The Road Ahead
National President Australian Hypnotherapists Association
A member of the AHA since 1996 I have served on the National Executive for the past 14 years, first as a committee member, then for many years as Vice-President and for the past 4 years as National President. I am also Vice-President of the Hypnotherapy Council of Australia.
Over the years I along with others, have observed the vast changes our profession has experienced and also the changes in the various states’ legislation which once governed the use of hypnosis in Australia. As we teach our clients, change is one of life’s only constants and in life as in our profession, some change is necessary, some is beneficial and some in the long term, is perhaps not so useful though this can be difficult to determine at the time. It is only with reflection that sound evaluation can be made.
In the past 20 years the perception of hypnotherapy has changed. Where once it was seen as the province of undertrained, under qualified ‘back-yard’ operators of questionable reputation and firmly ensconced at the bottom end of the health-services food chain, today we are widely recognised as a profession and regularly take part in the wider health care debate through associations such as the AHA. We have also worked hard to establish a peak body for the profession in the Hypnotherapy Council of Australia which represents the associations and training institutions. We should be, and like to see ourselves as a separate profession alongside psychologists, psychotherapists, counselors and other mental health care professionals, and this is how we would like other professionals and the public to see us.
There exists however one important difference between some of professions mentioned above and our own. We are trying to be a self-regulating profession, one that sets its own standards for education, ethics and quality assurance and currently we do not have a legislated controlling body.
We are not subject or accountable to an outside regulating body such as the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) which oversees so many other modalities. Only consumer law and our own codes of practice protect us and the public we serve. This fact alone should make us all the more vigilant in protecting our achievements thus far.
Whether the current status quo is a good thing or not is a moot point as there is no government legislation on the horizon and no talk of AHPRA extending its reach to cover hypnotherapy. In effect we are a law unto ourselves, we set our own ethical standards and how we live up to those standards will determine in the long term whether we have in fact evolved into being the ‘profession’ we want others to acknowledge us as being.
What does all of this mean in real terms?
One of my responsibilities is the unenviable task of dealing with complaints from the public, from government bodies, complaints made by clients about hypnotherapists and indeed complaints made by hypnotherapists against other hypnotherapists. The number of complaints I receive has obviously risen with the growth of our profession but the increase of complaints is disproportionate the growth in numbers. This has caused me to examine the reason or reasons for this unsettling statistical increase because to paraphrase Socrates, “An unexamined association is not worth leading”. Honest self-appraisal is something we expect of our clients and we should require no less of ourselves as a profession.
The nature of complaints
With very few exceptions I am pleased to write, the complaints I receive do not involve the therapeutic encounter. The majority of complaints concern marketing, they revolve around promises made either explicit or implicit, claims either made or implied. Others are about financial transactions or post session communication between hypnotherapist and client. Below is an overview of such complaints:
- advertising that guarantees an outcome
- contracts that clients are required to sign before the commencement of therapy many of which ask the client to sign away their common law rights
- payment before the delivery of services
- unsubstantiated claims of outcomes from therapy
- questionable marketing techniques such as promising outcomes within a time frame
- not referring clients to a suitably qualified practitioner when appropriate
Why the increase of complaints?
I suspect the reasons for the increase and nature of complaints is both complex and diverse and my observation of the profession over many years suggests that there are a number of causes.
The proliferation of franchise style training courses
The nature of a franchise requires complete adherence to a set program by both operator and consumer and this is certainly the case with branding of websites, advertising and marketing. These programs require the hypnotherapist to act and advertise in a certain manner and the client commit to a contract which whilst legal in the strictest sense tests most association’s ethical policies. In fact, some advertising breaches consumer law as the law requires that any guarantee conditions be clearly visible in every advertisement. I have received several complaints from Departments of Fair Trading around Australia about such advertising.
Such programs can also limit the creativity of the hypnotherapist and suggest a ‘one size fits all’ approach to therapy which stands in stark contradiction to the basic tenants of most hypnotherapy teaching, certainly Ericksonian styles of practice. Pre-packaged programs also risk setting up an adversarial relationship between hypnotherapist and client should they not be successful. In all complaints I have received there was an obvious communication problem as the hypnotherapist and client had vastly differing expectations and the encounters were almost certainly doomed to fail.
The popularity of NLP
Over the past few years the rise in courses available that are predominately based on NLP and the techniques closely associated with the modality have dwarfed the more traditional hypnotherapy courses. In the past though hypnotherapy courses included a component of NLP, the emphasis was more weighted toward client centered therapy rather than solution-focused short therapy. This has led to perhaps unrealistic expectations about the nature and duration of therapy by both hypnotherapist and client. Whilst short course therapy suits many clients it is rare in my experience that a single session is sufficient to genuinely resolve complex issues, and as a profession we should not be swayed by the modern mentality of an instant fix and others advertising that they can achieve outcomes in one session. It took the profession many years to lose the ‘magic wand’ tag and we should not seek to resurrect this sort of thinking, we all understand that life and clients are more complex than this.
The growth of the profession
More and more training institutions are training more and more therapists, I have been reliably informed that one single school trained more than 50 therapists last year. This obviously leads to competition between hypnotherapists and in many cases complaints are made by one therapist against another when it comes to marketing and promotion practices. What do you say to the therapist who abides by their associations Code of Ethics in Advertising and business and complains that a therapist in the next street does not? Although consumer law covers such advertising, regulators are busy and only investigate after a complaint is made. Thus the ethically responsible hypnotherapist is placed at a commercial disadvantage by acting in a professional manner though this is something we should all be practicing.
Training institutions must act responsibly in promoting their courses, some claims made about the financial rewards of a career in hypnotherapy are clearly misleading. Also, prospective students should be properly screened by the schools before being accepted into training. Schools also have a responsibility to counsel the graduate if they deem them to be unsuited to the profession of therapist. This holds true in many helping professions for example, a graduate of a psychology course does not at the moment of graduation become a psychologist and the same holds true of nurses. Profession mentoring, supervision and registration are required through both professional bodies and through AHPRA. However, hypnotherapy sets it’s own standards and will thrive or fall by how we are judged to enforce and meet those very standards.
Professional associations must also take their share of responsibility for new therapists joining their groups. A lack of mentoring and supervision leaves the new therapist without adequate oversight, guidance and assistance. Affordable professional and operational supervision are the key ingredients in a novice hypnotherapist’s personal development and the building of a longstanding professional practice. Associations must put into place properly regulated operational and professional supervision policies for new members and this supervision should be either one-on-one or in small groups led by properly qualified supervisors whose work is assisted and monitored. New members should be prepared for the cost of such supervision as is the case in other professions.
Some of the practices of therapists, schools and associations do not suggest that hypnotherapy has achieved the professional maturity that we would like and would like others to see in us. In its quest for unity and growth the profession must ensure that it does not sacrifice best practice for expediency and the lowest common denominator. With self-regulation ‘Everything is permissible, not everything is beneficial’. To be accepted as professional we need to act professionally in every facet of our operations and therapists, schools and associations.
In a self-regulated profession it is vital that this self-regulation be more than tokenism, it is the responsibility of all associations to apply their codes of conduct to members and, before a hypnotherapist joins an association they should acquaint themselves with the code of ethics and codes of conduct and be prepared to abide by them. By not doing so they not only damage their own reputation but that of their association and the hypnotherapy profession as a whole.
How do we then address these issues to strengthen our profession for the future? I can only speak for the AHA and make the commitment that the AHA will examine its policies and procedures with a view to ensuring that we do everything we can to provide the support that new hypnotherapists need and we will also continue to work toward the goal of increased professionalism in every facet of hypnotherapy.