At the end of last year, outside of the main body of my keynote presentation at the UK Hypnosis Convention, I spoke about a topic briefly that is something I have spoken about often to fellow professionals since: Science by press release.
In my hypnosis weekly podcast, I have a ‘Hypnosis In The Media’ section whereby I refer to the way hypnosis gets portrayed in the media and discuss whether it is enhancing or holding back the field of hypnotherapy as it seeks more credibility and understanding. What I’m writing here today is made all the more pertinent by the current popular discussions and debates about ‘fake news’ in our media and people’s seeming lack of critical thinking skills required to fully understand and examine what they are presented with in the media before they agree with it and share it – heck, we all know that loads of shared articles or memes in our social media newsfeeds have not been read or researched before they were shared, don’t we?
Let me contextualise this a bit before I focus on the field of hypnotherapy…..
In the mid 2000s, journalists were earnestly reporting the news that pig’s bladder extract had been used by scientists in a major breakthrough allowing one man to seemingly magically regrow a finger.
This is a true story.
“Pixie dust helps man grow new finger,” stated the Telegraph’s headline. “The amazing ‘pixie dust’ made from pigs bladder that regrew a severed finger in FOUR weeks” said the Daily Mail. “‘Pixie Dust’ From Pig’s Bladder Regrows Man’s Finger” said Fox News. “It is thought that the dust kick-starts the body’s natural healing process by sending out signals that mobilize the body’s own cells into repairing the damaged tissue” they explained.
The patient was Lee Spievack. He was given the powder by Acell, a large and longstanding biotech firm founded by Alan Spievack. He is Lee Spievack’s big brother. Dr Badylak is Acell’s chief scientific adviser, and he conducted the research and the TV interviews, that made headlines in the US and around the globe with this scientific breakthrough.
The day after the Press Association and BBC put out this story, it appeared on Fox news, and and later that day it hit ABC Australia. Being broadcast about everywhere in between along the way. All used the same quotes in different permutations. And that’s how news works.
Closer scrutiny of this story found it to be largely flawed, there were conflicting accounts from the researchers of the pilot study about how much finger actually grew back. The pictures available are inconclusive, the pixie dust formula has not been able to replicate the results from this isolated case.
Yet for a while, this breakthrough had landed, people believed it and the story was covered as if a scientific consensus supported it.
This was science by press release.
I want to draw some parallels to something in our own field. Last year, Dr David Spiegel in his endless crusade to demonstrate that hypnosis has a unique brain pattern, demonstrated as much according to his study. Here are some of the more popular news snippets sharing his findings:
1. Study identifies brain areas altered during hypnotic trances.
2. In patients under hypnosis, scientists find distinctive patterns in the brain.
3. Is Hypnosis All in Your Head? Brain Scans Suggest Otherwise.
It seemed like the entire field of hypnotherapy shared the media’s reports of this study. Twitter and Facebook feeds were filled with this story within hypnotherapy circles. Hypnotherapists were sharing it and telling people about it and discussing this impressive result. Media outlets were picking it up too and sharing snippets that made for interesting news.
Yet how many of those who were sharing the media’s representation of the study, actually read the study? Or read any critical appraisal of the study? Or read any of the journal’s peer review board’s comments about the study?
Virtually none. Because if they had, they would see that some authors, academics and researchers disputed and questioned the findings of the study.
Some might think that this was science by press release, just like the pixie dust finger regeneration powder. Many of the central premises behind the study were brought into question – the way suggestion was used, the way a so-called neutral hypnosis was elicited. This featured in the journal Cerebral Cortex, whose peer review board have few hypnosis academics or researchers and Spiegel’s very conceptualisation of what hypnosis actually is has been questioned and critiqued throughout the years.
All those who blindly shared the story (in my opinion) would benefit massively from knowing about the debate, the discussion that the study stimulated, much more so than simply the media headlines. I’m not taking a side in particular here, I admire David Spiegel and the contribution he has made to attempting to understand the subject of hypnosis and the ensuing debate that his work creates that illuminates so much. Perhaps I should just adopt the stance of “all publicity is good publicity” when the media pick up these stories as we get more exposure – yet, I find the lack of critical appraisal and the seeming lack of desire to understand more than the headlines from the majority of frontline hypnotherapists frustrating.
One of the things I love about my hypnosis weekly podcast is that I get to speak to some very wonderful hypnosis professionals from all over the world. I open up with the same words at the beginning of my Hypnosis Weekly episodes, amongst other things, I say the following:
“This podcast is something that I want to encompass a feeling of embracing diversity, celebrating the field of hypnosis and encouraging friendly, professional, enjoyable discussion and debate, as well as doing it’s best to inform and educate.
I do not share the same stance as most of our guests and at times have major differences in approach and leaning, but all are incredibly lovely people who I’d happily talk with until late in the pub, and all of whom, following their time here on Hypnosis Weekly, I have a great deal of respect for.”
Within the field of hypnosis I have found many people get hostile towards dissenting or different perspectives to their own, so I wanted to demonstrate that even when I disagree wholly with a fellow hypnotherapists perspective or professional stance, we can discuss it and debate it professionally and courteously, sticking to the argument, the topic and not veering toward insult or making personal remarks and ensuring we are free from the use of logical fallacies to make the points one supports.
That said, a major ethos of my own training college is that we all learn both sides to any debate, discussion and philosophy and be aware of those sides before we have that debate.
