By Dr Tracie O’Keefe DCH, published in NACHP News, newsletter of the National Association of Counsellors, Hypnotherapists and Psychotherapists Vol 7 No1 February 1999, UK.
There has never been an easiness between the medical and psychological professionals, and the antics of stage hypnotists. While it is true that over the years from Mesmer to Bandler, professionals have emulated or stolen techniques from stage hypnotists, they have never accepted them as being veritable clinical professionals.
Many stage hypnotists set themselves up as hypnotherapists belonging to a profusion of organisations with eloquent names but unrecognised and unaccredited by healthcare professionals – indeed anyone can call themselves ‘The Super Dooper Hypno Mega Healers with Magnificent Excellent Splendour’ and accredit themselves by referring to ‘My friend Dr This and my friend Professor That’. Such validation by association means, in reality, absolutely nothing.
The Way Forward
So what is the way forward? Are we as hypnotherapists to distance ourselves continually from stage hypnotists? Or are we to accept stage hypnotists as a form of entertainment but not allow them to practise hypnotherapy?
Well , in all honesty, among ourselves, if a surgeon were to partake in a knife-throwing act and do surgery at the same time, is it likely that the public would trust that person as a professional? Or if a herbalist were to sell poisons as well as herbal remedies, would the public feel safe in imbibing their concoctions? In writing this, I think the reader will understand both from my reputation and my book Investigating Stage Hypnosis that I am a indeed biased against stage hypnosis and believe that it is a dangerous practice, uncontrolled, unregulated, unpredictable and that it presents hypnosis in a very poor light.
Maybe I am wrong…perhaps you as a hypnotherapist have never had someone say to you: ‘Oh, you’re not going to do things to me like the chap on the telly, are you?’ Maybe as a hypnotherapist you have never encountered someone who has massive abreactions after a stage hypnosis experience, who has been unable to locate the hypnotist, or when having done so has been told that it is all their fault and nothing to do with the stage hypnosis and that they simply have to get on with their life and stop bothering the honourable and well-reputed entertainer.
Paul McKenna’s successful defence in 1998 of the claims of negligence against him during a stage show brought by Mr Gates is a victory for McKenna; however, that does not mean in any way that stage hypnosis is not safe. Nor does it say in any judgement that stage hypnosis is safe because no judge would be qualified enough to make such a pronouncement. No one who had read up on the subject of hypnosis for 14 days or even 21 days could possibly grasp the intricate psychodynamics, psychophysiology and personality changes that take place during the process of hypnosis.
As hypnotherapists we constantly refer to general practitioners, psychiatrists, psychologists and other hypnotherapists in order to maximise the treatment plan for our clients.
Experts in Hypnosis
As professionals we fully acknowledge that there are areas in which we are not experts; however, we are the experts in hypnosis. The majority of the professionals in hypnotherapy, medicine, psychology, anaesthesiology, hypnoanalysis, Ericksonianists, the school of direct suggestion and autogenics undoubtedly and without reservation believe that hetero-hypnosis should be used in a controlled environment by highly trained professionals. All of the branches of hypnosis mentioned do not accept stage hypnotists as belonging to their profession and by far the majority seek to have stage hypnosis banned.
As you read this you may well envisage me standing on a soap box and you would be right – but this is not only my soap box, but yours too. If you now go away and investigate in the codes of ethics of the majority of highly qualified hypnotherapists, they will say categorically: ‘Thou shall not be involved with stage hypnosis’.
I earnestly hope that as we try to bring together all the many disciplines within hypnotherapy in order to formulate ourselves into a profession in England, as the osteopaths have done, it is imperative that our public image does not include circus acts that get people to bark like dogs, have sex with strangers on stage, imitate camp gay men, believe negative hallucinations about limbs or parts of the body, genitalia or breasts. These antics can undoubtedly have profound long-term effects on a person’s psyche. I SEE NO JOKE. It fails to make me laugh and I am sure with all the best will in the world, as you work in the caring professions, that such antics will fail to make you laugh too.
Yes, the issue is a tricky one and many hypnotherapists who are moonlighting as stage hypnotists and belonging to certain organisations have their friends who refuse to enter prohibition clauses into those associations’ code of ethics.
The recent decision by the James Braid Society not to admit stage hypnotists; however, shows the real strength of understanding in the hypnotherapy profession. Strong measures require strong words and deeds. Not from me (I have said so much already) but from you, the reader, who has trained for many years to gain the professional respect of which your clients need to be assured. You will hear some criticism of what I say in certain quarters and I urge you to examine the motives of those individuals.
If you are fanatically concerned, like myself, with accrediting the profession of hypnotherapy with the highest possible accolades of competence and humanitarianism, then question every researcher on stage hypnosis. I will not insult you in this short article by listing the profuse documentation of the cases of danger from stage hypnosis, as you will find that in my book. Here I am concerned with appealing to your common sense.
Clients are often desperate and in a state of intense need when they present themselves to your practice. They need to be absolutely sure that you are not going to make them perform the ridiculous o behave as if you were Svengali.
Dr Tracie O’Keefe DCH, BHSc, ND, Clinical Hypnotherapist, Psychotherapist. Counsellor, PACFA registered Mental Health Professional and Naturopath In Sydney. You can get help by booking an appointment with her at Australian Health & Education Centre.