Published in HypnosisAustralia, November 2005
By Dr Tracie O’Keefe DCH
The one thing I learned from reading everything Milton Erickson ever published, watching my great English hypnosis teacher Ray Keedy-Lilley of the National School of Hypnosis and Advanced Psychotherapy, London (a hypnotist for more than 50 years), and from my marvellous Hungarian hypnotist friend Michael Joseph of the London School of Clinical Hypnosis, was a love of hypnosis. I know it sounds very geeky but it’s true. What taught me to be a hypnosis researcher, however, was reading every hypnosis book I could ever get my hands on. The written word in all its forms surpasses the spoken when it comes to recording data. Analysis of observations leading to the ability to form comparatives is the greatest friend of the scientist.
Mesmer, Charcot, Bernhiem, Hall, Bandler, Erickson, Fromm, Shor, Spanos, Grinder, Haley, Zeig, Rossi, Cheek, Wolinsky, Gauld, Hammond, Hartland, Gordon, Scheele and many more who passed on their learnings to us through the written word have been my tutors on paper.
Hypnotists share their skills through many means such as personal demonstrations, electric sound and vision recordings, but only in the written word do they share their thoughts in depth. Some who have written about hypnosis have been experimenters such as Hilgard & Hilgard (1994) and others have come from a more clinical-based perspective like the Simontons (1992), all of whom have shared their discoveries. Milton Erickson, of course, was both, which enabled him to observe like a scientist and treat like a clinician, making him absolutely fascinating to read (Rossi (ed), Vol. 1-V).
One of the greatest criticisms that is constantly hurled at us as hypnotherapists is that our means of recording, quantifying and analysing our observations is unscientific and not quantitative. We as hypnotists, however, know that to be a hypnotist one needs to operate several variables at once and each time we use hypnosis those variables need to change their relationship to each other: voice tone, breathing, inflection, linguistic construction, physical manipulation, mime, interrogative suggestions, direct and indirect suggestions and hundreds more of the hypnotist’s skills all operating within one hypnosis experience. Such a diversity of variables can be operated by human beings but not analysed purely by reductionist quantitative analysis that seeks to satisfy much of allopathic medical research design (Iphofen, Corrin & Ringwook-Walker, 2005).
The most affective way of analysing what we do is surely qualitatively, case by case by case. Like the astronaut flying into space, we can do all the calculations we like but we do not know what is going to happen until we get there. Many health practitioners learn hundreds of different skills and like the skilled magicians, we have to pull something out of the hat on demand. While isolated hypnotic phenomena may be sometimes studied in a quantitative way, what is important to remember is that every case is an individual experiment in itself. As Erickson’s experimental reporting showed, using hypnosis is an art as well as a science (Rossi (ed), Vol. 1-V).
We are, however, in Australia, and in the rest of the world for that that matter, seeking to quantify our profession and legitimise our fees to clients, health insurance companies and sometimes governments too. That requires us to gather, discuss, share, debate, pontificate, justify and lobby for the profession of hypnotherapy or hypnosis applied through other disciplines like medicine, psychology, dentistry, nursing etc. In order to do that, we must all within the field of hypnosis share common knowledge, unfettered purely by personal gain.
If qualitative analysis alone was the only requirement to legitimise what we do, then there would be no problems because there has been plenty of that published over the past 150 years. The problem is that healthcare officials and the public do not understand what we are saying when we talk about positive intentions, abreactions, transderivational search and respiratory modulation. When we talk hypnotalk we are on our own and of course we can sit and talk hypnosis to each other all day long, but it does not demonstrate our competence.
So what good will writing do?
First of all it will get those of us in hypnosis to communicate better with each other. One of the greatest problems in a profession that deals with communication is the lack of communication amongst the profession. Three hypnotists in a room together trying to come to a compromise is three hypnotists too many.
Secondly because we are unable to record what we do efficiently in a reductionism quantitative format, then we sure as Mesmer better have amassed a mountain of qualitative data that more people can understand. In doing that, we must learn to use better common language between the different disciplines within hypnosis so that we are all on the same page.
Thirdly we are in many countries actually moving further away from social medicine, and insurance companies are holding the purse strings for many of our patients/clients. Social medicine may take care of the emergency physical problems of society but many of the aliments that a hypnotist deals with are chronic by the time they arrive at our consulting rooms. In order to get the insurance companies to pay for this service we need to homogenise more closely as a profession and get ourselves government-registered as clinical hypnotherapists.
How sophisticated do I have to be as a scientist and as a writer?
In reality a hypnotist writing about hypnosis has to be pretty knowledgeable about the subject. With hypnosis being an art as well as a science, there is, however, leeway for interpretation as well as sometimes just writing in a purely dry academic manner.
Grinder and Bandler’s (1981) Trance-formations on basic hypnosis and The Structure of Magic I (1975) & II (1976) expanding on Chomsky’s transformational grammar has had considerable influence on hypnotic teaching internationally. These at times were very simple and readable books but they have been used as teaching tools for hypnotists again and again with amazing success.
