Q&A WITH BARBARA NEILL, AUTHOR OF DYSPRAXIA & HYPNOTHERAPY
We sat down with Barbara Neill, hypnotherapist and author of ‘Dypraxia & Hypnotherapy’ to find out what it’s all about.
So dyspraxia and hypnotherapy. Why the interest in dyspraxia and has it affected you personally? What is your own personal definition of dyspraxia, (as it is often misunderstood)?
I’m interested in Dyspraxia because I have a dyspraxic son and I’m also dyspraxic, myself. As a hypnotherapist, I have developed techniques to help people to overcome some of the difficulties associated with Dyspraxia.
I was formally assessed for Dyspraxia in January 2010 but I had known I’m dyspraxic for about seventeen years before that, since my eldest son was diagnosed. I recognised myself in many of the situations listed on a questionnaire I was completing about my son. I was well into adulthood before I’d even heard of Dyspraxia.
Defining Dyspraxia is particularly tricky because it affects different people in different ways, though there are some signs and ‘symptoms’ that are common to most, if not all, of us who are dyspraxic. In fact, in my book, “Dyspraxia and Hypnotherapy”, I’ve written a couple of pages in an attempt to define it! I started by saying that, “Dyspraxia is a condition in which the way that the brain processes information results in difficulties with movement and co-ordination, affecting both gross and fine motor skills, as well as problems with perception, visual processing and spatial awareness.” Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s a start.
I’ve gained much more confidence as I’ve grown older but, when I was younger, I hated eating in front of people because I was afraid of making a mess and showing myself up, I was very self-conscious when I walked down the road because it felt as though the path was coming up and hitting the soles of my feet. It still does, of course, but it doesn’t bother me now. I think the hardest thing for me has been my schooldays, which were incredibly difficult because every lesson brought a series of challenges. I especially disliked copying from the blackboard and was appalled to discover that that still happens in schools, though the blackboard has transitioned to a whiteboard or screen.
How did you get involved in hypnotherapy and how did you become a hypnotherapist, where did you train? Was your interest in hypnotherapy born out of your interest in dyspraxia?
My interest in hypnotherapy didn’t come from dyspraxia. In fact, I’m in the privileged position of being the daughter of one of the first hypnotherapists in the UK. My father, Bob Neill, first hypnotised one of his school friends in 1943 but started practising hypnotherapy in 1950, so I’ve been aware of hypnotherapy all my life and I suppose it was inevitable that I would follow in my father’s footsteps. Because hypnotherapy was almost unheard of by most people when my father was practising, I used to be quite embarrassed about what he did for a living and wished he could have had a ‘normal’ (don’t you just hate that word?!) job like other people’s dads. I’m incredibly proud of him and his achievements now, of course.
At what point did you realise that dyspraxia can contain traits that can be helped through hypnotherapy?
I couldn’t say when it was, exactly, but I had been practising hypnotherapy for some time, (I qualified in 2005), but it suddenly occurred to me that many of the issues I was helping people with could be adapted to help people who have dyspraxia. Learning to drive, for example, is something I understand, having passed my driving test way back in 1980, before I knew I was dyspraxic. I developed a number of scripts to deal with situations faced by people who have Dyspraxia, including learning to drive, taking the driving test, as well as other situations I have experienced, myself. However, the scripts are only ever used when I am working with a group, or for downloads from the internet. In other words, situations in which a generalised approach is needed.
When I am working with an individual client, I always treat each session as a unique situation, in which I’m helping a unique individual. The fact that I have an understanding of how it feels to be dyspraxic, having overcome many of the difficulties involved, myself, gives me an insight into how my client may be feeling, as well as how their own difficulties can be addressed.
Not all people can be hypnotised is something we often hear. Is this true? Are there any other myths you’re keen to bust?
What a great question! No; it’s not true. Anyone can be hypnotised as long as they are ready. If they’re not ready, it won’t happen. It’s as simple as that. If, at some point in the future they are open to hypnosis, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work for them.
