It takes a lot to make my wife Bex rant. It takes even more for her to still be ranting at dinner to something she heard that morning. Dr Peter Naish obviously has a gift. He was reported widely in the press yesterday talking about hypnosis being used more widely within the NHS. This is obviously great news and something to be applauded. So many people have been working for years to make the benefits more widely known and accepted within the medical establishment.
We listened to him speaking on Radio Four. That’s when the trouble started:
“Hypnosis isn’t really of itself a therapy, although it’s often portrayed as such. It’s a tool.”
Really? Is that line still being touted after all these years? Oh dear, I hoped he’d be more in touch with modern trends.
“Hypnosis is almost trivial. It’s easy to learn, there’s no magic. All that a hypnotist is likely to do is speaking, so they’re not doing very much to you that you couldn’t do anyway, but the effects can be potent.”
Cue hissing from my wife. Almost trivial? I suppose I should have been angry too. In one sound bite he’d trashed the hard work that many thousands of professional hypnotherapists have put into learning how to use this approach to help people. ‘Just speaking’? I have hundreds of people losing weight from listening to my Thinking Slimmer downloads. I think there might be more to it than just speaking. Even so, I didn’t get mad because at that point I suspected one of two things:
1. That he was talking about hypnosis from his own level of application of it. There are many people who learn hypnosis at a superficial level. They tend to believe that hypnosis is a state of deep relaxation; that reading an induction will take people into that state, and the deeper the better, and that in that state people are open to suggestion. If that’s as far as you go, it is easy to learn and there is no magic to it. You simply read scripts aimed at their problem. And it’s about as far into the possible applications of hypnotherapy or suggestion as a surgeon who stops when they learn to extract a splinter with a pin.
In my particular approach, Cognitive Hypnotherapy, I’ve written a book of 90,000 words which provides not only a scientific rationale for why a modern interpretation of hypnosis can help people, but also a framework that allows us to utilise techniques from any approach Dr Naish would consider ‘proper therapies’ within our methodology. That makes those therapies tools of ours, not vice versa.
In my first book, Wordweaving: The Science of Suggestion, I described a model of suggestion that all the people I train use (and many others) which uses the client’s own perceptions to create the change they want. It takes a lot of effort to learn and skill to apply. It works without any degree of relaxation, loss of control or any of the other things that tend to be associated with what Dr Naish calls hypnosis. And it works.
So, my first reason for not joining Bex in throwing of objects in the direction of the radio was the possibility that Dr Naish is so stuck in his academic medical world that he doesn’t know what’s been happening with hypnosis over the last 15 years. Eminence doesn’t always signal expertise.
2. My second suspicion wasn’t long in being realised. He went on,
“We want it to be in the hands of people who are medically trained already.” Ah, things are becoming clearer. So despite it being a trivial tool, only medical people are safe to use it. Right. Instead of who, exactly? Obviously instead of “some strange person in Yellow pages with questionable qualifications”. They were his words.
How superficially clever. There’s the choice members of the public, a trained medical professional or someone wearing a spangly kaftan. Ridiculous and insulting, but with a political aim – the medical establishment ring-fencing hypnosis – so understandable. The irony is, of course, that the reason that the medical world is taking an interest in hypnosis is because more and more evidence is emerging of its usefulness, but most of that evidence hasn’t been provided by the medical establishment, but by the increasing number of members of the public who have been to see a lay hypnotherapist – the very people Dr Naish is seeking to exclude.
I saw he trotted out the old stories of ‘cowboy’ hypnotherapists installing false memories in their clients in some of the newspaper articles . Now, I’m in agreement with him on this one point. There are too many hypnotherapists out there who are superficially trained, unsupervised and/or pursuing a personal agenda in their therapy such as he describes. Frankly, one is too many; they need to be weeded out. However, Dr Naish seems to be oblivious to the fact that last year hypnotherapy actually became self-regulated for the first time, within the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council, which is itself approved by the Department of Health. It’s not ideal, but it’s a start and I’m hopeful that the crooks and cowboys will be forced out as standards are raised. And they’re already a small minority.
I too have seen clients who’ve been to see hypnotherapists who were rubbish. But I’ve also seen as many clients who’ve been to see medical professionals, like psychologists and psychiatrists, who didn’t help them either – and who actually added to their burden. Only last year I had a client of 16 who was diagnosed with anorexia by a psychiatrist and promptly spent 18 months as an outpatient at a high profile clinic working hard to live up to her label. I think I saw her 6 times and she was back at her BMI and moving on with her life. Time and time again I see clients crowbarred into medical diagnoses and fed treatments that fit the training of the person they are seeing, not the treatments that might best fit them. So I’m not in any hurry or feel any pressure to surrender the potential of our approach to the medical profession, but I’d be very happy to work more with them. At least those without the snobbery towards lay practitioners.
The good news is that Dr Naish’s efforts have led more people to consider seeing a hypnotherapist – the people practising in my network have reported that happening.
We know that the NHS is struggling, and the chances of them being able to offer what we can in the private sector is non-existent, so I don’t see Dr Naish’s wishes as any kind of a threat. It’s just a shame that people in a position to positively promote something they know to be potent, can’t do so without connecting it to a blinkered agenda that would rob many of the benefits, simply because of their prejudice.
There are good hypnotherapists and bad hypnotherapists. The buyer needs to beware, but it doesn’t take a lot of effort to differentiate. There are good doctors and bad doctors. Often they’re harder to spot.
Anyway, that’s my non-rant rant over. I’ve sent Dr Naish a copy of my book. You never know…
Now, is it safe to loosen the buckles on my wife’s jacket yet?