On the other hand, Erickson’s scientifically-based observations have become the standards for every hypnotist (Rossi (ed), Vol. 1-V). Even with the passing of time Erickson’s methodological approach to scientific experiments require the reader to educate themselves thoroughly about the subject of hypnosis.
The answer to this is plain as simple…anywhere we can…
Let’s face it, when we write 60,000 words about a couple of hypnosis techniques we are liable to bore the pants off the general public, and many other healthcare professions may find us a little inaccessible. Major publishers generally look to see if a book will at least return its investment, even though at times they can be philanthropic.
Hypnosis books tend to be so specialised that they often do not make a profit or have a wider market appeal. For academics, who are published via university presses, their work is often seen as a promotional cost for the university to step up public profile. Those academics can also frequently get grants to carry out their research and publish.
Researchers and writers who work in co-ordination with teaching hospitals may also get the opportunity to get their research and publishing funded for reasons of lifting the hospitals’ public profile.
Sometimes there are the clinicians who slavishly experiment and record their hypnotic effects. After beseeching and directly suggesting to every commissioning editor on the block, they may strike lucky and get themselves a publishing deal.
Trainers in the corporate sector who operate trainings within the business world may use disciplines like business-related NLP. They may use a corporate approach to publishing and promoting their work on a much more commercial basis such as the motivational speaker Anthony Robbins (Robbins, 1997).
Now of course there are also the self-financed and published authors who invest their own thousands of dollars into an unknown project to take their observations to the world. Publishing has long looked down on the self-publishing market but the reality is that many great scientists and writers have published their work when they could not get a publisher, including Isaac Newton.
There is generally something like the writers’ and artists’ year book in most countries which lists publishers and the kind of publishing with which they deal, and this is always the first place to start for would-be authors. It is also a good idea to consider which publishers are publishing works on hypnotism and perhaps to target those companies first when trying to sell your manuscript or put in a synopsis of your proposed book.
The first, second and third rules in publishing books are to know your market, know your market, and that’s right…know your market. It is also important to be able to go out into the world and promote your book to other hypnotists just as you would promote any other aspects of your business.
This is truly the technical end of the publishing market in hypnosis. Before submitting an article the writer needs to understand the specific technical requirements requested by the journal if it is to be considered a scientific paper. The author needs to clearly understand how to describe their scientific observations in the kind of language that can be used within the specific disciplines with which the journal deals. Editors will not accept articles unless they are clearly in line with the journal’s guidelines, neither will they edit them since the technical content may be changed by minor alterations.
To submit a scientific paper to a technical journal, one needs to have a scientific background in that discipline.
One rule of thumb to remember with technical papers is always get a second opinion before you submit to the journal. Many a scientist has wanted to bite their hands off later because in their fanaticism they have manoeuvered themselves down a blind theoretical alley, which only becomes apparent to them after they have published.
Get a professional proofreader to proof your paper before you submit. Nothing looks more amateur than a scientific paper with spelling mistakes, poor punctuation, or a bibliography with references missing. Poor presentation alienates editors because they are really small-chunk people who will not see the big picture if the small picture is inaccurate.
Periodicals also often accept general news items to do with hypnosis and its regulation, trainings, news, books reviews and all relevant information to do with the practice of hypnosis. A journal that is not dealing with the general news about hypnosis is publishing with its head in the sand.
Association journals are in a class of their own because the standard of hypnosis reporting is not generally as high as may be required from a clinical hypnosis journal. The reason for this is that their purpose is often to bond and cement members together as well as catching up on the business of the association. The reporting on hypnosis tends to be anecdotal and often does not delve deep into technical applications and analysis. These journals are, however, very important to the industry in helping develop the industry and keep members up to date as well as informing them about trainings. They are also a very good place for new writers to try out their skills.
There is little doubt that the internet has changed the world in every possible way. Most of all it has opened up the publishing of information to every sector of society that can afford and use a computer, sometimes good sometimes otherwise. Many years ago when I lectured at Toulouse University in France on Gender and Language, a very good friend who was a professor there gave me an excellent piece of advice: “Make sure you will be able to live with everything you publish for the rest of your life”.
The internet is now being used for publishing of every conceivable kind. Much of the information on it about hypnosis is very good but a great deal is facile and misleading. Everything you ever put out on the internet will someday come back to find you again so it is best to assume that there is no such thing as lost in cyberspace.
E-books are a cheaper way of publishing and they also make access to information easier from obscure parts of the world. They are also much of the future of publishing as many book shops get smaller and close down as paper become obsolete in many quarters. I have never read an e-book on screen myself, because at my age my eyes adjust much better to print, but I know many younger and better-sighted people are avid consumers of the flickering light. E-books can also be printed out so that they become printed versions and much more suitable for old crocks like me.
