Choosing a Hypnotherapist:
What every consumer needs to know
GUEST ARTICLE: by David Quigley
Hypnosis therapy has proven itself over the past twenty years to be enormously practical and valuable for many kinds of personal problems. It has been demonstrated effective for long term weight loss, smoking cessation, pain control, and recovery from illness in conjunction with medical treatment, treatment of the underlying causes of phobias, anxiety, and depression and for a host of other problems. Unlike most medical or pharmaceutical interventions which mask the symptoms of illness or treat only its outer physical manifestations, hypnosis therapy can address the causes of our behavioral and disease conditions in the subconscious mind. It is also proven to be far safer and more rapid than other strategies. I have been told by thousands of clients over the years that a few sessions of hypnosis have achieved more powerful results than years of psychotherapy, and have often freed them from long term dependence on medical treatment, or the self administered "therapy" of illegal drugs and alcohol. If anyone has any doubts about the effectiveness of hypnosis in all of these areas, a perusal of my web library at www.alchemyinstitute.com/articles.htm will suffice to inform them of the vast potential of hypnosis therapy.
But for all of its successes, there is still a great deal of ambivalence in the medical and counseling communities about the effectiveness of hypnotherapy. Research results are often mixed. And in my work with clients I frequently hear that other hypnotists were unable to achieve the results they were looking for, and which they readily achieved with me.
To me there is no mystery about the ambivalent results many people experience from hypnosis therapy. There are no consistent standards of training or Certification in the field. Hypnosis trainings vary widely from one school to another. Many reputable schools, including my own, require up to a year of intensive training, with extensive testing and supervised practice. But thousands of hypnotherapists have been "Certified" by private membership organizations with little more than a weekend of training. How could a single weekend of training prepare anyone for a successful practice in a field that requires a profound understanding of human nature? Other programs require only 50 hours of training; some can be completed online, with no documented practice or clinical supervision.
As a result, Hypnotherapists are often poorly trained. And many "Certified" hypnotists lack the essential skills necessary to deal with a wide variety of client issues. A scandal erupted recently when a skeptical psychotherapist had his cat certified as both a Hypnotherapist and a Board-Certified Psychologist by some major Certification organizations. While it is unlikely that anyone would trust a cat with their deepest issues, regardless of the framed Certificate on his wall, there are plenty of "weekend wonders" out there (that is our name for them in our profession) who are scarcely better equipped than this furry friend to help you solve your problems.
Alas, these imposters aren't the only problem for our profession. I must caution you about another popular misconception in the field. Some professional hypnosis organizations offer this stern warning to the consumer: "Only put your trust in a licensed professional (Doctor, Psychotherapist, or Social Worker) who is trained in hypnosis!" And given the anarchy of our profession, I can sympathize with this position. But, years of experience in the field with such licensed professionals has taught me a lesson. While Doctors and other licensees certainly have more years in the classroom and in the clinic learning their art, there is no guarantee that they have the extensive training in hypnosis technology necessary to give you the maximum help that hypnosis therapy can provide. Most doctors and psychotherapists had no training in hypnosis skills during their education or internship. Courses in Hypnotherapy are not even offered as electives in many accredited training institutions within these professions. Post graduate training in hypnosis for certification as a hypnosis specialist can usually be completed in as little as one weekend or as much as 40 hours (one week) of instruction. Many licensed professionals justify this ridiculously inadequate training by claiming that hypnosis therapy is nothing more than the use of hypnotic suggestion and guided imagery, so it is not difficult to master for the professional clinician. This is an entirely erroneous attitude. Hypnotherapy if done right requires a complex set of skills that no one can master in 40 hours of instruction. Period.
Don't get me wrong. Many licensed professionals are indeed as highly skilled and reliable in hypnosis as any unlicensed practitioner. And they certainly will bring the rich resources of years of professional education and clinical experience with patients to this practice, which is no small contribution to their value as healers. But if you are counting on the presence of a license to prove the ability of a hypnotist to assist you with the latest in hypnosis techniques, this is your wake up call. Licensure alone is no guarantee of adequate training or effectiveness.
In addition, if you limit your search to licensed professionals, you may pay a stiff price for their licensed status, if you pay out of pocket. Or, if you want insurance coverage, which is one significant advantage of working with these practitioners, you will need to accept a diagnosis as having a medical condition, and it will sit on your medical file all your life. Of course, if you are seeking treatment for a mental or physical illness, working with a licensed professional is an advantage, because of their clinical experience. Just be aware that their training and experience inhypnotherapy may be less thorough than that of the typical non-licensed but well trained hypnotherapist.
