A “Comparison Study”…

November 9th, 2011

I came across this the other day, while avoiding work by surfing the net:

The website appears to be an on-line version of an American Health magazine, imaginitively entitled “Health Magazine”. It reports a comparison study which reveals:

A recovery rate of 38% after 600 sessions of psychoanalysis.
A recovery rate of 78% after 22 sessions of “behaviour therapy”.
A recovery rate of 93% after 6 sessions of hypnotherapy.

A cause for celebration? Let’s keep the champagne on hold for a minute…

The upside is that presumably this “study” was based on some hard evidence of some description. Someone presumably didn’t just pick these figures out of thin air. The downside is that this “summary” tells us next to nothing. How many individuals or groups were undergoing treatment? Were they undergoing treatment for the same presenting issue. And what exactly constitutes “recovery” in this context?

Consider the first statistic. 600 sessions is a huge amount of therapy. Even if the subject undergoes one session every single working day then that is still over two years of treatment. If the person or persons concerned had two sessions per week – which seems rather more likely – then that is still more than five years of therapy. At one session a week the treatment would last for an incredible eleven and a half years. Leaving aside the huge cost involved (at £70 per session the total cost would be £42,000, and most psychoanalists would charge significantly more than that) the sheer length of treatment raises fundamental questions about the concept of recovery. Given the length of treatment, to what extent can “recovery” be attributed to the treatment itself rather than to the simple passage of time? Furthermore, such extended treatments tend not to be focussed upon a single issue, or group of issues, but rather upon some kind of internal “voyage of discovery” which, if it fails to deal with any specific issues a patient may have, can (in theory) enable the patient to regard the issues from a different, more “enlightened” perspective. “Enlightenment” seems to be a rather expensive commodity these days, doesn’t it?

The second statistic seems much more plausible. “Behaviour therapy”, at least in the UK, usually means CBT, REBT or some similar, related approach. 10 – 20 sessions seems a reasonable course of treatment and if the success rate quoted seems a little high no judgement can really be passed as we are not told what sort of issues were treated in this instance.

And what of the 93% recovery rate for hypnotherapy? Again, if we were given information about what conditions were being treated and by what methods then this might be a cause for rejoicing. But as it stands the statistic is virtually meaningless. Anyone who has worked with hypnosis for any length of time will know that is is suitlable for some conditions, less suitable for others and no use at all in certain more extreme cases. Hypnotherapy cannot treat chronic alcoholsim, drug dependency, schizophrenia and many other serious conditions, though it could have a role to play in convalescence and recovery, and could be used in conjunction with other treatments. On the other hand, hypnotherapy can do things which behaviour therapy cannot do. All the CBT on earth will not provide anaesthetic if you’re undergoing an operation.

Hypnotherapists are increasingly adopting the term “evidence-based” and there is the greatest need for as much (real) scientific evidence as possible. I have only seen the on-line version of the report from Health magazine and have been unable to track down anything further. But far from giving hypnotherapy a much-needed boost, all the on-line report does is to feed the public’s pre-conceptions of hypnotherapy as a panacea, a magic wand.

This is not what we need. We need to understand both the strengths and limitations of hypnotherapy so that we can build on the one and find ways of overcoming the other. For this we need scientific evidence, not propaganda. We have nothing to fear from the truth.

Horsham Hypnotherapy: serving clients from Horsham, Crawley, Burgess Hill, Haywards Heath, Guildford, Redhill and all parts of West Sussex, East Sussex and Surrey. Contact us today.

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