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Dr. Giles's Blog

Reflections from Dr. C. Scot Giles, the Consulting Hypnotist and practice owner at Rev. C. Scot Giles, D.Min., LLC

The Importance of Hypnotic Research

Charles Giles

[Originally Published by Dr. Giles in 2002 in The Journal of Hypnotism]

Recently I’ve had two rounds of written exchange of ideas concerning research. The first concerned the new Recommended Standards of Practice of the Guild, which state that claims made for hypnotism should be backed by objective outcomes research. The input I received, almost entirely from Guild members, was uniformly positive. Many expressed relief that the Guild was taking this stand, for they have found that unless they have such research data they cannot get a hearing in the places where they attempt to market their services.

The second exchange of ideas was through a dialogue in a hypnosis email group I subscribe to. I had raised the issue of research, noting that some standardization of techniques was necessary if meaningful research was to be done to demonstrate to the scientific community that what hypnotists do, works.

Well, you’d think I’d suggested committing a crime. While many, probably most, of the participants agreed that having reliable research data would be a good thing, several vocal participants denounced any effort to scientifically validate our results. I found this amazing. Assuming that one is a competent hypnotist, one already knows that what one does works. You see the results of that, day after day, in your office. Clients improve, send their friends, and often send letters of thanks to keep you updated. Why in the world would there be an objection to accurately documenting this, confirming the results with others who choose to adopt similar techniques, and publishing the results in a respected academic journal? The result would be greater acceptance of hypnotism and that would produce a greater demand for hypnotic services from the public. Yet the objections were strident from a few. I wondered why

The first possibility was one that I quickly disregarded. My first thought had been that the folks who objected were frightened of objective research because they did NOT see results in their work and didn’t want the failure to be documented. Every profession has its ineffective practitioners, and I’d first thought that it was those people who objected. However, while this may have been true for some of the voices, a little research of my own showed me that some of the people objecting had good reputations, and this made it likely that they did know what they were doing.

The second possibility was more plausible. In order to be a hypnotist you have to be a person with a good “sense of self” and confidence in what you do. This mindset may lead some people into thinking that what is helping the clients is not so much the professional application of the hypnotic arts and sciences, as the application of the practitioner’s wonderful personality. People who think this way often make it sound as though no one else could get the results they get (even using the same techniques), and therefore see research as anathema. If research showed that the hypnotic arts and sciences were what got the results instead of the practitioner’s wonderful personality, it would seem like a devaluation of that personality. Apparently, some hypnotists care very, very much about how well their wonderful personalities are viewed by others.

A third option also presented itself. Some people objected to any effort at research because in order for research to be done you have to have a degree of standardization regarding techniques. If one practitioner gets his or her results using Guided Imagery and another practitioner gets his or her results using Regression to Cause techniques, it isn’t clear that the results can be compared. In order to compare results, you have to have similar techniques used in the cases you are comparing. This is basic to the scientific method. For many of the voices this was the reason for the anger. They do not want there to be any standardization of techniques. In other discussions these same people were often the ones who objected to professional certification of hypnotists, or to legislation (even if the intent was to protect our right to practice) and who appear to hate national hypnosis organizations such as the Guild with a deep and abiding passion. Several also denounced psychology, medicine and other established professions as worthless.

I found this exchange remarkable. On one hand there were many practitioners who thought the idea of research was wonderful, but on the other there were a determined few who made it clear that such was unwelcome—either because they felt it was a challenge to their self-image or because they feared that someone else might tell them what to do or how to do it. I think it illustrates a deep divide among hypnosis practitioners that will get deeper as time goes on.

On one side are the people like myself who see the hypnotic arts and sciences as wonderful, learnable skills that anyone can acquire through good training. People on this side feel that if you have good techniques and skills, combined with ethical and responsible practice, you get regular, provable, reproducible results—just as you do in medicine, psychology, physical therapy or chiropractic. True, some people will do it better than others, but the expectation is of professional performance in a professional craft that any bright person can learn to do. The orientation is essentially scientific.

On the other side are folks who see hypnotism as akin to an occult art, only practicable by some people who have a hidden gift, who obtain unique results through mysterious methods that cannot be easily communicated. There is an objection to regulation, standardization or certification as such things detract from the glamour of unique power in which they like to be cloaked. This orientation seems to me essentially romantic, in the sense that it appeals to the darker side of the mind where things dwell in shadows, and intuition rather than logic holds sway. It is certainly an attractive position as we all have a bit of the romantic in our makeup, and I’m as fond as the next person of being admired by others. However, it seems to me that this orientation belongs to an era of hypnotism that is passing away, and will soon be as quaint as the gaslight and signet ring.

As the body of scientific research into the value of hypnosis grows and as more conventional medical settings recognize the value of hypnotic procedures, it seems to me that most people will favor the scientific side of this issue. Simply, if hypnotism is seen as a power belonging to a few, there is not much opportunity for the many to break into it. However, if hypnotism is understood as learnable skill that makes a great career, there will be opportunity for people to get involved and to earn a good living from it. If hypnotism is to take its rightful place as a valuable service to the public, science must replace romance as we move forward together.