Many technical specialist journals are also now going over to internet publishing to save cost, decrease carriage and environment effects. Hypnosis Australia Online Journal aims to make information accessible to hypnosis professionals free in order to help cement the Australian professions around hypnotism closer together. The journal encourages professional hypnotists to contact the journal to give news and to enquire about writing for the journal on their own specialist areas.
Writing for the Public
This is a different level of writing that needs to adhere to basic principles of accessing the lowest common denominator. The public know nothing about hypnosis, only what they might have seen on the television or from an occasional friend who underwent hypnotherapy to stop smoking. While the public may love to read articles you have written about how hypnosis has or might help people, they do not want to be intimidated by complexities which make them feel they do not understand.
Another major principle that can be remembered by hypnotists when they write for the public arena is that the reader needs to be left with the impression that they can trust your intentions. For a hypnotherapist or any healthcare professional practising hypnosis, integrity is everything, and the public must always believe you are a trustworthy person. That does not mean that you are boring, but simply that you are someone they can be alone with in private for two hours with absolute confidence that you have their wellbeing as your foremost criteria.
Remember, writing is good publicity and potential clients will never know who you are and what you do unless you make yourself known…so hypnotist hypnotise thyself.
Never make wild and unsubstantiated claims that you cannot deliver. Always make it plain in the article that everyone is an individual and you as a practitioner will help everyone with their own personal treatment plan. Never portray yourself a Miraculous Mervin who will change their whole personality with one stare.
Accuracy of Data and Information
Einstein advised us that it is the discipline that determines what can be observed, and to large extent that is true. Within those disciplines, however, it is imperative to retain a scientific mind when writing about hypnosis. While a scientist must have a hypothesis, they must never over-interpret their observations or results to avoid a null hypothesis.
It is important to remember that it is not the greatest sin in science to be wrong about one’s results. The greatest scientific sin is to mould one’s results to over-state one’s true observations.
If you are going to write about hypnosis, take writing classes in order to teach you the colour, depth, reverberation, perfume and taste of language. Academics often write monotonous and boring text that lies on endless shelves gathering dust. Learn to write in a sophisticated way, just as you would carefully select language for your hypnotic inductions.
Writing with Passion
The level of emotion with which you right needs to be in accordance with the kind of writing you are doing. In the public sector it really is OK to be very positive about how wonderful hypnosis is and how it can help people in so many ways. Remember emotive words and phrases help motivate the public.
When writing about hypnosis from a technical perspective, while one may be passionate about one’s work, there is a need to approach scientific investigation and reporting dispationalty. Over emotional attachment to scientific observation caused tunnel vision and is counter-productive to wider observation and reporting.
Dealing With Rejection
Rejection of your work by editors is a reality for the writer in any field that happens for a variety of reasons, some of which may be valid, some not. In the book world, commissioning editors have their own ideas and agendas about the kind of portfolio they want to publish and if your book does not fit into their shopping list for titles, they may reject your work out of hand. Many a commissioning editor has, however, regretted not giving a manuscript a second glance when another publisher has published it successfully.
It is so very important with books to know the book world, about agents and about differing publishing houses before sending out endless copies of your manuscript to variety of publishers. Before engaging on a quest to get your book published, find out the most likely publishers who are interested in hypnosis and where your book might fit into the gap in the market place.
If the feedback from an agent or publisher is that they like the book but they want you to change certain parts of it, then you must decide which is your highest criteria: getting your book published, or keeping your work in its present form. Publishers may not understand all that well what your book is about but it is good to consider that their job is to try and sell books.
Rejection of technical papers for professional hypnosis periodicals is generally for two reasons. Firstly the editor feels that they are not up to the standard and may give you feedback or sometimes not. Secondly all technical journals are edited by editors with their own agendas and they may be trying to push the journal in a particular direction which might not be in line with what you may want to publish, so in such a case try to get your paper published elsewhere.
There is much misinformation written about hypnosis in the media that can greatly misinform the public and professionals in other fields. Some of it can be derived from media skepticism and at other times is centered on media frenzy in order to whip up a story out of nothing. Many journalists are well-educated and able to construct what is known as positive journalism with positive criticism. There are, however, hacks who will sensationalise anything around hypnosis and hypnotists they can. So we the experts in hypnosis from our own disciplinary prospective need to be responsible for putting good information about hypnosis out into the public area.
I write because I have many things to say and the written medium is one of the best ways to spread one’s message. I rewrite because I want to do a better job the second time around and then I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite to make those communications more succinctly palatable. While writing this article I got an e-mail from someone who has just read a paper I wrote some years ago. I am sure you can imagine how thrilling it was for me to know that someone found one of my old papers and then thanked me for writing it.
When you write about hypnosis, let both writing and hypnosis be the loves of your life. Let them be your mistress or your lover and let the investment you put into them follow you until the end of your life, and if you’re very, very lucky maybe even beyond just like Braid, Coue, and of course, a charming old man in a wheelchair and purple dressing gown.
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Grinder, John & Bandler, Richard, Trance-formations. Real People Press, USA, 1981.
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