As far as busting myths is concerned, I could go on forever because there are so many, so I’ll just give a few examples. One common misconception is that the hypnotherapist takes control of the client’s mind, which is absolutely not the case. The hypnotic state is the same as that beautiful deep relaxation that we experience when we are just about to drop off to sleep, so we are deeply relaxed but still aware of everything that’s going on around us. Hypnotherapy is (or should be!) about empowering people and I always explain to my clients that, if they wanted to, they could open their eyes, leave the room, or even the building, at any point during a session and they’d be perfectly safe. Hopefully, that reassures them that there is no question of me controlling their mind.
An interesting one is that Hypnotherapy is incompatible with Christianity, and that’s a very real fear among some Christians. It goes back to the issue of control and the fear is that ‘evil can be allowed into the mind’ while the client is in a state of hypnosis. In fact, the hypnotic state is exactly that that I’ve described; the deep relaxation that we all experience just before dropping off to sleep. In hypnotherapy, that state is induced and prolonged but it is exactly the same state in all other respects, so it’s a perfectly natural state that we all experience daily.
“A series of sessions will be needed for a single issue.” Nothing could be further from the truth. I always aim for complete success in one session, as my father always did and, in most situations, one session is all that’s needed though sometimes a second session can be helpful if the client feels they could benefit from a boost. The reason I never use a script with individual clients is because I treat a session as totally unique, addressing the specific situation of the client and, as a result, the chances of success are greatly increased, as opposed to the use of a script which is, out of necessity, more generalised, and would probably require more than one session. We are individuals with individual needs and circumstances which, in my view, is how we should be treated.
Is that enough about myth-busting? I wrote a whole article about it a while ago. It’s a big subject!
How do you carry out your sessions. Are they in person or remotely? Is there any age limit to who you can treat?
I carry out sessions both remotely and in person. Originally, of course, they were all in person but, as technology has advanced and improved, I find a remote session, via Skype, FaceTime etc., is every bit as effective as a face to face session. It actually has the advantage of allowing a client the opportunity to continue enjoying a state of relaxation for as long as they want to, at the end of the session. I always have a contingency plan in place, in case of technical problems which, so far, have been absolutely minimal. In the worst case scenario, I once had to continue a session with audio only but instead of looking for visual cues, I simply asked my client for spoken responses. The session went beautifully in spite of the problem, and also had a successful result.
As far as age limits are concerned, I would expect my client to be articulate enough to convey their feelings about their situation and, naturally, to be willing for the hypnotherapy to take place. In the case of a child, there are guidelines in place that a parent or other appropriate adult should be present if the child is under sixteen. In any case, if someone aged under eighteen should seek hypnotherapy from me, I would ask a parent or guardian to countersign a consent form. Of course, the level of understanding and willingness will vary greatly from one person to another regardless of age so, as I’ve said before, I treat each session/client as unique.
Given that dyspraxia affects everyone differently, is what you offer tailored to the individual?
I’ve jumped the gun a bit, haven’t I?! At the risk of sounding like a broken record, yes; each client and each session is regarded as a unique situation as far as I’m concerned.
What will people learn from your book?
I’ve divided the book into four sections; My background, About Dyspraxia, About Hypnotherapy, and How Hypnotherapy can help with Dyspraxia.
In the section, About Dyspraxia, I describe what Dyspraxia is and how it can affect people. There is some information about the brain, and the fact that Dyspraxia is a physiological condition that has both physical and psychological effects. There are descriptions of some of the difficulties associated with Dyspraxia and the way they can affect everyday life, as well as some coping strategies.
In About Hypnotherapy, there is information about what hypnotherapy is, a description of the hypnotic state, including how brainwaves are affected, descriptions of different methods of induction and deepening, and what happens in a session of hypnotherapy.
With regard to how Hypnotherapy can help with Dyspraxia, specifically, there are examples of how hypnotherapy has been used to alleviate some of the problems including those related to eating, (without making a mess), learning to drive (particularly where lack of co-ordination is concerned), and passing the driving test. There are also examples of case studies and a conclusion that focuses on the positive aspects.
There isn’t a whole lot of scientific research into dyspraxia. What would you say to someone who may be sceptical of hypnosis and how it applies to the condition?
That’s quite a tough one to answer because if someone has already made up their mind that hypnotherapy won’t work for them, it’s highly unlikely that it will, unless they’ve accepted the possibility on a sub-conscious level, but that’s a whole new subject. I would never try to talk someone into having hypnotherapy because, frankly, they would have to be open to the possibility of success, and be as positive as possible for it to be completely successful, anyway. I would hope that they might reconsider but you can’t force help on someone who isn’t ready to accept it. To use a cliché, you can’t walk through a closed door, however hard you try. There are plenty of people who are open to hypnotherapy and will benefit from it.
