So earlier this week was national No Smoking Day here. The BBC re-ran a TV show that I starred in a couple of years back entitled “The Smokehouse” which coincided with National No Smoking Day and as a result, I got lots and lots of enquiries from people wishing to stop smoking.

One person enquired rather forcibly “Valerie Austin used to offer up a 95% success rate for stopping smoking in one hour, what is your success rate with hypnotherapy Adam?”

Then another enquirer asked me if I offered a money-back guarantee to support my seeming confidence in my work, as displayed on the television.

Yet another asked me for a success rate and two more asked about guarantees, and I ended up repeating myself in writing and over the telephone on several occasions.

In times gone by, offering a guarantee may have been acceptable, but as of today it is considered irresponsible and disallowed by many of the top hypnotherapy associations, and for good reason in my opinion. To offer a guarantee of any kind of ‘cure’ in hypnotherapy, or any other therapy is unethical.

Despite certain popular misconceptions and myths, hypnotherapy does not involve waving magic wands around or dealing out a “shazzam” whereby the client irrefutably is made better.

There is no guarantee with any type of therapeutic or medical intervention, whether it is hypnotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, prescribed medicine, faith healing, alcoholics anonymous and so on. Each of these interventions can work differently with different people at different times. As evidence based practitioners, we attempt to employ interventions that are supported by research to responsibly offer up what is seen as the best choice for the client and give the highest chance of that change occurring, but nothing is guaranteed.

I did guarantee something to these people. I guaranteed that I would work to the best of my abilities, applying my years of experience. I guaranteed that I had the best intentions and desire for the client to achieve the change they were requesting. I could not guarantee that they would respond the same way as many other people who had successfully stopped smoking in my consulting rooms.

What’s more, I cannot make a guarantee that essentially involves them as well. Hypnotherapy is not just about me as therapist, is it? Any therapist thinking as much is ill-informed and arrogant to think the therapeutic intervention is about them wielding their skills and powers upon the client who surrenders to it and is transformed accordingly. In order to have success, the therapist and client forge an effective therapeutic alliance, each knowing their own roles and responsibilities and based upon a solid foundation of rapport, expectation and motivation, collaboratively work to achieve the desired outcome.

How can a therapist guarantee the behaviour and conduct of the client within that therapeutic alliance? By guaranteeing success, you take all responsibility away from the client, who can potentially sit there and expect the hypnotherapist to wave the afore mentioned wand wondering why nothing is happening.

As therapists, today we learn to be client-centred and client focused whilst bringing our skills, knowledge and manner to the table and being a good motivated role-model for the change process that the client is to engage in. Each individual is different and whilst we know of certain trends as a result of the interventions we apply in a certain way due to empirical evidence supporting them, how others have reacted, does not necessarily mean that in our therapy rooms, we can guarantee that their friends will respond and react the same way. Each person has their own take on the issue at hand and a number of variables that we need to take into account before we make decisions about the therapy. That is why we have assessment processes and systems.

Then what about offering up a success rate with hypnotherapy?

When so many hypnotherapists in the past have had success rates plastered all over their advertising, I can understand why so many people still enquire about this. heck, if I knew no better, I might be inclined to ask such a thing and gauge how effective the hypnotherapist is.

Unless it is supported by empirical research, that have been triple blind tested and measured against a controlled group of some kind (compared to placebo) then no figures should be used at all. How does an individual hypnotherapist verify the figures they give?

Out of every single smoker that they worked with, did the hypnotherapist get someone to independently verify that their clients were still non-smokers after 6 months, 1 year, 18 months, or 2 years later?  God forbid me saying such a thing, but less honourable hypnotherapists could potentially invent figures about their success, couldn’t they? Even Valerie Austin, on her stop smoking pages no longer makes her 95% success rate within one hour, instead she quotes some research and states that she has similar results! I guess someone had a word with her about her marketing campaign of the 1980s.

A number of years ago, I was speaking at an event and a man waited behind to speak to me following it. He kept on waiting to speak to me after everyone else has asked me sign books and answer questions etc. When he reached me, he said “do you recognise me?”

I did, sort of. But could not remember or recall his name. “I vaguely do, yes, how can I help you?”

“I just thought I’d let you know, that hypnosis doesn’t work. I hear your fancy talking today and enjoyed it very much, but hypnosis doesn’t work” he seemed quite certain in his view and then continued. “I came to see you a number of years ago to stop smoking. At first, I stopped, I am not sure if it was due to the hypnosis, I don’t think so. I stopped smoking for 2 years and never even wanted one after I had seen you. Then after two years, I had to go through a painful divorce and i started again. So the hypnosis does not work, see?”

Now to me, stopping for two years as a result of seeing me, that is a success. The hypnosis does not necessarily mean you’ll now be impervious to outside influences for the remainder of your days on this planet. it does not mean you are now permanently immune to any and every traumatic life experience.

If someone came to see me to overcome a phobia of dogs and successfully did so, then 5 years later was bitten by a ferocious dog in a park, then that person may well again become frightened and fearful of dogs. The hypnotherapy they had before is no guarantee of never being afraid ever again, is it?

So how do we gauge what is a success? Because the man at the speaking event did not consider his hypnotherapy to be successful, despite his two years of abstinence following his sessions with me.

If that man were surveyed and researched about his experience at that point, followed up two years later following hypnotherapy, he’d go down in the negative statistics according to his subjective account, yet if you asked me, I’d consider that a positive result. How do these types of occurrences affect our success rates?

Finally, I’d mention the ethics of offering success rates and guarantees, due to the effect it could have on people. If you offer a 95% success rate, how do you think a client is going to react and respond if they fail and become one of those 5% who fail? That client could end up feeling more negative about themselves and the issue at hand and may well entrench the issue further and dooming themselves to a lifetime of an unwanted habit, believing they are some kind of passive recipient of the habit.

Instead of believing that a different approach or therapist could be what was needed, they now think that they are one of the very few who fail. Is that a responsible thing to do?

All hypnotherapists trained by an NCH approved school with their qualification matching national occupational standards has to write up their rationale on this subject and explore and investigate the notion of guarantees and success rates. Anyone offering such could well be contravening a code of ethics, at least if they belong to a reputable organisation.

So I have a weekend off before I am working for the next 3! I plan on making the most of it and have some shenanigans planned, I hope you enjoy yours too, I’ll be back next week.