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Del Morrill, M.S. C.C.H


A Center for Counseling & Hypnosis
Tacoma, Washington, USA
(253) 752-1506

Tricholotillomania (Hair-pulling)


     A client of mine is a young child who keeps pulling out her hair.  Sometimes it happens when she's looking in the mirror and just touching her hair--the next thing you know she becomes fascinated with one and begins pulling and then "clicks out" (her term) mentally for a while---until she realizes she's doing it.  Other times it happens while she's watching TV.  Sometimes it has to do with light hitting a specific hair in a certain way that will "attract" her to pull it; other times it's the feel of a certain one that gets her started.  She has gone at times for 30 minutes before she has "clicked back in" and realized she was in that pulling trance; she even admits to one episode lasting an hour by the clock. I asked her if she has any insight into times when she's more likely to pull and she said it does matter what kind of day she's had--if it has been stressful at school or if she has argued with her dad at home…

     She expresses feelings of "not wanting to sit still and just talk"--to which I replied that we don’t have to do that next time---that she can bring her beloved drawing materials and we can do some art work together. Then she remarked that she doesn’t like to just "relax" and listen to the tapes (though I had suggested she simply 'plug in' with earphones while falling asleep). My suspicion is that she is trying to tell me that, for whatever reasons, she may not really WANT to be done with this problem. So, maybe it's just truly an issue of her needing to be more "active" in our actual sessions, which I could certainly accommodate OR she may be pulling back from "therapy" ?  I had assured her that even after she has completely stopped pulling her hair, that she and I can always have a phone relationship. I’ve even wondered if this is a way she has of keeping control of herself and her parents…

     I do know (based on what the mother and the child herself have told me) that the father is abusive.  To what extent, I 'm not sure.  The mother excuses his tirades against the daughter by saying he's frustrated at not being able to help her.  According to her, he has grabbed the child, jerked her to a mirror and yelled at her to LOOK at herself and to SEE what she's doing to herself!  Yesterday when she arrived for her session she was visibly upset and mother explained that dad had yelled at her again before they came.  According to mom, dad is putting down the whole idea of hypnosis being of any help, even though she has, for the first time since she started pulling 8 months ago, been able to go for a week at a time without pulling. I have explained to mom that it is a process and she seems willing so far to give it time… 

     My client claims that she uses the self hypnosis technique I taught her (focusing her mind on a single digit number while touching two fingers together, taking two deep breaths and on the second exhale telling herself to "let go and relax"). I have used the direct suggestion in one session that any time her hand reaches for her hair, it will become very relaxed and just be able to touch the hair without pulling. When do I know when I am at the end of what I am able to do for her?



     Sounds to me as if you are doing the best you can with her.  I wouldn't worry unduly about "how deep" with young children, or whether they can even sit still.  I'll notice them wiggling all over the chair, and sometimes opening their eyes and even getting out of the chair for a few moments; yet they still pick up what I'm saying--and changes happen.  They simply don't have the blocks and expectations of what hypnosis ought to be, so you can be far more flexible in what you do.  I've read a story or given suggestions while a very young child colors designs that lead the eye inward, with great success   I've given a child a magic stone to make themselves feel better, physically, without using traditional hypnosis, and it worked because she expected it to.   Rule of thumb, I'm finding out, is the older the child the more you probably have to move toward more typical inductions and expect quieter body responses.  I've found that "antsy" children may be more effectively worked with if you lead them into 2 or 3 brief hypnotic experiences within the time they are with you - get them relaxed, talk to them or tell a story for a few minutes, bring them out and have them share with you about most anything, then have them close their eyes again, etc. etc.  10 minutes max is all that's needed in any one time, but you can do several 5-10 minute sessions within the 40-45 minutes they're with you.  I had one girl who changed a habit by my merely suggesting she think of a particular animal whenever she had the problem.  Ultimately, it led to my script on "being animals."  (GREAT ESCAPES, Volume I)

     An addition to what you're doing, since she's not a "listener", an imaginative way to work with her, with other than with words, is that you might create a box with some shiny magic stones (various colored polished stones from your nearest crystal store) and have her choose one that she'll carry in her pocket to remind herself to NOT pull her hair.  Or, she can sleep with it under her pillow, making a wish upon it that she will have hair like Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, or the like. 

     Your insights (on her possible blocks) seem right on target to me, and would have been where my own mind would have gone if this were my client.  Father is obviously a big problem.  This is the difficulty working with children - you always have the parents to deal with.  Just as with adults, you are left with the child's perceptions of a situation.  We never really know the "truth" whether with adults or children, although I think most children may be more direct and open than adults with us, for the most part. Also, it's no surprise that she would have difficulty with the hypnosis when Dad probably is pretty vocal about his opinion concerning it. I'd get really direct and STRONG with Dad, telling him that his reactions to his daughter only aggravate the situation. (Remember you are the “doctor” and the parent has brought the child to you because you are the EXPERT; so never sell yourself short on this.  You can get as strong as any medical doctor about what you expect in terms of how the family can help.)






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