by Brenda J Titus, CH, MS
Throughout the year, I am exploring how hypnotists can help adolescents and their families. In the January edition, I discussed special considerations for Hypnotists to address when working with teens. This month, I will focus on middle school age clients.
For the purpose of this discussion, middle school age students are generally within the 12-14 year age range. Middle school is usually 7th and 8th grades, however some districts place students as low as 5th grade and as high as 9th grade into the middle school category, placing students anywhere from 10-15 years old.
The key word to think about with this age group is the word “middle.” These clients are torn between two worlds- not quite the children of elementary school, yet nowhere near approaching adulthood, as is the case with many high school students. They are in a time of change on the inside, as their bodies make drastic changes on a daily basis, largely due to hormones. They are in a time of change on the outside, as they face a new stage of social and educational expectations.
This can be a time of fear, of confusion, and for students who are bullied because of their changing bodies or adjustment to the social world of middle school, it can be a time of difficulty. Hypnosis can be a great asset to the middle school student to help them adjust to their changing world so that they can maintain their sense of self-esteem, see their challenges as a normal part of growing up, and help them maintain their focus on their school work so that they can overcome the challenges.
A time of change on the inside…
Middle school aged adolescents experience significant changes in their bodies in a very short amount of time. Outward changes include such things as growth spurts, acne, shifts in weight distribution, and body odor. Then there are the changes that can be just as confusing, even though they are less noticeable to the outside observer, such as the development of pubic hair, onset of menses, and the body’s response to sexual arousal. These changes can lead to confusion, embarrassment, shame, and fear within the teen who does not necessarily understand what they are experiencing. These changes can also lead to bullying, which reinforces the shame, embarrassment, and fear.
In addition to hormonal changes taking place inside of the middle school age adolescent, a change begins to happen in their emotional development and how they process their experiences. As mentioned earlier, this age group is very much “in the middle” in terms of emotional and physical development. They are still children, even though their bodies are maturing and growing into adulthood. As they begin to look more like adults, they begin to act like adults. They may develop more responsibilities within the home and in extracurricular activities, even though they do not have the emotional maturity, wisdom, or experience level necessary, which can lead to misperceptions, anger, and guilt.
A time of change on the outside…
During middle school, the structure of a student’s daily activities changes drastically from elementary school. This period is very often the first time that they experience moving around to different classes throughout the day. It is also often the first clear delineation and separation of academic levels, as students get placed into classes according to their abilities. For many students, this is the first time that they have the opportunity to participate in elective classes and extracurricular activities, such as sports and arts classes. Students begin to develop their own sense of identity through these changes, but it can also lead to problems for adolescents as they adjust to this new system.
As students adjust to having different classes, different teachers, and different classmates throughout the day, they have a unique opportunity to develop and test out their identity in varying ways. Rather than the consistency of having one teacher throughout the day who knows the student, the teen has an opportunity to interact with varying teaching styles. Students may succeed or struggle based on their perceptions of the teachers and their style of classroom management. Students may develop feelings of stress or anxiety over trying to meet expectations that they do not fully understand.
This is often the first time that students are split into levels in such classes as math and English. Some students may notice as they move through their day that their fellow classmates are people that they perceive as “smart” or “not so smart.” This has the potential to develop an in-group and an out-group, as well as potential bullying, as students begin to compare themselves to others, and treat each other (and themselves) accordingly.
As young people begin to explore their personal interests through extracurricular activities, they must learn to balance their school and home requirements with obligations associated with these activities. This includes making time for the activity and ongoing practice associated with it, while maintaining grades and keeping up with assignments. Additionally, students participating in activities must adjust to the unique culture of the group, the student’s relationships with others in the group, and their role within the group. It can be a stressful time for students as they make this adjustment./p>
How students adapt to all of these structural changes in the middle school environment will impact their high school years, as many class levels, sports, arts and other activities in middle school filter into high school. Students who learn how to balance all of these elements and fit in will have an advantage as they begin high school, while those who struggle may see an impact in their grades, which can result in them getting placed in lower levels of particular subjects and even prevent them from participating in activities in high school.
Hypnosis can help…
Many of the struggles that middle school age students face can be helped through interaction with a professional who gives the adolescent an outside perspective and a friendly ear. The tools of the hypnotist, including working with direct suggestion to shift thinking and help the client see things differently, age regression to dispel misperceptions, and forgiveness work to overcome anger and guilt are all appropriate and effective interventions.
Direct suggestion work with this age group can be very effective because they are still engaged in the creative mind of the child. They are able to create imagery in their minds as the hypnotist suggests because they are still regularly and actively engaged in fantastical imagery through books, television, movies, and games geared to their age group. As an example, a hypnotist may use direct suggestion work to place the client into stories that they are familiar with, allowing them to experience being the successful hero who overcomes adversity.
Age regression work can be appropriate for this age group to help the client understand how they are impacted by situations in their life that they might not be aware of. Helping the client shift their perceptions about these events can prevent years of damage and subsequent sensitizing events by providing this intervention at a young age. When doing age regression with this age group, the client might not be as insightful as an adult would be, however there is great value in helping the client understand that they are loveable and good enough regardless of what happened. Helping the client see how they can learn and grow from particular events can empower the client greatly. Age progression work reinforces this empowerment and aids the client in practicing how they will handle situations in the future.
Forgiveness work can be very beneficial for clients at this age group. It can lead to healthier communication with parents, teachers, and friends, as well as future romantic interests. Forgiveness work at this stage teaches clients to see the other person’s point of view, and it also helps clients learn how to express their feelings in an appropriate way rather than stuffing them in or turning them on themselves. At a time when a young person may feel voiceless, they learn to use their voice in an effective and appropriate way.
In my opinion, one of the most rewarding things about working with this age group is the element of prevention and education. By having the opportunity to meet with a professional who can help them understand what they are going through and to get some tools to cope and to make the changes necessary, teens can live much happier and more successful lives than they would without intervention. In the coming months, I will continue this series, focusing on the challenges that high school students face, along with some examples from clients that I have worked with.