Professional Hypnotherapy – Are we a profession yet?

A sociologist, a doctor and a hypnotherapist walk into a room. This isn’t the start of a painful joke or tortuous anecdote but a meeting I had a couple of weeks ago. The meeting sparked a discussion which asked the question; is there yet such a thing a truly professional hypnotherapy? Naturally with such diverse backgrounds there were distinctly different answers.

My previous thinking about this had come to a simple conclusion that ‘professional hypnotherapy’ was a valid description of what I do for a living. This was based on the models of professionalism handed down from history. The word ‘profession’ comes from the Latin ‘to profess’ and its strict meaning in this context is ‘to profess an oath’. The clearest example of which is medicines Hippocratic oath. I, and most hypnotherapists, will have at some point signed a code of conduct or professional ethics. Although the ritual of saying it aloud may not be present1, this code of conduct, can be seen to be a valid oath taking.  

Throughout history most professions, particularly medicine and law, have involved independent practitioners who worked for themselves finding their own customer base. Although this is far from the case in the modern world, In the UK the doctor became a part of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948 and has pretty much stayed there since. Law Firms have evolved as collectives in response to the growth of large complex organisations such as corporations and the opportunities which urbanisation has offered and yet their single practitioner origins are still visible in their system of chambers and loose partnerships. The single practitioner finding their own work is a description most hypnotherapists would readily acknowledge as fitting their work.

My thinking is however subjective, being as it is immersed in the assumptions, aspirations and experience of my perceived profession. What I might see as a profession others might view differently. And indeed, both the doctor and the sociologist raised valid points which made me question my assumptions and set about researching what a profession is defined by.

A profession is said to travel through 5 key phases of development.2 (Perk 1993)

1) It becomes a full-time job – already this is problematic for hypnotherapy as a huge number of the hypnotherapists I know are part-timers. Even if we accept that training or teaching hypnotherapy as a third or more of your annual income still counts as being a full-time hypnotherapist the number of people within the profession who make the majority of their income from it is minimal. However, some, myself included, do work full time, so in a broad sense it can be said that this criteria has been met.

2) Training schools are established – hypnotherapy has undoubted plenty of these, arguably too many but that is a different discussion.

3) University inclusion is established – Although many medical schools and universities include lectures and presentations on hypnotherapy very few have actual courses in it.  Courses have been run at university level, but I don’t know of any that are currently ongoing.  

4) Local associations are established, some of which grow into national ones. In the UK there have been for many years such bodies and the National Council for Hypnotherapy, the General Hypnotherapy Register (GHR) and the British Society for Clinical Hypnosis (BSCH).

5) Licensing Laws are established. Currently in the UK the closest thing we have is the Complimentary and Natural Health Council (CNHC) The CNHC is a body set up with government funding and support. However, membership of this is purely voluntary with the only reasons to do it is the enhanced status and sometimes slightly cheaper insurance. There is very little evidence that the government is likely to start more rigorous regulation anytime soon.

Professional Hypnotherapy – an emerging profession?

After having reviewed this thinking it appears that hypnotherapy is not there yet, but is on the way. Two things are happening which may help us get there,

1.    More hypnotherapists are studying to doctorial level and leverage this into university positions than ever before. Simultaneously more psychologists and medics are learning the skills of hypnotherapy and begin to reference these in their current positions.  Gradually the academic institutions are becoming more open to hypnosis and we are likely to see courses in hypnotherapy appearing in medical and psychology syllabuses. With this a greater emphasis on approaches which are evidence driven will emerge. The model for which can be seen in Gut Directed Hypnotherapy (GUD) for IBS. GUD is supported by over 30 years of consistent research including meta-analysis of randomised controlled trial (considered the Gold standard for medical research). Such research is the language of the medical world and is why most gastroenterologists are now broadly positive towards hypnotherapy, even if only a handful have taken the step to start using it.

2.    Standardisation of skills training, which is gradually occurring in the UK due to the influence of the CNHC may eventually result in a consistency of skill. Consistency would allow for more collective marketing of the profession as a profession and help the public to more rapidly identify poorly qualified practitioners.  In line with point one the basic standards will need to rise. For a deeper discussion of this point see my friend and colleague Kate Bevan-Marks’s recent blog post


Professional Hypnotherapy – References

Perks, R.W.(1993): Accounting and Society. Chapman & Hall (London);

1something we might want to consider introducing, there is evidence that words said aloud have a greater impact on the speaker than signing a bit of paper?

Actually it is six but I rolled 4 and 5 together into a single point as communications and transport have vastly improved in the century since most of the professions were originally identified.