I’ve written in the past about ways in which therapy and mental health can improve (although I’ve since tempered my language to be more nuanced and less aggressive – the power of personal growth, yo). Here, I’d like to explore ways in which the hypnosis industry could do better as well.
Hypnosis is a powerful tool for personal growth. Every time I work with it, whether as a client or a hypnotist, I never cease to be amazed and inspired.
It frustrates me that hypnosis has been relegated to the sidelines, an alternative thing that people do when the mainstream doesn’t work, or an eclectic modality that therapists choose to train in if they’re just a bit different.
Milton Erikson is one of the founding fathers of hypnosis, and a mainstay figure in the history of psychology. You can’t take a course on the history of therapy treatments without encountering him. And yet, hypnosis remains far more niche amongst therapists than other modalities. (I think this is partially due to the fact that Erikson himself was such a genius that much of his work was intuitive and hard to quantify. )
Our mission is to bring hypnosis back to the mainstream. For it to be a form of mental health treatment that people do with their therapist, just like CBT or IFS.
For that to happen, there are several things that need to be improved
1. One Regulating Body
The world of hypnosis is fragmented. There are multiple certifying bodies, all with varying levels of credibility and influence. Whereas in the word of therapy it is fairly clear who you should get certified by depending on what state you live in and what your professional credentials are, with hypnosis you have no such luck.
I remember researching the right certifying hypnosis body, trying to find the one I should go with, and navigating through layers of ambiguity. I ended up choosing NGH to do my training with since they are one of the most established. Nonetheless, they are not the only ones.
Some industries other than therapy have done a good job centralizing their regulation. Yoga comes to mind where the Yoga Alliance is perceived as the standard for all yoga training. I wish something similar would emerge for hypnosis.
Its worth mentioning that I have larger issues with regulating mental health. On one hand, I see why it’s important to have a minimum standard and a code of ethics by which people should abide. At the same time, this is just the baseline level, and it frustrates me when I see therapists who are not qualified on any level to be working with other people due to their own character traits or emotional development, but are licensed and successful due to having taken the right courses or written the right papers. Education and Certification does not inherently a good practitioner make, whether that’s a hypnotist or a therapist.
And where do you draw the line? What makes something coaching and something else therapy? What if you’re friends with your therapist and play the role of therapist with your friends? The world of supporting others to greater wellbeing and emotional growth is a nuanced one. At the very least, we should continuously grapple with these questions while always having our clients best interests in mind.
2. Hiding Behind Language
Hypnosis exists on a spectrum, a grey area between coaching and therapy. It often depends on the specific modalities and approaches of the hypnotist. With some forms of hypnosis, the practitioner takes a proactive, often script-reading approach. They are sort of like a coach that speaks directly to your subconscious.
Then there there are hypnosis modalities that are very similar to therapy, analytical and regression hypnosis attempt to explore hidden motivations, past wounds, and the internal workings of your subconscious and emotional world.
And yet, to survive as largely unregulated entity hypnosis organizations largely insist on the fact that they are not therapy. They use language in their waivers that emphasizes that they are not mental health professionals. They claim to help “ordinary people with ordinary problems” and not treat mental health issues. That’s all very nice, but I have news for you: there are no such things as ordinary people with ordinary problems. Yes, some people need psychiatric care, and are outside the scope of even many therapists. But most people today, with most of their problems, are on some sort of spectrum of anxiety, depression, or compulsive behaviors, with trauma at its root often with medication taking the edge off their pain.
To pretend that we’re doing isn’t a core service to the mental health needs of society both sells us short and misleads the public – both those who don’t come to us because their problems are not “ordinary” and those whose problems are deemed ordinary but aren’t really.
There is an interesting aspect to hypnosis where “all hypnosis is self hypnosis” whereby all hypnotists serve as guides and facilitators and really do not need to diagnose anything or make personal assessments or have insights about a clients situation. I argue that this means we take less responsibility for the client, ensuring instead that the client takes more responsibility for themselves. WIth less responsibility comes less need for oversight and training. I do believe hypnosis (and therapy, for that matter) can be effectively conducted with far less training than is currently given in schools (which causes a shortage of therapists and emphasizes the wrong kind of traits in successful therapist).
But that does not mean we should diminish from the power of the impact that hypnosis can have. We should not pretend that hypnosis is not doing what it actually is.
I understand why we currently use this language, and I would not want the door slammed shut in the face of hypnotists who are doing good work, just because they are licensed mental health professionals. But it’s a shame that we need to do this, and it’s worth acknowledging the impact that blurring of the lines has on our public perception in people’s minds.
3. Empirical Study and Standardized Terms
Finally, I wish there was more research done to support the claims and findings within the world of hypnosis. I wish we did more before and after surveys to quantify over time the kind of impact we have on our clients.
We should use standardized language and standardized forms to help measure the results of our work with clients. So many people work with hypnosis every day, it behoves us measure the impact we’re having and, if it’s significant and positive, to share our findings with the world.
Part of this requires a standardization of treatment protocols and language used. Having decentralized regulation means there are many hypnotists doing many different things, all grouped under the umbrella term “hypnosis”. We should educate the public of the different forms of hypnosis and what each one means and can help with. Conversely, we use niche language that is unique to our industry, partially to help avoid regulation as described above – ‘we’re not treating phobias, we’re just removing fears!’ To help standardized the measurement of the impact we are having, it would help to align ourselves with the terminology used in the rest of the behavioral science fields.
The HAH Institute’s long term vision os to do just this – create a vocabulary that is transparent and accessible to clients to clearly explain what hypnosis ass sited healing is and does, and to measure as empirically as possible the impact that hypnosis can have on people’s lives, and then publicize that for the benefit of others.
We have a profoundly powerful set of tools and techniques at our disposal. Let’s do the public right by sharing it with the world in the way that does the most good.