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Children can ‘imagine away’ pain

October 16, 2009

I’m always fascinated by how powerful our imaginations truly are. Below is a great article from the BBC about a study that was recently released about teaching children to use their imaginations as an effective pain relief treatment. I think it’s wonderful. Another way to incorporate the hypnobirthing techniques into our daily lives. I’m especially pleased that they spent money to research a natural and non-invasive technique such as this.

Next time your child says her tummy hurts, or his head hurts. Try this. And then of course, let us know how it works for your family.


A copy of the article is below. You can also read it at the BBC website

Children can be taught to use their imagination to tackle frequent bouts of
stomach pain, research shows.

A relaxation-type CD, asking children to imagine themselves in scenarios
like floating on a cloud led to dramatic improvements in abdominal pain.

The US researchers said the technique worked particularly well in children
as they have such fertile imaginations.

It has been estimated that frequent stomach pain with no identifiable cause
effects up to one in five children.

The research, published in Pediatrics, follows on from studies showing
hypnosis is an effective treatment for a range of conditions known as
functional abdominal pain, which includes things like irritable bowel

” There is really a dearth of information on how to manage children with
abdominal pain ”
Professor David Candy

In this study, the children had 20 minute sessions of “guided imagery” – a
technique which prompts the subject to imagine things which will reduce
their discomfort.

One example is letting a special shiny object melt into their hand and then
placing their hand on their belly, spreading warmth and light from the hand
inside the tummy to make a protective barrier inside that prevents anything
from irritating the belly

The researchers, from the University of North Carolina and Duke University
Medical Center, said a lack of therapists led them to the idea of using a CD
to deliver the sessions.

In all 30 children aged between six and 15 years took part in the study –
half of whom used the CDs daily for eight weeks and the rest of whom got
normal treatment.

Among those who had used the CDs, 73.3% reported that their abdominal pain
was reduced by half or more by the end of the treatment course compared with
26.7% in the standard care group.

In two-thirds of children the improvements were still apparent six months


It is not clear exactly how the technique works but studies have shown it is
partly about reducing anxiety but there is also a direct effect on the pain

Some researchers think hypnosis-like techniques reduce “hypersensitivity” in
conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.

Study leader Dr Miranda van Tilburg said it was especially exciting that the
children were able to use the technique on their own.

“Such self-administered treatment is, of course, very inexpensive and can be
used in addition to other treatments, which potentially opens the door for
easily enhancing treatment outcomes for a lot of children suffering from
frequent stomach aches.

“Children are very good at using their imagination – when you use this in
adults you have to overcome a barrier first.”

Professor David Candy, a consultant paediatric gastroenterologist at Western
Sussex Hospitals, said his team had tried hypnosis in a small group of
children with severe abdominal pain problems and had 100% success rate.

He added they are now keen to try the guided imagery technique to see if
they can replicate the US findings.

“There is really a dearth of information on how to manage children with
abdominal pain and it’s a very common problem which keeps children out of

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2009/10/09 23:00:40 GMT

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 16, 2009 5:00 pm

    Here’s what one HypnoBirthing grandma wrote about this experience.

    It is not just pain that children can “imagine away.” When one of my daughters was 8, she developed juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. She had frequent flare-ups for a few years which caused hot, red and swollen joints, usually an elbow or knee. We learned to help her with guided imagery to take away the inflammation. Very shortly, she learned to do it by herself and would say “I’m going to go think about it.” A short while later, she would reappear, with the sewlling, heat and redness resolved.

    Thankfully, the arthritis resolved after a few years and left no problems.


  2. October 17, 2009 8:04 am

    I am thrilled to read about this study. It’s a wonderful addition to similar research in the field. My own work has been in teaching children to access the power of their imagination to heal themselves and reach their full potential. I’m a Los Angeles based child educational psychologist and Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at UCLA. In one guided imagery group I conducted a few years ago, kids were complaining of all sorts of symptoms: one had a headache, another a stomachache, and still a third boy had a stinging canker sore. So I created an imagery that helped all of them: they imagined creating a magical garden where they could grow healthy and strong and rested in a healing pond while their garden (a thinly disguised metaphor for their body) grew. Afterwards, both the headache and stomachache was gone and the canker sore didn’t sting. This lead me to record a CD Creating a Magical Garden and Healing Pond that kids and parents tell me helps with all sorts of pain – physical, emotional, and spiritual. I invite you to learn about this at my website and my new book The Power of Your Child’s Imagination: How to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success (Perigee/Penguin) at
    Charlotte Reznick Ph.D.

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