Mainstreaming Hypnotherapy


Philip Holder, PhD.

Copyright Philip Holder, PhD. 2005


We are all best served when we do our part to make hypnosis and hypnotherapy an accepted and viable option in the eyes of the general public. To my amazement there are still those who would rather keep things as they have been in the past (although the majority in our profession do recognize the value of becoming more mainstream in the eyes of the public, the wellness community, and the medical community). I have a theory about that… My theory is that while most of us (like myself) see the immense value in brining hypnotherapy into greater public acceptance, there are some who prefer to stay below the radar and in essence, exist as a big fish in a little pond. It is almost as if competing in a larger arena would be intimidating in some way. I hope that if anyone reading this article has that mind-set that I can help to dispel any concerns and get you on board in helping our profession expand its horizons. For those already on board, it is my hope that I can inspire you to be as active as possible in doing whatever it takes to create the highest possible levels of public respect and acceptance for us all.

What do I mean by mainstreaming (and just as important, why is it important to our profession). Perhaps this analogous story from my life will paint a picture for you.

I remember the first time I ever went to a chiropractor. It was in 1972 (which incidentally was the same year I first took an interest in studying hypnosis). When I told friends and relatives that I was going to see a chiropractor, I received comments like, “I wouldn’t do that” or “they’re not real doctors”, or “Chiropractors are quacks”. In any event, I don’t recall anyone giving me encouragement to go to a chiropractor. I went to the chiropractor for a lower back problem (sacral spinal area) that had plagued me for years. Every few months I would end up in bed for a day or two because the pain generated by an impingement would literally take my breath away. I walked into the chiropractor’s office that morning bent over and in pain. Less than an hour later I walked out standing straight up and with no pain.  To this day I have never again had the back problem. As I said… that was 1972. It is now almost 2006. You can do the math. Needless to say I was a completely satisfied patient.

My point is this… In 1972 chiropractic was an emerging growth profession. There were well trained chiropractors and there were also not so well trained chiropractors. I was lucky enough to get a well trained competent professional. His success made me into a walking advertisement for the benefits of chiropractic. There are many parallels between chiropractic in the 60’s and 70’s and hypnotherapy today. Like chiropractic in the 60’s and 70’s, hypnotherapy is an emerging profession (no pun intended) in the eyes of the public. The hypnotherapy profession has within its ranks some terrific, high-quality training programs. There are also the “Quickie Weekend Certification Programs” that produce mediocre practitioners at best. I know this from people who have retrained in our program after discovering that the certificate from their weekend course doesn’t mean much without the knowledge and skill needed for professional practice. In the same way that I became a walking advertisement for chiropractic, a well trained, skilled and caring hypnotherapist becomes the source of many walking advertisements for our profession.


Many of the graduates from our training program have practices in my immediate area. Some time back a fellow hypnotherapist said to me, “Don’t you ever feel like you are creating your own competition by training all of these people”? My reply was, “No… In fact the more quality professionals we have out there doing good work, the more mainstream we become, and the larger the client base grows for all of us. I’m happy to see them out there doing good work. The more the merrier”.

Using chiropractic as an example think about this… If you drive through any commercial area in my town you find multiple chiropractic offices on the same street. They are all over the place and they are all as busy as they want to be. Why… because they have created a public trust through the development of skilled professionals, and by their shear numbers within the community. They have become a recognizable and accepted profession. The old saying “Familiarity breads contempt” is a crock of crap. The opposite is actually true. Familiarity breads comfort. That’s why someone is more likely to buy Tide Detergent over brand “X”. They are familiar with the name and that name recognition generates comfort. The more familiar people are with hypnotherapy the more comfortable they will be in seeking us out to help them accomplish their goals.


Hypnotherapy will become “mainstream” only if we continue to police ourselves and raise the educational and ethical bar higher each and every day. It will take growth on both a quantitive and qualitive level. The more “WELL TRAINED and COMPETENT” practitioners we have entering the profession, the more beneficial for all in the profession. In short… we need more hypnotherapists with good initial training and ongoing continuing education. These are the people that will have a successful full time practice where their clients will sing the praises of the importance of hypnotherapy in the accomplishment their goals.


Most people in our profession truly want to enhance this honorable profession. Unfortunately (in my opinion), there are also those “few” who are looking for what they think will be easy bucks, a title/credential, to be respected or admired like a “Guru” and who want to experience the ego trip of all that while contributing the least amount in time and effort possible in learning their profession (e.g. weekend quickie courses) etc. I have also noticed something that is both interesting and wonderful in the hypnotherapy community… The “Best of the Best”, my colleagues that I admire and respect the most, are not only knowledgeable professionals but are also the ones most ready to help others to grow, learn, and become better. The “Best of the Best” don’t hold back knowledge and are not afraid of competition. They share their knowledge and experience willingly. They encourage, help and support their current colleagues as well as newcomers to the profession.


