Educating the Public: A lesson in public perception
An Education in Public Perception
My charitable work at the Quiet Mind Centre in Exmouth between 2007 and 2009 provided me with quite an education in the way hypnotherapy is often perceived by members of the general public. The majority of my private Clients had sourced my details from the websites of the professional associations to which I belong and/or received a brochure. These people knew I was a solution focused hypnotherapist utilising some NLP and CBT techniques working from an evolutionary model of the mind/consciousness.
Many of my Clients at the Quiet Mind Centre had never thought of hypnotherapy prior to it being recommended by the assessor at the Centre. It was the questions which I was sometimes asked at the initial appointment which revealed the inaccurate perceptions which these people and by implication many members of the public held.
I thought I had done a really good job of explaining the mind, what hypnotherapy is, the model I worked from and how we would work together to create the subconscious changes she sought to one lady. I had asked her if she had any questions and she said “No, none at all, you have made everything crystal clear, I feel really excited about coming here next week to start getting rid of my phobia.“
I then handed her a CD explaining I would like her to use it every day, preferably at night but at another time if she preferred until we met next week. She looked a little alarmed and I again explained it was to increase calmness, confidence, relaxation and expectation of change and would support the work we were doing in the sessions. She then said “I trust you I am happy to go into trance with you here but if I go into trance with a CD how will I come back? What if I get stuck there? I saw a film once and the lady got stuck in a trance and they couldn’t get her out because the hypnotist had died”. At this comment a vivid mental image popped into my mind and I started laughing. To reassure her I explained this had no basis in reality. I told her that whilst I had no intention of popping my clogs if I simply did trance work with her and wandered off leaving her on the couch she would come out of the trance pretty soon in the same way she awakened each morning.
I think the above example really brought home to me the intransigence of the way people cling to inaccurate information effectively filtering out all other information which conflicts with the “template” they already hold. This lady was not unintelligent and she had read my brochure in which I give examples of the ways in which people may experience trance as a natural state which we all go into everyday. However, her “filter” would not permit that information to be registered and mitigate her original perception.
That lady decided to use my CD although she said it took until the third attempt for her to feel secure doing so and we dealt with her phobia in four sessions which was what I expected.
Another very prevalent misconception is the idea that Client’s are anaesthetised and will remember nothing. I think here recent articles in the press and documentaries where people have undergone surgery under hypnosis whilst chatting with their operating teams have done something to dismiss this myth. I think the documentary in recent months where the lady had teeth extracted and implants inserted under hypnosis was particularly informative on this issue.
So I ask myself are we as therapists making full use of our own advertising to address the problem. The more sources of clear information there is out there the greater the chance of penetrating the blinkers of ignorance some people cling to. We know that when information is prevalent it is normalised and when it is normalised the mind becomes open to it rather than filtering it out.
I feel the clarity of our advertising is of the utmost importance with the information in our brochures and on our websites addressing the issue of educating the public. We also need to make very clear our modus operandi - are we hypnoanalysts, solution focused hypnotherapists, primarily CBT, past life regressionists, NLP techniques included or not and so on. We also need to provide a little bit of education as to what to expect together with expelling some commonly held myths concerning hypnosis.
Most hypnotherapists do a really excellent job in this regard but there are some exceptions I have come across. I have seen cards/notices in shop windows stating simply hypnotherapy together with a first name and mobile phone number with no qualifications or professional registers or memberships mentioned. Now although such therapists may be very able this kind of advertising hardly gives the profession a professional image does it? Rather it propagates the perception of hypnotherapy as an unqualified and slightly risky area. How many of us would consult a plumber who advertised in this way?
Another example I have come across is a hypnotherapist who shared a business card with his spouse with hypnotherapy being offered together with two other therapies. Again no surname appeared, no qualifications and no differentiation as to who offered which therapy, or did they both offer all three therapies? It would have helped if this card had mentioned a website address but this was not included either.
The inclusion on all advertising material of memberships of professional associations not only shows us in a professional manner but opens the to door to a wealth of educative material for the public to explore. I appreciate of course that only limited information can be carried on a business card but at the very least this ought to include a full name and qualifications, contact details together with website and/or professional associations also being included.
Educative advertising is one way we can chip away at inaccurate or ignorant public perceptions of our professions. Another really important opportunity arises when we meet people in the social context and have the chance to answer those questions often posed by people who are both scared and fascinated.
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