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Harry the Hypno-potamusReview - Harry the Hypno-potamus
More Metaphorical Tales for Children
by Linda Thomson
Crown House Publishing, 2009
Review by A. P. Bober
Aug 4th 2009 (Volume 13, Issue 32)

Linda Thomson created the character Harry the Hypno-potamus (vii) "who helps children to help themselves."  In his introduction (vii) Dr. Kohen says Thomson's first Harry volume stimulated clinicians "to develop other stories" while encouraging "parents and children to develop their own stories to facilitate healing and resolve problems," a critically important point about the democratic ownership of that other-guided focus that hypnosis is as a meditative state sourced from a part of ourselves and only incidentally by a practitioner.  She appears surprised (ix) that "parents, school teachers, and other professionals not trained in hypnosis were using the metaphors with children."  And even children were picking up the book on their own.  "The most amazing and effective metaphors are the ones the children create themselves." 

A key to the effectiveness of (right-brain) metaphor is that (4-5) "the child views the problem as something that is happening to somebody else; therefore, she does not feel personally threatened," without, we hope, experiencing herself as an object.  The positive messages to the unconscious (5) "also replenish the soul."  That imprecise reference to the deeper self shows possibilities for self-development and integration that metaphor work with children might expand in subsequent works.  Not surprisingly, then, a style of paramedical, Freudian-like focus on specific problems, rather than on global strengthening of an inner core, undergirds this clinical approach.  For example, four categories organize problems children may face:  anxieties, fears, phobias; habit disorders; pain; other uses.

A typical strategic pattern clearly informs the hypnologic stories:  contextual background, elicited problem, suggested solution, hypnotic induction, reinforcement of inner strengths, resolution.  Fear of costume, clowns, or masks, Thomson informs us in the introduction (9), is not unusual for young children.  Examples of specific topics include:  fears of bugs, examinations, invasive medical procedures, and pill swallowing; toileting anxieties, fear of heights; habits like finger-sucking, stuttering, and more seriously, encopresis and cyclic vomiting; bodily pains, including sickle-cell effects; a whole range of contentious social-psychologically proposed issues including sadness, bullies, anger (ambivalence), being a foster child, sleeping problems, and "ADHD."

The imaginary Ashland Zoo is the site where the particularly adept Harry the Hypno-Potamus solves his loneliness issues and encourages support groups to assist an unusual range of other animals.  Especially graphic stories include those of Moshe the Happy Hoatzin (35) who imagines rising in a balloon while dropping packs containing fear and worries, Gurgevich Gibbon with a finger-sucking problem, George BbbbonnnnoBO whose issue you can guess, Eric the Platypus whose bill can detect electric fields given off by prey--not his problem; the particularly fetching image of Carol Kinkajou with the habitual cough that becomes a host tree that gradually diminishes as Carol imagines herself as a fig tree growing around it eventually (87) "to stand tall, all on its own."  What's good about this last metaphor is that it recalls an old headache commercial showing a plaster bust of a woman the real version of whom broke through the one with the headache.  This Goethian growth from the inside out leads to some unavoidable strictures that must be raised about the book's exclusively gouge-and-spackle focus.

Except for the social and social-psychological parts of the book, there is little to complain about re the specific developmental, especially physiochemically based, issues that arise for the children.  The problems approach probably works well when it does.  Far better would be a global core-self-growth series of inductions, at least as supplements, that would head some problems off at the pass.  Related to this is my sense that replacing "down" with "(deeper) in" for breathing and imaginary movement would avoid possible negative suggestiveness of  "down."  The typical kind of fantasy trip in which the person arrives at a key message from the self to the self, as in the "higher within" movement in Assagioli's Psychosynthesis left out of the bibliography, would probably inspire very good child-produced metaphors.  This could as well avoid the unfortunate mystification of needless talk of trance, merely the "transir" movement from daily practical attention to the right-brain meditative.  Oddly, hypnotic meditation makes us intensely focused while much of our everyday awareness is diffusely hypnotized, so to speak.

That only one child's contribution apparently came up by chance leads us to the professional directedness of the stories.  In no case does the ambivalently democratic Dr. Dan encourage the animal to consider its own solution.  Merely posing that possibility often releases creative solutions.  Directly opposed to Thomson's factual affirmation that it is the person who creates the inner road to a solution as self-hypnosis is the historically false notion that only clinical professionals can legitimately practice these modalities."Only as part of treatment plan" (22) makes all attempts at solution dependent and other-directed and to that extent chips away at the self-directed healing power that the democratically available practice of hypnology enables.

A few issues require some comment.  (139-141) An old hypnosis trick uses something like a dot of iodine suggesting that "as the stain wears away so will the wart reduce to nothing" thus avoiding warfare images of resistance; as once used in est, headaches (110) the subject describes by color, shape, texture, weight diminish or disappear, but this doesn't work for a concussion where pain calls for an examination--I once saw a person reduce one to a fly that left through space imagined between the eyes, disappearing in the distance; "why?" (45)  may uselessly rationalize when "what?" and "how?" better elicit surrounding circumstances and related feelings; it's a touchy issue to suggest Bloom Raccoon's (47) stimulus generalization of one bug sniffed up the nose to all bugs; propagandistic advice to tell teachers, or worse, "tell the bully to stop, that you don't like it" (165), waiting for what?--"Oh, yeah, I'm sorry"-- seems silly post-Columbine. 

I would rather see children develop critical, empirically based judgment rather than accept unexamined thumb-and-forefinger muscle-testing (114) and pendulum movement (100-103) children cannot evaluate.

Finally, Raz Ratel (129) raises the historical issue of ADHD.  It took twenty years for the pharmaceutical industry to manufacture a non-disease for the Ritalin they already had with its paradoxically calming effect on children.  It passed through such mystifying labels as "minimum brain dysfunction," "hyperkinetic reaction," and, oh, as far back as 1902, "defect of moral control," apparently the bourgeois Dr. Still's reaction to a lower-class disease.  It's up to parents to decide whether to use it considering the relation of expected childhood energy in boxcar educational contexts among other things.

I had not expected to find so much to take exception to in a book for children.  I only wish to reaffirm that the author's purpose is to help children with troubling issues.  I am sure the book will do that well.  By the way, this glossy-page hardcover lists for fifty dollars no doubt to appeal to those upper-middle-class professionals like the clinical contributors who would find that format itself more authoritatively cogent as opposed to a wholly paper version at half the price with wider appeal.



© 2009 Anthony P. Bober


A.P. Bober has studied a psychology spanning Skinner and a humanistic-clinical view based on existential phenomenology and had been a PhD candidate in a substantive yet philosophic European-based sociology including the "critical" view. His teaching augmented courses in group theory/"small-group developmental dynamics" (lab) while introducing "sociology of knowledge" and "issues in biological anthropology," with publications in the first two fields. Currently he is writing a book on mystical experience as metaphorically tied to neuroendocrinology.



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