Ethical Practice – an Absolute Must for Hypnotherapists

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.

  1. All of them involved ‘vulnerable’ female clients. In one of the cases the therapist, who had a six-month training on correspondence level, advertised specifically treatment for sexual and emotional problems. He furthermore classified his treatments as ‘studies’ offering them free of charge to clients willing to participate in the study. It is not surprising that he attracted vulnerable, desperate clients who could not pay for the necessary ongoing therapy with an experienced practitioner. From that ‘pool’ of vulnerable, desperate clients he chose his victims very carefully. The first accusations were made by a client who had ‘petit mal’ and was a minor and by a client he treated while being on the Heroin substitute Methadon. One of the other cases involved a medical practitioner, who used so called ‘relaxation therapy’, which was in fact straight forward hypnosis, with women who could not resolve normal sexual relations with their partners after giving birth, suffered from post natal depression and who were, again, desperate for help.
  2. All of the cases also involved the abuse of ‘power’. All clients were asked to lay down for treatment. Processes of hypnosis and hypnotic phenomena were not explained. Excessive induction and deepening procedures were usually followed by suggestibility tests (e.g. hand clasp) and confusion techniques. The sexual imageries suggested during treatment were considerable, in one case extensive confusion between partner and therapist within the sexual imagery was produced deliberately. All clients reported feelings of ‘powerlessness’, some felt cataleptic and unable to move, had partial amnesia and some remembered vaguely, that amnesia was suggested.
  3. All of the cases also involved ‘touch’ during trance. The reported touch seemed harmless in the beginning like ‘this part of your body needs to relax more’ while touching the client’s arm, and then got progressively stronger and more intimate as the session(s) continued. One case here could be almost funny, if the subject wasn’t so serious. A Hypnotherapist who had also trained in Reiki suggested to a female client, who consulted him because she wanted to stop smoking, some Reiki treatment to ‘get the energy flowing’ before proceeding to the actual stop smoking. The rest of the session is ‘his’-story which differs from ‘her’-story considerably and mainly in the fact that the ‘energy movement’ necessary to give up smoking concentrated on certain parts of the body which led to the charge of indecent assault.

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.

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