Before you think I have gone off the rails and become too absorbed in Harry Potter with his invisible cloak or been reading too many HG Wells novels or fantastic four comic strips, no I am not discussing actual invisibility here today… I am referring to the attempts by us hypnotherapists to be as removed from the therapy as possible and wondered if it is a worthwhile or pointless thing to attempt to do?

I have had teachers and trainers and met with a variety of hypnosis professionals over the years who believe they can do hypnosis and/or hypnotherapy without influencing the dynamics of the process.

Is this possible I wonder?

For those that employ regression techniques in hypnotherapy sessions with clients (you regular readers know my stance on this, but is not my point for discussion today) know that it is important not to lead the client toward certain memories (something which many believe can cause false memory syndrome) i.e. They do not say “go back to when you were five and had that traumatic experience with your parents” instead they suggest that the client “go to the time when the problem began” or something that enables the client to select the memory to be worked on in the regression session.

Proponents of this belief include Calof in 1993 in the Family Therapy Networker (paper entitled Facing the truth about false memory) and Fredrickson in 1992 in Repressed memories: A journey of recovery from sexual abuse whereby it is stated that they can help the hypnotherapy client to retrieve memories and information from the clients past, without influencing the memory recall at all.

Those that work therapeutically with couples or families or within relationship counselling, for example, may well do all they can to remain neutral and not take sides or favour any particular viewpoint as advocated by the likes of Rogers (in Client Centred Therapy, 1986) or Sanford (in An inquiry into the evolution of client-centered approach to psychotherapy, 1987).

I myself often teach my students that we do not offer advice as hypnotherapists, and that our job is not to tell people how to live their lives, rather we attempt to allow them to find the right way forward and enable such with the therapeutic interventions we provide.

Yet surely any therapeutic relationship should be collaborative, no? As well-trained hypnotherapists, we know about establishing rapport, and creating a working alliance within the therapy; as being central and key to successful therapeutic outcomes… So surely, if we have any kind of therapeutic relationship at all, let alone one where we have rapport and a good working alliance, how on earth can the hypnotherapist not play a direct role in what happens in that relationship or in the therapy?

As hypnotherapists, we usually have an outcome in mind that we are striving to achieve to know that the therapy has been successful. Perhaps it is a way of measuring our progress, but we aim to achieve and attain certain outcomes and meet objectives. This makes hypnotherapy fairly directive in its approach, doesn’t it? In my own clinical hypnotherapy practice, the two most common questions I ask right at the beginning of my assessment procedure are “what do you want to achieve?” and “how will you know when you’ve got that?” Questions that are outcome focused.

In general terms, we do usually tend to have a desired therapeutic outcome in mind.

Many would even say that part of a hypnotherapists job is to help overtly influence the client in ways that help them achieve their desired outcome within the therapy… And some hypnotherapists do not enjoy the notion of believing they are influencing, unduly or not. Some even believe it is wrong.

For those of us that advocate a more evidence based approach to hypnotherapy, we like to see treatments being empirically validated, and in some cases see interventions being put together that can be applied by anyone in order to replicate similar results.

Though this way of looking at hypnotherapy does lead to us favouring the efficacy of the technique employed rather than the relationship between client and hypnotherapist which enables the technique to be used most effectively.

Can we really apply techniques and strategies in hypnotherapy without any social influence affecting what is going on? It is a debate and a half. There are other fields of study that look into this in much more depth, including the field of social psychology and sociology, for example.

In his multi edition work The Social Animal, social psychologist Aronson demonstrated that an individual who is all alone will behave in certain ways that they would never do if they were in the company of one single other person.

The idea that prevails in many notions of social psychology is that our behaviours changes when we are with other people. Which is relevant to the therapeutic context.

Yet how much we influence and effect is something which is debated greatly and something I cannot do justice to, or put concisely enough in one single blog entry – it is an entire field of study!

I think it important to be aware of our own influence in the hypnotherapy relationship but at the same time, remove opinion, judgment and have a great intention, and then the empirically researched techniques that are used can be employed as neutrally and allowed to be as effective on their own merits as possible.