Hypnosis and ADHD

What is ADHD?

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a developmental neurobiological condition that exists in every country and every culture. It emerges in early childhood and symptoms are now known to frequently persist into adult life.

ADHD is characterised by a mixture of symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Mood instability, although not a diagnostic criterion is frequently found. Typical symptoms are difficulties in developing and sustaining focus, particularly on tasks that require sustained mental effort, and being easily distracted. These inattentive symptoms typically lead to severe difficulties in getting things done on time, making careless mistakes, disorganisation and forgetfulness. Hyperactive symptoms lead to difficulties in remaining still with a constant need to move or fidget, and impulsiveness often leads to poor planning and risky behaviours as the consequences are not considered.

ADHD typically affects nearly all domains of a person’s life. A child who has ADHD is three times more likely to fail a year at school and twice as likely to drop out of school. The effects can continue into adulthood with sufferers being twice as likely to be divorced, 40% less likely to be in full time employment and twice as likely to have been arrested. Research carried out in the USA in 2009 has also shown that ADHD can have a wider effect on society and the economy causing 143.8 million lost days of productivity each year across ten countries studied. The research also revealed that workers with ADHD are more likely to have at least one sick day in the past month compared to workers without ADHD.

Hypnosis as a treatment for ADHD

Medications, often stimulants that enhance dopamine function are frequently employed in treating this condition. Although, usually effective in the first year of treatment, many researchers are reporting that the effects generally wane by the third year, if not sooner.[1] However, changes in diet, such as removing foods which contain certain additives, lifestyle modifications, exercise, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy have all been shown to alleviate some of the effects of ADHD. There is some evidence that hypnosis can also aid the effectiveness of some of these treatments. Hypnosis excels in helping develop empowering resource states that can be utilised for positive effects. In this regard, patients are taught self-hypnotic strategies that they can employ for themselves. Although these strategies may seem diverse, there is a common thread, that hypnosis in general or self-hypnosis in particular can be thought of as form of attentional training, which with regular practise can help reduce attentional deficits.

For instance, developing a state of calmness can be brought about by sustaining focus on anything that a particular person associates with calm – along with liberal suggestions for relaxation and interest.

People with ADHD often have low self-esteem, usually thought to the experience of repeated failures and frequently told that they are not good enough and often leads to diminished motivation. There are many techniques of using hypnosis to create “believed in” content rich visualisations of future success that together with the development of an “Inner Starter” – a resource state of characterised by enthusiasm, can be powerfully motivating. Adaptations of these techniques can be also be used to develop problem solving skills. It can be surprising to find what effect suggestions to regularly check the time have on time management. Although the traditional use of hypnotic suggestion to facilitate memory recall has been in forensic fields, adaptions with behavioural rehearsal can be used to stimulate attention to detail and recall.

Outside of core ADHD symptoms, patients can also choose to focus on a particular area for treatment as part of the hypnotherapy, such as a fear of social situations, anger management or developing patience, or tolerating boredom both of which, if developed, reduce impulsiveness.

Does it work?

So, what of the results? Not surprisingly, there has been little research but what there has been is positive. Two recent small scale but well conducted studies by Maarit Virta from the University of Helsinki found that hypnosis was effective in the treatment of ADHD [2] and a follow up study found that treatment with hypnosis had a better outcome than CBT. [3] There has been much discussion as to whether there is an overlap between a type of consciousness that is termed Mindfulness and the “state” of hypnosis. Certainly, there are many similarities because both involve a heightened state of focus and detachment. Hypnotherapy often utilises suggestions to create inner experience and resource states whilst these are not given in most mindfulness practices.

Lidia Zylowska of the University of California and Los Angeles, in a feasibility study, found that mindfulness medication training is an effective treatment of ADHD in the small group of adults and adolescents she studied [4]. Another study by John Mitchell [5] examined the effects of mindfulness training on individuals diagnosed with ADHD. They compared their mindfulness group to a waiting list control group of diagnosed individuals already receiving medication. They found a strong effect for mindfulness training on symptom reduction and improved functional impairment, as well as clinician-reported improvements in executive functioning. These clinical findings build on basic science research that showed that mindfulness medication practice has increases in brain tissue [6], termed neuroplasticity, particularly in areas of the brain thought to be associated with ADHD.

Hypnosis should only be utilised by fully trained and accredited practitioners. Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Robert Schapira is also a Clinical Hypnotherapist and has used hypnosis to help many people with ADHD, as well as those with other mental health conditions which can also benefit from hypnotherapy. Appointments with Dr Schapira at any of his clinics in London, Brentwood in Essex and Sawbridgeworth in Hertfordshire can be made by contacting Private Psychiatry.

 

[1] 3-Year Follow up of the NIMH-MTA Study Peter Jensen et al Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Vol 46, August 2007 989-1002
[2] Hypnotherapy for Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Randomized Control Trial, Maarit Virta et al. Contemporary Hypnosis 27(1):5-18 (2010)
[3] Better Long Term Outcome for Hypnotherapy than CBT in Adults with ADHD: results of a Six Month Follow Up Seppo Hiltunen, Maartit Virta et al Contemporary Hypnosis and Integrative Therapy 30(3) 118-134 (2014)
[4] Mindfulness Meditation training in Adults and Adolescents with ADHD, Lidia Zylowska et al. Jornal of Attention Disorders November 19, 2007
[5] John Mitchel et al. A Pilot Trial of mindfulness meditation training for ADHD in adulthood: Impact on Core Symptoms, executive functioning and emotional dysregulation. Journal of Attention Disorders December 4 2013
[6] Sara Lazar et al. Meditation Experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport, 16(17), 1893-1897
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