mind “ ( the subconscious ) and then I think it will be great if you me and mummy all have a chat – would that be ok?
Jane agreed and after our hypnosis session I called mum back in.
Now you may think that this is more “family therapy” than “hypnotherapy” but this is why, as a therapist, I have to be very adaptable. You see, you never know what’s going to occur with any client in any given situation. Although I knew hypnotherapy would be the treatment of choice for Jane, I also knew that her, and her mum (and possibly her dad and little sister) all needed to sit down and have a good talk.
Jane needed to feel less responsible for her mum’s feelings and her mum needed to know how Jane was feeling so she could support her!
Jane almost bounced into my therapy room. What an amazing difference. Her hair was pulled back off her face – and tied back. She wasn’t fidgeting with her hands and she told me that she and mum had had a long talk and then the whole family (including Jake the dog) had sat down and had a really good discussion about lots of different things. They had talked about Simon, about everyone’s feelings. They took my suggestion and the person who was “talking” held a wooden spoon and no one else interrupted! It had worked. There were tears of both laughter and sadness apparently, but at the end of the hour – everyone felt so much better and they decided as a family to have a “family chat night” at least once a month with a pizza and one of Simon’s favourite movies so they didn’t forget him (the younger sibling said she was frightened she would forget him)
We did some more hypnotherapy suggestions and Jane said that she would like to spend session 4 asking me some questions about death and dying .
E: “So Jane, these questions – are you ready?“
Jane brought out a crumpled bit of paper with a few things on it!
J: “You’ll probably think I’m stupid but do you think Si can see me or hear me?”
E: “Well this is a difficult one to answer Jane, but I always like to think that when a loved one dies that their spirit/ energy/ soul, whatever you want to call it, is still around us. I quite often talk to my mum and dad who have both passed away and although I will never know if they can see or hear me – it makes me feel better just off loading my problems to them! Does that help?”
J: “Yes, thanks. Also … do you think Si meant to kill himself? I mean – he didn’t leave a note – I asked mum and she said he hadn’t!”
E: “I have no idea I’m afraid Jane. But we just have to think that perhaps Simon wasn’t really feeling quite himself when he took his own life. Perhaps if he had the choice again, he might have done exactly the same thing! Or maybe he would have decided not to do it. It’s difficult to discuss something that we have no idea about isn’t it?
When children ask questions like Jane did with me, it’s best to be as honest as possible. Parents need to be honest too, because children will hear things from other family members. Children will ask all sorts of questions around death so you need to be prepared as parents, to answer them as best you can.
Jane didn’t want to bother her parents with these questions because she was afraid if she did – her mum might start to cry again. I explained to her that it’s sometimes good for people who have been bereaved to have a cry every now and then – even several years after the event. It shows they care and still have feelings for that person! I explained that my own mum died 40 years ago and very occasionally I still feel a bit sad – but that’s fine, because when I do that I then change those sad feelings to remembering the happy times we shared together.
J: “I sometimes scream and shout at Si just like I used to when he was alive. I say things like “Why did you have to go and leave me? You are my brother you are supposed to look after me!” Is that bad Elaine – to do that?“
E: “Not at all Jane, in fact I would be surprised if you’d told me you didn’t do it !”
and I worked together for four sessions in total and I didn’t hear from the
family for a while. Then one day I met them all in the supermarket, Jane looked
amazing and very happy!
So, you see, therapy sessions with hypnosis aren’t just about “putting someone under” and talking. With youngsters you have to be prepared for anything – be flexible and able to adapt so that the young client gets the very best out of the session.
If you know someone who is grieving or struggling with anxiety or PTSD
DO get them to contact me, hypnotherapy is a wonderful tool which works on the subconscious mind, it’s quite a fast acting therapy and I’ve used it with so many grieving clients, or those struggling with PTSD and anxiety. Children’s sessions are all done with fun, games and role play!