We know from “Hypnotherapy 101” that what a person perceives as reality is reality to that person. That is also true (in a broader sense) of the general public. It is critically important that each of us represent the profession in a way that is conducive to creating a comfort level within the general public. Most people in complementary fields like hypnotherapy travel in professional and social circles with other people who have similar interests. When most of the people we associate with have our same interests, it is easy to fall into the mindset that the rest of the world views Hypnotherapy, Reiki, Massage, and the like in the same way that we do. This is far from true. The general public, more often than not, has gross misconceptions about hypnotherapy. They frequently see hypnosis as mystical, scary, or as a means of “mind control”. Their perception comes from the movies, TV, mystery novels, and to some extent even stage hypnosis (e.g. perceived control by the hypnotist). [Note: I am not commenting negatively about stage hypnosis. I think stage hypnosis can be a positive venue through which we can educate the public about hypnosis, however, it can (if not done with thoughtfulness) give the general public the wrong idea about hypnosis.]

Perpetuating stereotypical perceptions about hypnosis sabotages hypnotherapy’s progress in its becoming more mainstream. Hypnotists and hypnotherapists who attempt to depict themselves as Guru types, or as mystical people, or who dress or act in a way that creates that persona, perpetuate false (and less marketable) images of hypnosis. That characterization of hypnosis will keep hypnosis in the shadows as some mystical novelty phenomenon in reference to the view of the public. It is our job to educate the public about the true nature of hypnosis and to represent ourselves as professionals in the eyes of the public. It is not in our best interest to create an image of hypnosis that is primarily palatable to those with an interest in parapsychology, mysticism, spiritualism, and other less mainstream philosophies. Those who are already open to things like Reiki, NLP etc. will most likely be open to hypnosis as well. Preaching to them is preaching to the choir. It is the layperson that we need educate.

How we present ourselves is vital to our success as a profession. There is a saying that “you can’t judge a book by its cover”. Whether or not one should do so is debatable but the reality is that people do judge a book by its cover. Personally, I think the premise that you can never judge a book by its cover is hogwash. In many cases you can (to whatever extent) judge a book by its cover and often be fairly accurate in doing so. A person’s cloths, the car they drive, the way they decorate their home, their level of personal hygiene, the way they take care of their health, all say something about a person’s personality. Your dress, your demeanor, your personal hygiene, the organization and cleanliness of your office, and the personal presentation that you make, will all say something to your client about you, and about your profession. Like the effect my first visit to a chiropractor had on me, a client’s contact with you may well determine whether he or she becomes a walking advertisement “for” or “against” hypnotherapy. It will determine whether that person leaves your office saying what a great experience they had and how professional you were, or if he or she leaves and tells others that the office looked like a throwback to the Hippy era and that the service was a hokey rip-off. The choice in how the public at large perceives us is totally up to us.


It is important to structure a well thought-out plan for a client’s therapy. When clients see that you actually have a plan it gives them greater faith in you. That greater level of faith also enhances their prospects for success. One thing that has always been disturbing to me are hypnotists or hypnotherapists who foster the belief that hypnosis is somehow a magic bullet and that he or she can routinely solve a person’s dilemma with one easy session. Certainly there are clients who will initially respond with one session. A few of them may even have lasting results with one session. That, however, is not the norm and is not a productive protocol for consistently “durable” therapy. Think about it… what lawyer, doctor, accountant, mechanic or other professional would have the audacity to make the claim that they could solve all of anyone’s woes in one easy meeting. If any “thinking person” were told that by their lawyer or accountant that he or she could solve problems that had existed for years in one easy visit, the person would probably be skeptical about that provider’s honesty and integrity and with good reason. Making exaggerated claims doesn’t make a hypnotherapist look super-human and terrific. It makes the therapist at best look like an egomaniac and at worst like a liar and charlatan.

I won’t argue that some people can in fact have initial success with one session, however, multiple sessions, set up as a structured program, enhance the durability of the therapy and substantially increase the probability of long term success for the vast majority of clients. It is the long term success of clients that will create trust and faith in hypnotherapy with the general public. Good therapy is not an event. It is a process and a procedure that requires an understanding of the client’s needs, reward, and motivation.


Another way to gain public trust and acceptance is through the public’s faith that someone advertising as a hypnotist or hypnotherapist actually has credible training and experience. We can help in fostering this perception by continually upgrading our educational programs and educational resources. As well, training programs should keep copious records on each student (transcripts) and have a method (e.g. exams) to show that graduates actually have a grasp of the materials.

For example: Our certification course at Master’s Center (which incidentally is done through an accredited college), is continually upgrading materials and increasing hours and learning opportunities. Our Basic course is now 200 hours (and growing). I am told by most students that by the time they graduate, including classroom and home practice, that most of them have closer to 300 hours accrued by time of completion. As well, we recently added a counseling module to our program. The counseling module is not intended to teach students to do conventional counseling and talk therapy. It was included to improve the student’s intake and interview skills and to better equip graduates to communicate with other professionals in the counseling community (again to enhance mainstreaming through communication).