Where can people buy your book?
It’s available in both paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon, here.
As it’s the 30th anniversary of the Dyspraxia Foundation, what research do you think is needed moving forwards and what is needed to spread awareness of the condition?
In 2010, as a newly-diagnosed dyspraxic adult, I was dismayed to find so little help and guidance available for adults with the condition which, as you know, is a lifelong condition that we don’t ‘grow out of’, as was previously believed when Dyspraxia was known as the appallingly titled, “Clumsy Child Syndrome”. It was for this reason that my friend, Matthew Munson and I decided to start making ‘talking head’ style videos for YouTube under the banner, The Two Dyspraxics, as a way of raising awareness. I also took a teaching course and gained a qualification, so I could put together courses and workshops specifically on Dyspraxia Awareness. I have run workshops which have been attended by teachers, parents, employers and other interested parties and am currently in the process of developing the workshops further. As The Two Dyspraxics, Matthew and I are as keen to raise awareness of the condition, as we are to support those who are affected by it. To this end, we formed the Facebook group, “Dyspraxia”, which now has nearly three thousand members.
As far as research is concerned, the members of our group are very vocal, which is great. I think it’s essential that people have a level of support in place as a priority and I would hope the Facebook group and the YouTube channel go some way to providing that. Hopefully, the discussions within the Facebook group will give an indication as to the direction that research should be taking. I believe it’s important for people who have Dyspraxia, themselves, to have a voice.
What advice would you have for an adult who suspects he/she has dyspraxia? Should they get assessed?
First of all, rest assured that you are not alone and, although Dyspraxia affects different people in different ways, there are quirks and foibles that you will share with many others. Also, in spite of the associated difficulties, it isn’t all bad. There are positive traits as well as negative, though I prefer to think of them as ‘differences’.
For support, join the ‘Dyspraxia’ Facebook group. It is very supportive and friendly. They really are a fantastic group of people who will understand. We have some really helpful discussions and we’re not averse to having a laugh or two.
Seeking an assessment is a minefield. The way things stand, an assessment can be carried out by a range of professionals, including Psychologists, Physiotherapists, Neurologists (though, technically, that would be a diagnosis rather than an assessment), Occupational Therapists etc. so there’s no clear-cut route to an assessment. To my knowledge, assessments are still not generally available on the NHS and the amounts that professionals charge can vary considerably. The cheapest I’ve ever found was from a Physiotherapist who charged £50.00. That was online a few years ago and she since seems to have disappeared. The most expensive I’ve found was £900.00 from an Occupational Therapist. I think it very much depends on why you want an assessment as to whether or not you should seek one. If your employer or tutor wants you to have one, for example, it might be worth asking if they are prepared to contribute towards the cost. The way things are at the moment, I would say unless you actually need an assessment, you could save yourself the bother and the expense.
What advice would you give to a parent who suspects their child of having dyspraxia?
Don’t panic! It’s a lifelong condition; not a life sentence. There’s no reason at all why your child can’t do anything he or she wants to, including ‘physical’ activities such as playing sports or learning to drive. It will probably take longer and prove more difficult to learn than it would for a neurotypical person but, in spite of that, anything is possible! You may find that your child gets frustrated easily. This is because people who have Dyspraxia tend to have average to above average intelligence but we often have difficulty carrying out the tasks we want to. I would also urge you to join the ‘Dyspraxia’ Facebook group. We have lots of parents of dyspraxic children as well as adults who are dyspraxic.
As far as assessments are concerned, as with adults, it seems to vary from one area to another. If the child is of school age and the school is supportive, it might be possible for an assessment to be arranged with an Educational Psychologist. In my experience as the parent of a dyspraxic son, I found the primary school to be very unhelpful when I suspected he was dyspraxic at the age of five, despite countless requests for an assessment from his teacher and myself. His secondary school was very different and he was finally assessed at the age of eleven.
Above all, don’t panic, and remember, anything is possible!
Barbara Neill GQHP
Author of “Dyspraxia and Hypnotherapy”