So how are you to make a wise selection of a hypnotherapist who is right for you? There is a way! This article is written to help you choose a hypnotist who can really make a difference for your life.
First, ask around among your friends who have benefitted from hypnosis therapy. Is there anyone they recommend? If you have a physician, chiropractor, or psychotherapist you trust who is open to alternative therapies (they aren't all!) ask them who they recommend.
If neither of these options proves fruitful, look in the telephone book under "hypnosis", or "hypnotherapy." Of course, this type of ad is no guarantee of anything, but I have learned that only reasonably successful hypnotherapists advertise consistently in this media. Very few of the "weekend wonder" crowd are listed there.
Another good strategy is to search the web. When using a search engine, be sure to include three items in your search process. List your search for Hypnotherapy, a Hypnotherapist or Hypnotist, list the problem you want to solve, and list the city you live closest to. For example:
<Hypnotherapist smoking cessation Tulsa OK> or
<hypnotist stop smoking Tulsa OK> or
<Stop smoking hypnosis, Tulsa, OK>
Most reputable hypnotherapists nowadays have a website in which you can review their credentials, training, and years of experience, even their areas of specialization. Even better is if they have written and published on their website articles about their work with clients. My website is an example of a site that includes all of these factors. www.alchemyinstitute.com
You can also look up hypnosis organizations and check to see if they have a referral network. I recommend the National Guild of Hypnotists (www.ngh.net) and the International Medical and Dental Hypnosis Association (www.imdha.com) for starters.
So now you have a potential hypnotherapist on the phone. Don’t hesitate to describe the nature of the problem in exact detail. And be sure to ask what training and experience this hypnotist has in the exact area you want to work in. While most practitioners work with weight loss, few have specialized training in peak performance in athletics, for example, or work with chronic pain. And if they do work with weight, for example, ask how they get their results. The techniques used by hypnotists vary widely, as do the successes they achieve. To learn what technologies actually work with weight loss and a host of other problems, check my web library, or visit the organizational sites listed above.
Nearly everyone who calls my office wants to know three things: how long will it take, how much will it cost, and what kind of guarantee can you offer? Many are shopping for the quickest, easiest, and least expensive program to achieve results. I think such concerns are quite normal. But as a hypnotist with 30 years of experience, I have to tell them that shopping for hypnosis therapy is not like shopping for clothes or auto repair. If you are focused only on time or cost, you will almost certainly receive an inferior product. And you may get no permanent results at all. The old adage "you get what you pay for" is nowhere more true than in the fields of therapy and counseling.
Unfortunately, it is often the inexperienced amateurs who enthusiastically offer quick fixes and unconditional guarantees of success at low prices. I met a newly certified hypnotist at a conference, with 50 hours of training and a tiny part-time practice who bragged about her 100% success rate with smokers. "They are so easy to fix in one session!" she blithely assured me. I asked how she knew they were all so successful, since with all my skill my success rate is only about 85%. She replied, "Well, they don’t call me back, so obviously they have quit." Actually, I could think of a number of reasons why they wouldn't call her back besides having quit smoking. I recommend that you avoid working with practitioners who offer these kinds of easy guarantees. If promises sound too good to be true, they probably are. In other words, if you smell snake oil on the phone or in the office, trust your nose.
The response I give to these questions about cost and effectiveness is typical of most experienced professionals. First, I listen closely for several minutes to gather the details of the problem. Then I decide if I can help this person. If I can’t, I tell them so. If I have lots of experience in their area of concern, I will assure them that if they are a good trance subject, that I can probably get excellent results in approximately X number of sessions, based upon my years of experience, which will cost $X. I remind them that the underlying causes of their condition may be numerous, so I can make no absolute guarantee. But I promise that if all goes well, they will begin to feel some improvement after the second session. (The first is usually a lengthy interview.) And I assure them that my results with clients are sufficiently reliable, that if they are not achieving results by the end of the third session, that I will no longer continue to work with them, because I don't want them to waste their money and my time. I also tell them that there will be homework to do on a daily basis on their own to achieve these rapid results. I tell them I will train them in how to use easy and fun self-hypnosis techniques.
With these things in mind, then, it is important to ask certain questions of your potential practitioner and of yourself as well.
First, you should know what kind of training and experience this practitioner has in the area of your problem. Knowing whether this practitioner is a medical doctor for 20 years or a non-licensed practitioner with only two years experience is ultimately of very little importance compared to whether this person has specific training and experience with chronic anxiety, if that is your issue.
