Article written for the NRHP quarterly newsletter:

I had to write this article. Three things compelled me.

Firstly, an article was published in the Independent (6th June 2011) entitled Cowboys Hamper Use of Hypnotherapy to Treat NHS Patients – reprinted in the Summer 2011 Newsletter. The good news is that the NHS at last appears to be waking up to the practical applications of hypnotherapy. But the article confirms what some of us already know; that hypnotherapy is a great therapy with a terrible image.

The second thing which prompted me was an article in the Summer 2011 edition of the UKCPs Psychotherapist magazine: Fighting for Professional Survival by Hilary Platt. This rather alarming article highlights the extent to which (non-CBT) psychotherapists and counsellors are being supplanted within the NHS by high-intensity therapists with BABCP accreditation. According to Platt, UKCP or BACP registration is increasingly regarded as irrelevant within the NHS.

Thirdly, Tony Cawley’s article Beyond the Rational Mind, published in the Winter 2010 / 2011 newsletter seems to have hit a raw nerve or two and sparked a debate which seems to be getting a little heated. The popularity of CBT in the medical profession and elsewhere seems to be provoking some resentment.

I have a very high regard for CBT (and related therapies). And, as philosophy is my subject, I have paid my dues at the Altar of Reason. As part of my National College training I was given a grounding in some of the basics of CBT, but I don’t consider myself a CBT practitioner nor do I regard myself as qualified to comment upon the limitations of that particular therapeutic approach. But it does have its limitations. I am on good terms with a couple of BABCP registered therapists in my area. Both of them are aware that CBT is commonly regarded as some kind of panacea, a cure for everything from backache to extreme psychosis and both are very uncomfortable with this perception. And surely simple commonsense would suggest that no therapy can be 100% successful with 100% of clients / patients? Plurality is desirable if not essential.

Is there anything we hypnotherapists can do to earn a higher opinion for our therapy? To what extent are we responsible for the rather low esteem in which hypnotherapy is held (at least in comparison to CBT)?

Certain things are beyond our control. The “cowboy” practitioner (curiously sexist term in the context of a business in which the majority of practitioners are women) will be with us for the foreseeable future. Meaningful regulation is now off the agenda. But it isn’t only hypnotherapy which suffers the curse of the cowboy. There are plenty of CBT “practitioners” out there whose training seems to consist of little more than a cursory reading of Mind over Mood but this hasn’t hampered the increasing use of CBT within the medical profession. Why should hypnotherapy be so vulnerable? Is there anything we are doing to feed the negative image of our therapy? I think there might be. Let’s consider how we tend to present ourselves to the public.

I joined the NRHP in 1996. In those days you connected with the public by advertising in newspapers and Yellow Pages. In 1996 I published some credit-card sized ads in the local paper and, for a couple of weeks, was inundated with enquiries. The amount of clients you got depended on the amount you were prepared to spend on your Yellow Pages ad. In 1999 I spent £500 on a Yellow Pages ad and got so many clients through it that I ended up referring many of them on to local colleagues (though I should say that I was very much a part-time practitioner in those days). The 1996 NRHP register did not list websites. I suppose a few therapists might have had websites in 1996. The majority certainly did not. Then things began to change.

Fast forward to 2002. In that year (according to my paper copy of the NRHP register) the NRHP had 313 members. By this time the register had started to include websites. In 2002, 57 NRHP members had websites – 18.2% of the total membership. Fast forward again to 2011. According to my count, the NRHP now has 341 members, 216 of whom have websites – 63.3% of the total membership. That’s a considerable increase in 2002, but I have to admit that I’m rather mystified as to where the 125 members without websites get their clients!

This is a significant development. In the old days advertising was all about clarity and conciseness. Every word had to count. The purpose of the ad had to be crystal clear. A website removes any need for such self-discipline and the result, in some cases, is pretty gruesome. There are some very self-indulgent websites out there.

I wanted to look at a small but random sample of NRHP therapists websites so I visited the websites of those practitioners whose surnames begin with A or B – a total of 22 websites. (No gruesome examples here, I hasten to say). Of those 22 websites, one was the website of a directory, not an individual therapist. Two further websites were completely inaccessible – I also tried the weblinks via the online register.

All the accessible websites, apart from two, offer other types of therapy in addition to hypnotherapy. One site offers hypnotherapy along with no less than 10 other therapies. Four offer NLP and / or EFT. Five of them offer CBT. Two offer counselling. Three sites offer “psychotherapy” but give no further information as to what type of psychotherapy is on offer. One website doesn’t offer hypnotherapy at all, only counselling and psychotherapy. Fair enough – this practitioner no longer uses hypnotherapy. But it might seem odd to an outsider to find such a site on a register of hypnotherapy practitioners. Just two websites offer hypnotherapy only.

Let me make one thing absolutely clear. I don’t think that it is wrong or in any way misleading to offer more than one therapy. I am not criticising anybody. But we do seem to have a bit of a self-identity problem here, don’t we? What sort of impression does this create of hypnotherapy itself? I think it suggests that hypnotherapy is so limited that practitioners need to fall back on other types of therapy, from EFT to CBT. By way of comparison I went on the BABCP site and had a look at some CBT therapists websites. Actually, most of them didn’t have a listed website. Maybe the flow of referrals is such that they don’t need them. The two or three therapists sites I did see offered CBT only. Nothing else. No hypnotherapy, NLP, counselling, EFT – just CBT. And, to me at least, that created an impression of confidence – confidence of the therapist in his or her therapy – which tends to be lacking in hypnotherapists’ websites.

We need to grasp this nettle. Is what we call “hypnotherapy” just some kind of tool, to be included in great big bag of other tools derived from all manner of therapies? If so, then does it really deserve to be taken as seriously as a therapy as is CBT?

I think that hypnotherapy is – or should be – an autonomous, self-sufficient therapy. This doesn’t in any way preclude the use of techniques developed in other areas of therapy – hypnotherapy can absorb what it needs without ceasing to be hypnotherapy. CBT is essentially the logical analysis of thoughts and emotions. Hypnotherapy is essentially the offering of direct and / or indirect suggestions to a hypnotized subject. My impression is that CBT has probably gone as far as it can go – yes, new techniques will continue to appear, theories will continue to be presented. But can it really go much further without ceasing to be CBT and turning into something else?

Hypnotherapy, by contrast, has barely got off the ground. There is so much to be done that we need to start thinking of ourselves as researchers as well as therapists. For example: deaf people are theoretically as hypnotizable as people who can hear – but has anyone figured out how to do that yet? When you go to the dentist for a filling, do you have an injection of anaesthetic? Why not use hypnosis?

I am so happy to report that one of the “hypnosis only” websites was that of Dr. John Butler. We had him for our Stage One training at the National College, back in 1995. He was a great tutor – one of two great tutors provided by the National College at this time, the other being David Howie. I remember John telling us that only a minority of graduates from the National College use hypnotherapy as their main choice of treatment. He smiled and said: “They haven’t understood it”.

He was right.


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