Our advanced course is 80 additional hours plus homework assignments and practice. Each phase of training includes an exam, and a transcript is kept on each student. The final phase of the training is a “Practicum”. We included this as a type of “internship” so that students have a means of transition between the academic portion of the class where they are working with fellow students in therapeutic scenarios, and that of actually going into private practice. At the practicum students work with volunteer subjects doing actual hypnotherapy sessions under the supervision of both myself and other experienced associates from our Center. When graduates leave the training and go into practice they have already worked in session providing real hypnotherapy services to the public. As well, for their first year after graduation, our graduates receive an hour per month of free consultations should they need advice to help with clients with whom they are working. This provides a safety net and resource for help and information after graduation, in the crucial first year of practice. We want our graduates to be successful and we do all that we can to help them in their quest for success. My point… Training programs need to be well structured and student’s progress recorded in a professional manner. There also needs to be a venue through which new hypnotherapist have support after graduation.


I am still on the fence when it comes to licensure. History shows it to be a double edged sword.  Licensure may help by mandating higher (or at least more complex) educational standards, however, it may also increase the cost, bureaucracy and complexity of training disproportionately to its benefits. Then there is the question of who decides what the standards should be (So… Be careful what you ask for because you might get it). I am, however, a huge advocate of the establishment of some minimum, standardized training requirements. The question is really how to establish those minimum requirements given the vast diversity of philosophies that exist. The reality is… If we do not police ourselves someone in government (who knows nothing about hypnosis) will ultimately control our fate. We also need to establish ways to root out and/or admonish the bad apples that bring criticism to our profession through scams, sexual misconduct etc. Obviously there is no easy answer to this.


An important component for newer therapists is the availability of “supervision”. In every mental health field therapists are expected to spend some time each month in supervision with a more experienced therapist. Why would we think that we are somehow the exception to the rule? To do our part to add credibility to the profession we (at Master’s Center) have implemented supervision that runs three times each year where practicing hypnotherapists can conduct sessions under the eye of more experienced practitioners in order to receive suggestions that can improve their hypnotherapeutic skills. This is something that I would personally like to see become available through more programs and to all practitioners in their early years of practice. Our students cannot receive final certification without doing supervision via the practicum. After graduation many students tell me that they would not have felt confident going into practice without that phase of training. I would be most happy to discuss how we implemented the supervision/practicum to any trainer who has an interest in adding something similar to his or her training curriculum… just call.


The medical community is not our enemy and they are not our competitor. We are a separate and distinct profession. Our responsibility is to use our skills as best we can to help the people who come to us. It is our job to offer what we have and to provide options for the client. Most often the client is best served when they have a choice. Often this choice results in a combination of conventional and complementary modalities. In my opinion it is NEVER our place to “bad-mouth” other resources that are available to a client. We may have our opinion as to what is best for the person but the choice is ultimately theirs. Tell clients honestly what you can do for them. It is not in our best interest to suggest that someone else (for example a medical professional), would not be in the client’s best interest.

Most medical professionals truly want to help their patients just as hypnotherapists want to help their clients. We have that in common. Extend the hand of friendship and respect their professional opinions as you would like them to respect yours. That doesn’t mean you always have to agree with them… just give them the same respect that you would want from them. By building bridges, you, as well as professionals in the medical community, and most importantly your client, will benefit.


The absolute best scenario for all hypnotherapists is to help, support, and respect each other. By doing so, we enhance our image as professionals in the public eye as well as showing ourselves to be quality human beings. This speaks well for the profession.

More than once I have experienced and/or witnessed less than respectful behavior between colleagues. For example; a local hypnotherapist told me that every time he places business cards, fliers, or brochures around town, another local hypnotherapist takes his information down or places his own information on top of that information. Good marketing???? No, actually, it simply shows a lack of character and respect on the part of the second hypnotherapist. As well, when you hear something negative about a colleague, don’t be anxious to believe it, and be even less anxious to spread a rumor. Spreading rumors may unjustly place a person in a bad light with others and will certainly make the “spreader of the rumors” look catty and shallow. I don’t think that’s the best face we can put on our profession. By uplifting and supporting each other we uplift the profession as a whole. When I was a kid my father used to say, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything”. I think that is an excellent policy.


First and foremost is the welfare of the client. As professionals that should always be at the top of our list. We are a complementary profession. We need the public to view us as a credible and respectable option for the accomplishment of their goals. It is important as well that we accept the fact that although others may have a different approach or philosophy, it does not necessarily make your way better (or worse). If 10 painters painted the same sunset all of the resulting paintings would have a different appearance. Different strokes for different folks. When speaking to a prospective client or patient I make it a policy to never comment negatively about any colleague. I always talk to the person about what I can do for them, rather than what others can’t do for them.

Networking, referring (when appropriate), saying a kind word about a colleague all makes you, they, and the profession look better. The larger number of competent colleagues we have in the profession the better it is for you (so don’t view them as competition). The more (competent and well trained) hypnotists and hypnotherapists there are in the phone book, the more “normal” hypnosis becomes in the public eye. The more normal hypnosis becomes to the public, the larger the client base will be. That means more work for all. That means more clients and a steady income through greater public acceptance. Let’s all do our part to make that happen by maintaining high standards for ourselves and inspiring others to do the same. That will lead to public trust and acceptance of hypnosis and hypnotherapy.

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