In addition, you will want to know how this practitioner will achieve results. Many practitioners rely exclusively on direct hypnotic suggestion. But I have found over and over that having a wide variety of available tools to address the deep underlying causes of the problem makes for more effective, and permanent, results. A skilled hypnosis practitioner should have in their tool bag specific training in several of these modalities: regression therapy, Gestalt therapy, neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), sub-personality therapy (sometimes called parts therapy), Ericksonianhypnosis, inner-child work, emotional freedom technique (EFT), idiomotor questioning. Not every hypnotherapist will have skills in all of these areas. But at least 4 or 5 of the above is the bottom line for most skilled practitioners. Of course, you may not even know what the words listed above mean. But mention these words anyway. If your hypnotist does not recognize these words and know these technologies, then they probably don't have all the skills they need to assist you.
I have heard from some psychotherapists and hypnotists that the above mentioned methods can only be legally used by licensed psychotherapists. This reflects the common belief that non-licensed hypnotists can only use direct suggestion with clients or else they are illegally practicing psychotherapy. As an expert in the legal and ethical limits of a hypnosis practice, let me clarify: the legal definition of a psychology or psychotherapy practice is the treatment of mental and emotional illness, as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). No specific therapy strategies such as regression are defined as the exclusive territory of such licensed practitioners, in any law, in any state. Therefore, to suggest, for example, that a hypnotist using parts therapy to help a client quit smoking is practicing psychotherapy, is to suggest that he is “treating a mental disorder.” My stop-smoking clients would, I am sure, be surprised to know they have a mental illness! Most understand that a non-licensed hypnotist’s job is to help healthy individuals who wish to improve their lives. If any practitioner attempts to foist the belief upon you that unlicensed hypnotists must not practice such methods as regression or Gestalt, I recommend you seek help elsewhere. You might also wish to inform them that most of the great innovations in the field of hypnotherapy over the last 50 years have emerged from the unlicensed pioneers of modern hypnosis therapy.
You may not know all the methods that hypnotherapists are trained in. So, your hypnotist should be ready to explain how they will achieve results with you in simple layman’s terms. For example, a client comes to me for sessions to heal their cancer. Here is how I will explain my work:
"I will help you access the underlying causes of the cancer in your subconscious mind as an adjunct to your medical treatment. There may be traumatic memories stored in the area of the tumor which we will be able to change, by actively rescuing your past self, perhaps your inner child, from those memories. We may need to release emotion from your body that is trapped in the area of the tumor. We will then insert into the area of the tumor blissful new memories of being nurtured, safe, and loved, perhaps by your adult self, perhaps by loving inner parents. I will then teach you how to focus this love every day on this area of your body, especially before and after each medical procedure, to increase the effectiveness of your treatment regimen. We may also discover any parts of your subconscious mind that have 'hired' this disease. We can then help these parts to get their needs met, so they can release this illness, and help you recover more quickly."
Note that this explanation, while complex, is easy for any lay person to understand. It also includes far more strategies than simply: "I will use hypnosis to give your subconscious mind suggestions to shrink your tumor in conjunction with medical treatment." A skilled practitioner must have more tools than this to make a real difference. Unfortunately, nearly all clinical research using hypnosis with cancer patients is limited to these overly simplistic methods, which is why the results of hypnosis on cancer are ambivalent in the existing clinical trials. As physicians become better informed about the recent advances in hypnosis technology, I am sure the research results will more accurately reflect the healing potential of hypnotherapy.
There is yet another factor that must be considered in choosing a hypnotist. That peculiar quality called "chemistry" is a critical factor, which must be honored. If I notice that the chemistry between me and a client is not right, if I don’t feel a mutual pleasure in each others company and a sense of warmth and trust developing during an interview, I will often stop the interview and tell the client as compassionately as possible that we cannot work together. Likewise, no matter how skilled your therapist is at answering all the questions posed above, if you do not feel safety, trust, and fun from this therapist, find somebody else. Hypnotherapy is far too intimate a process to be effective with someone you don’t like or trust. And it is okay even in the third or fourth session, if you realize you don't like this person, if you dread each appointment, or you are not already feeling results, to call it quits, and resume your search for a better fit. And you don't need to make yourself or this hypnotist wrong for this either. Trust your guts! You deserve the best.
Yes, it sounds complicated finding a hypnotist whose services you can trust. But frankly it is not in my opinion more difficult that finding the right Doctor, the right Dentist, or the right Counselor for you. And the benefits of effective hypnosis therapy are so phenomenal that I can guarantee one thing:
Effective hypnotherapy is worth the effort and the costs, a thousand times over!
Good luck in your search.
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Article posted: August 19, 2008