Road closed - the limits of hypnotherapy

Road closed – the limits of hypnotherapy

I’ve been talking to lots of groups lately, and a subject they’ve all asked about is the limits of hypnotherapy. So that’s exactly what this blog post covers – the limits of what I do.

I’ve written before about what I see as the need for greater regulation in hypnotherapy, and I’ve touched on a couple of cases that highlighted some of the ethical considerations. But the limits on hypnotherapy aren’t just ones of medical and professional ethics – there are also limits from the nature of the therapy, the nature of the brain, and my own experience and beliefs.

The first one I’m always asked about is whether I can hypnotise people against their will, or without them knowing. Even if this was possible, and a look at the alleged hypnotist thief should settle that, it wouldn’t help to build rapport with clients, or be at all ethical.

The medical and professional limits are clear, and universal – hypnosis isn’t recommended for people with epilepsy or who have had a psychotic episode. For myself the medical and professional limits also include people with sleep apnoea, where relaxation causes the airway to collapse.

Personally I find the risk that brings to hypnosis to be obvious, although I know other hypnotherapists who do not see the potential for serious complications. They won’t ask if people have sleep apnoea, whereas I always do. That doesn’t mean that I won’t see people with that condition, but simply that they need to wear their CPAP apparatus.

There are limits that are imposed due to the nature of hypnotherapy as well. For instance I’ve been asked if I can ‘treat’ autism, in the same way that another hypnotherapist apparently can. Again, with their ability to focus and their rich inner lives people with autism have been some of my most receptive clients to hypnosis. We’ve used hypnotherapy to tackle anxiety and phobias, and to develop more positive ideas.

I would never though claim that I could ‘treat’ or ‘cure’ such a fundamental aspect of someone’s psychological and neurological make up. Personally I find that as outlandish and offensive acclaim as those who still offer hypnotherapy to ‘cure’ homosexuality or gender identity issues.

Other limits are imposed by the nature of the brain. People who ask me to make them dislike chocolate or some other pleasurable habit are always met with a refusal. This is because in nearly all cases it isn’t successful, as it sets up an internal contradiction in the subconscious. This grows until the pressure is released in the only natural way – for the person to revert back to their original behaviour. And when it does occasionally work the unintended consequences stop it being a success as well.

I’ve also been asked by a husband to hypnotise his wife so that he could question her about a suspected affair – that was of course referred, and them referred to a relationship counsellor. I’ve also been asked to treat PTSD, and that’s an area where my own experience means that I don’t offer that – instead I refer people to another excellent CBT practitioner.

Finally, the limits set by my own beliefs mean that I don’t offer any work based on previous or future lives. Whilst I see previous lives as an extended metaphor for lived experience this isn’t the belief that people who request it have. As such it would be dishonest of me to offer it, as I couldn’t enter fully into the therapeutic relationship.

That means it’s also impossible for me to refer those people on to another therapist, as I can’t recommend a treatment that I personally don’t subscribe to. Instead I happily help people with what they need to look out for when they are searching for a therapist – professional membership and registration. Which brings us back round to where this subject began, with the public’s need for better regulation.