Clinical hypnotherapists are not alone in this dilemma. In fact, this is a constant problem within the medical profession where instilling hope in a patient has to be weighed against legal advice, which provide warnings regarding any possible risk. Take my father as an example, when he had his second heart bypass surgery, the talented young surgeon dramatically informed him that he had less than a 5% chance of surviving the operation. Even though this bothered my father deeply, luckily the surgery completely succeeded. Away from medicine, we also must consider the negative effects of such communication, installing doubt in a hypnosis subject is even more contrary to nature of our art.
The issue of operator confidence recurs frequently with the students of the various hypnosis-oriented courses that I teach for The International Hypnosis Research Institute. This comes up more so in regards to the brief and rapid methods covered in the Elman Hypnotherapy course as opposed to the permissive techniques attributed to Milton H. Erickson, MD – although the latter often used some very authoritarian interventions. The skills that I instruct require the operator to firmly and rather quickly bypass the subject’s critical faculty (i.e. pattern resistance to change) and install efficient selective thinking. This normally is used to quickly establish a trance state or create a level of analgesia or anesthesia. While the procedures are very well established and have been used for decades, the student too often still has doubts that they can successfully achieve the desired results.
Normally their doubts can be overcome through practice. Although they most certainly will encounter subjects who do not react as planned, very soon they will find that some do. And, once this happens it helps establish increased confidence they tend to get better and better until they find that their successes become more reliable and predictable. Yet, even when they have an infrequent failure, their increased knowledge and experience allows them to rapidly adjust their protocol until progress is made.
An example of this happened to me just this week. The subject was a teenage girl with which I was using a rapid induction technique. A problem arose when her anxiety level resulted in her beginning to uncontrollably giggle. To make matters worse, her mother, who was also in the room, began to laugh as well – even though it appeared that both of them were attempting to suppress their laughter. Well, being a very experienced clinical hypnotherapist I was determined not to be deterred. So, I turned to my knowledge of Erickson’s utilization technique. I actually started connecting the uncontrollable laughter to suggestions so that she find it easier and easier to relax. After just a few minutes the giggling subsided, her breathing slowed, and I began seeing signs that a somnambulistic trance was occurring. Again, had I anything less than full confidence in my abilities and my expectation that a trance state was going to occur, the session would have ended in a disaster.
To build up a high level of confidence in the hypnotherapy student I always recommend that they master a self-hypnosis technique such as glove anesthesia. Furthermore, like Elman I suggest to the student that they practice the technique at least 30 times a day until they become proficient. This is because self-doubt is normally stronger than what an operator may detect in a subject. Once a hypnotherapist can attain this level of hypnotic control over their own body, they typically have an elevated sense of empowerment regarding their skills.
So it comes back to this. A hypnotic operator must approach a session with complete confidence in their abilities and a commitment that the subject will experience the desired outcome. Anything less than that may either directly or indirectly reduce the probability of a success. Just like a golfer who is getting ready to swing but then allows a split second of doubt to enter her mind, a hypnotist’s momentary doubt will most likely result in coming up short of the goal. Yes, there are times that we will fail. However, we must always remember the achievement of the intended outcome is directly related our level of confidence.
Nevertheless, this does not warrant our need to temper our marketing claims in which we may have a tendency to state that we are always 100% successful. Obviously, this will never be true. The Federal Trade Commission is always eager to discipline any clinician who makes such claims. Additionally, attorneys will probably advise that accusations of fraud could easily result. Therefore, rather than stating that our results are always successful, we may want to find other ways to express our confidence without violating ethical common sense. Rather, our level of assuredness can be expressed appropriately when we state that a certain application of hypnosis has been researched and shown to be highly successful. (Of course, this assumes that the clinician can actually back this up with documentation.) This should give a potential subject a high level of confidence in the success of the session. However, this ethical declaration does not stop the practitioner from initiating the procedure with utmost commitment to its success. Then once it is over and the patient has departed, it is time to evaluate the session as to what went well and what needs to change.
The confidence of the hypnotic operator and the subject’s positive expectation should be unquestioned as the session is initiated and progresses. When difficulty arises, hopefully a clinician will have sufficient breadth of knowledge to vary the procedure until success is achieved. This can be done without misleading the client with unsupported claims. Fortunately, there is enough research and case studies to support reasonably positive statements without having to resort to unfounded or even fraudulent claims.
Tim Brunson, PhD
The International Hypnosis Research Institute is a member supported project involving integrative health care specialists from around the world. We provide information and educational resources to clinicians. Dr. Brunson is the author of over 150 self-help and clinical CD’s and MP3’s.