Hypnosis, Self-hypnosis and Hypnotherapy

I have come to believe, through many years of working with clients in psychotherapy and other types of psychological work, that hypnosis is a very powerful tool. Unfortunately, hypnosis is frequently presented to the public -- and even from inside the healing professions -- as something more than a tool. I feel strongly that, like a knife, it is only a tool.

Like a knife, hypnosis can be very useful when it's used by someone who knows how to use it. But it can also do a fair amount of harm when used irresponsibly. Knives can be used by ordinary people for ordinary tasks, like slicing bread or cutting rope. And when used by a professional like a surgeon, a knife can take on a special meaning, and a special status: In a surgeon's hands, a knife can be an instrument of healing. But a knife is, in and of itself, no more or less magical than any other tool.

Hypnosis, too, is a tool, and is no more or less magical than any other tool. I believe hypnosis can be very useful to someone who knows how to use it. The general public can easily learn to use self-hypnosis, and I'm convinced that self-hypnosis can help people live more effectively and more consciously. Beyond that, trained professionals -- like psychologists, psychiatrists, physicians, dentists, nurses -- can be further trained to use hypnosis as an instrument of their own particular healing art. If healing professionals learned to use hypnosis properly, I think their effectiveness as healers would be greatly enhanced.

So where does that leave hypnotherapists? Hypnotherapy is a new profession, but I have yet to discover a gap that needs filling by a new profession. I'm just not sure what a hypnotherapist is, unless it's by definition a person who paid some money and took some classes at a school that calls itself a hypnotherapy school. There's nothing wrong with this, as long as the public knows what it's getting. My concern is that hypnotherapists often present themselves to the public as healers. To the extent this is so, it must be based in the assumption that, if you go to a school to learn to use hypnosis as a tool, you are by definition a healer. But in my opinion, learning to do hypnosis no more qualifies a person as a healer than learning to use a knife can qualify a person to be a surgeon. There's more to a surgery than cutting; there's more to healing through hypnosis than hypnosis. Maybe graduates of hypnotherapy schools are, in fact, very well-trained in the use of hypnosis; again, since I wish everyone would get trained in hypnosis, I very much approve of the training. But again: I don't see how learning to use hypnosis as a tool qualifies people to call themselves therapists or healers. Hypnotherapy is not alternative medicine like acupuncture -- there is no well-established hypnotherapy tradition outside the bounds of conventional medicine like there are acupuncture, herbology and holistic medicine traditions. I'm not sure where the healing status of hypnotherapy comes from. It's important to distinguish hypnosis (and self-hypnosis) from hypnotherapy. Self-hypnosis is a tool for self-discovery and self-improvement; I believe the public should learn to use self-hypnosis. Beyond that, hypnosis can be a tool for healing when used by healers, but I believe that the public should be careful and think about what qualifies a hypnotherapist to call him- or herself a healer.

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