by Christa Mackinnon
As complementary medical and therapeutic approaches become more and more popular with patients, the accusations of unethical practice increase. Law reinforcement agencies are taking those accusations seriously and are in the process of developing the right tools to successfully prosecute therapists. Psychologist and Hypnotherapist, Christa Mackinnon, has functioned as an expert in cases against Hypnotherapists and writes:
Over the last few years I have been asked by various police forces around the country and by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to function as an expert witness in different cases. Although the expert work initially derived from my training work for police on the subject of child sexual abuse, three of those cases involved male Hypnotherapists being accused by female clients of indecent assault. The task of an expert witness usually consists of reading and analysing the victims’ statements as well as all the police interviews with the accused, writing an expert report and, if the accused is prosecuted, an active involvement during the court case.
As therapy, by its very nature, takes place behind closed doors in a one-to-one situation, prosecution will only happen if there is more than one accusation or if there is empirical evidence. However, the law reinforcement agencies are taking accusations of indecency in the field of complementary medicine and therapy more and more seriously indeed and they will, as in one of the cases I was involved with, now re-open a case after several years if a second accusation is being made. With complementary medical and therapeutic treatment approaches becoming more and more popular with patients, the ‘policing’ of the field is being refined and is becoming more effective in the process, as the police learn to ask the right questions and to involve experts in a specific field right from the start.
I cannot, for legal reasons, describe the above mentioned cases in detail, but all of them have certain, interesting characteristics in common.
The defence in all of the cases was also classical and predictable in its nature. It is well known to everybody who has ever experienced sexual offenders defending themselves that the defence follows a certain pattern which starts with denial and leads over the claim of ‘misunderstanding’ to minimal admittance whilst trying to blame the victim. Firstly, all the accused therapists denied everything. Confronted with the detailed statements of the women the classical ‘misunderstanding and interpretation’ excuse was applied: the clients misunderstood the intention of the therapist and interpreted everything the wrong way. The next step of an accused Hypnotherapist is usually to suggest that the client was ‘hallucinating’ and to state the famous sentence ‘the client is always in control’, suggesting that the client could have just walked away. Without going into details here, the experts proved this to be wrong in all the cases known to me (e.g. the induced catalepsy, the induced sexual confusion, the use of suggested power and control and so on). In one of the cases there was empirical evidence of the assault and here the accused therapist had to resort to the last defence strategy of sexual offenders: blame the victim and state that she consented and/or even initiated the sexual relationship.
The cases I have described were cases in which the accusations of indecent assault could be upheld through the fact that more than one victim came forward and that experts found the victims’ descriptions of the sessions consistent, believable and congruent with the alleged indecency. But what about false accusations? False accusations will not hold in court if therapeutic practice is ethical. Ethical practice is an absolute must for Hypnotherapists, especially for male therapists working with female clients. Ethical practice includes having clients sitting in chairs, not touching clients when they are in an altered state, explaining processes, using only induction, deepening and treatment procedures which are congruent with the treated condition, staying away from everything which suggests to clients that the therapist has power over them, having tapes ready to tape sessions and being very careful with suggested amnesia. If you are, furthermore, aware of your position of power, of the seductive nature of trance, of the effects of the imagery and language you use, you can be certain that there is very little chance that false accusations can be sustained within the very thorough legal process.