When you examine both sides of a debate or discussion, you aim to be fully informed. I find it frustrating when someone remonstrates with a point I may make because it goes against what they believe in rather than adhering to facts. Often in the field of hypnotherapy, what they believe in is all they have been taught. They are invested financially, psychologically and emotionally in what they were taught and therefore are less inclined to apply neutral, objective critical thinking to their own biases and beliefs. They become entrenched in dogma and defend their stance without knowing opposing views, perspectives and certainly often do not know what the evidence would suggest.
One of my podcast guests from the US, when I asked him about his professional influences, he quoted a professional colleague who once told him to “learn from people who disagree with each other.” I think it is a wise move to “learn from people who disagree” and especially so in the field of hypnosis and hypnotherapy. My keynote presentation at the UK Hypnosis Convention 2016 was about prominent figures from the history of the hypnosis field who feuded. The point I wanted to make, and that I am making here again, is that rather than digging our heels in and blindly defending one singular stance, we must all learn both sides of the discussion, understand the full depth of the argument and allow ourselves some enlightenment.
Regarding any hot topic in our field, whether you agree with either side, or neither side, are you open-minded enough to see both sides?
I assume that most of you are thinking ‘yes’ in reply to the question. If most people reading this are thinking ‘yes’ then if you are representative of the field of professional hypnotherapists, they’d probably be thinking ‘yes’ too, right?
If that is so…. Why is it that so many schools, college and teaching establishments in the hypnotherapy world are so goddam dogmatic about what they teach?
– Psychoanalytic schools of hypnotherapy very rarely teach their students the issues surrounding duty of care, informed consent, the reconstructive nature of memory and risks of retraumatisation when teaching regression therapy (I regularly meet hypnotherapists trained by regression dominated organisations that haven’t a clue what retraumatisation is, or that the memory reconstructs the past, often in a far different way than the initial experience – science demonstrates this to be true by the way, it is not an opinion).
– NLP training schools rarely point out the scientifically proven flaws in eye-accessing cues or the validity of representational systems (I have met people and seen people with YouTube videos claiming that the cues are set in stone for everyone, for example).
– Why do those that teach that hypnosis is some kind of altered state rarely ever illustrate the more evidence based nonstate models of hypnosis? (many people who have been trained to diploma level in the field of hypnotherapy have not even heard of any such debate as the state vs nonstate that is central to the field of hypnosis).
– Conversational and Indirect hypnosis trainings often state that what they do is better than direct or authoritative styled hypnosis… Yet offer no evidence to show us how or why… because there is virtually no evidence to suggest as much. It may be a lovely, subtle and elegant way to communicate, but the efficacy as far as therapeutic gain is concerned is no higher than those using more direct methods.
– The subconscious mind – Why do schools and educators teach that the existence of a subconscious mind is a fact. Why do they not teach the case for it, but then also explain that no single academic supports this and there is no scientific evidence to demonstrate it’s existence….….
When teaching these subjects, why not highlight the limitations of that which you teach too? Isn’t that progress? Isn’t that how we develop and enhance this field? To build upon what we know, to challenge and improve what we do, to have a rounded, fully open-minded understanding of the entire subject and not feel the need to dig our heels into one small aspect and defend it by suggesting it is better than everything else, regardless of any evidence to the contrary?
Is it because those that teach this stuff do not know the other side of these things? Is it because they are scared of being challenged and being seen to be left wanting? Do they just know no better, were taught that way and therefore espouse the way they were taught as the right option… Like it is the law? I mean, what if you trained 10 years ago and have not kept abreast of developments and not done any relevant CPD (continued professional development)? Worse still, what if your CPD is being conducted by people who know no better? Who offer up a single dogmatic approach.
I think it is important, especially for hypnotherapists, to be able to see (at least) and ideally fully understand both sides to a philosophy, a debate, a theory and so on. That is what shows open-mindedness. It shows intelligence. It shows you know your subject and your field. The field of hypnotherapy, as with many, many other fields, has a proliferation of this kind of phenomena…
Many people attend conferences, trainings, conventions and CPD courses looking to confirm what they already know rather than learn. Likewise, headlines get shared without knowing the true extent of what is being shared and I think it is lazy and holds us back.
I urge everyone reading this, to go and question all that you do and all that you teach. I urge you to question what you believe and what your biases are as a hypnotherapist.
Do not just fight and bicker on forums, instead develop a deeper sense of delving deeper into this subject matter and we’ll be able to move this glorious field of ours away from the fringes where it exists currently.
Charles Darwin said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
Come on hypnotherapists….. Let’s be adaptable to change, let’s think critically, let’s benefit from the disagreement and create a culture within our field that moves it forward. Maybe this will result in hypnotherapists looking further into the research that makes it’s way into media stories that they share so readily? Regrown fingers crossed, eh?
If you’d like to learn more or if this has resonated with you in some way, then visit these pages:
1. Has lack of critical thinking held you back and/or is it still doing so now?
Coaching with Adam Eason Or Hypnotherapy with Adam Eason.
2. Would you like a satisfying and meaningful career as a hypnotherapist helping others to think more effectively? Are you a hypnotherapist looking for stimulating and career enhancing continued professional development and advanced studies?
Adam Eason’s Anglo European training college.
3. Are you a hypnotherapist for whom lack of critical thinking is detrimentally effecting the success of your business?
Hypnotherapist Mentoring with Adam Eason.
Self-hypnosis is a great way to help advance critical thinking. If you’d like to learn more about self-hypnosis, understand the evidence based principles of it from a scientific perspective and learn how to apply it to many areas of your life while having fun and in a safe environment and have the opportunity to test everything you learn, then come and join me for my one day seminar which does all that and more, have a read here: The Science of Self-Hypnosis Seminar.