Hypnoanalysis, analytical hypnotherapy, pure hypnosis – call it what you will. For those of you who are regular readers of this blog and have an interest in anxiety disorders this treatment is probably known to you. Just to recap I have recently had the chance to view hypnoanalysis from the eyes of a long term sufferer of anxiety and phobias. It has been an education into the dark arts of scamming money from people with anxiety and panic attacks.
The therapy promised a lot, and when I say a lot I mean it promised the world. The web-sites and brochures of those therapists involved speak of "cures", "solutions" and a complete cessation of symptoms – fast! They have testimonials where people, with blandly implausible sounding names, wax lyrical about how their anxiety, depression, phobias and OCD evaporated. Sounds great. Problem is, it doesn’t work and is basically a money making exercise which takes advantage of human misery and desperation.
I knew that hypnoanalysis was unproven. I quick Google search showed that the only study that mentioned it by name had found no benefits over equivalent psychotherapy. I was also worried that, for such a miracle cure, no one that wasn’t making money from it had talked about their experiences – either positive or negative – on forums and chat rooms. If it was that amazing, I am sure, with hindsight, that they would have. I later realised why there were few, if any, negative experiences reported about it.
Hypnoanalysis has two main underpinning ideas.
1. All anxiety symptoms can be traced back to one event that caused guilt and shame, and that event has often been pushed out of conscious memory.
2. If you uncover that event and release the trapped emotion you will be able to let go of your anxiety (or other mental or physical health problem).
Both of those principles are wrong.
Anxiety can have a number of causes, and while it can be post traumatic (ie stemming from one negative experience) it is often just the product of the way you interpreted events either when you were younger or, in some cases, later in life. In either case, dealing with trauma from childhood carries no promise of success. Quite the contrary, you may well have processed those memories fully years ago, and now be suffering from bad habits and faulty thinking. Messing around with childhood memories (real or imagined) probably doesn’t do a great deal for you.
That said, Hypnoanalysis has probably worked for a few people to some extent. Some people may release some emotion in a mildly relaxed hypnotic state and feel better for it, for others there is the ever mighty placebo effect. These people are a small minority.
So, hypnoanalysis doesn’t work. That’s nothing new, there are many therapies that are not all they are cracked up to be. So why this big post dedicated to hypnoanalysis and it’s scamming? Well, I don’t like it for several reasons.
I have met two hypnoanalysts and they were both horrible. "Wait", I hear you cry, "you can’t tell us that all hypnoanalysts are bad based on a sample of just two!" Well, I can and I will, and that is a much more scientific survey than the hypnoanalysts themselves have ever done on the efficacy of their therapy. People with anxiety disorders are by their very nature nervous and insecure, they like to be made to feel comfortable. Hypnoanalysts are cold, overbearing, brash, arrogant, impatient and dismissive. Their sessions are often shorter than they advertise and they bundle you out at the end as quickly as possible. They say it is because of "transference" issues that they want to know only the bare minimum about you. This is rubbish.
My second problem is the price. Often these people are charging £70-90 for 45 minutes. It is not a highly trained profession – in fact listening to someone reel-off childhood memories is much easier than being a bog standard "suggestion" hypnotherapist, who would normally charge around half of that. One hypnoanalyst I met joked about having a client as a "cash cow". Would you want to tell your deepest and darkest secrets to this man?
The third thing I came to hate was the "Get Out Clause". Scam therapists always have an awkward moment when they have to get rid of the patient without having provided the promised cure. Often the patient will just cut their losses and stop going to sessions, others, more desperate perhaps, will persevere. It was interesting to see, in my case study, how the therapists language changed. In the initial email contact before therapy began it was stated that "…(after treatment) you will probably feel better than you have ever felt before". In the initial session it was stated that cure would be like bursting a bubble – a dramatic release. It was also said that releasing emotion was an essential aspect of this therapy. This was maintained until the end when it changed: actually change can come slowly and gradually, and that it in fact isn’t necessary to release emotion. Eventually the final get out clause was…"you are resistant. It’s not your fault. Go away for six months, get drunk, have sex and live your life. Then start again, from session one with a new therapist. Not with me as a therapist – there are transference issues that mean hypnoanalysis will never work for you with me". So, that was that – the promised cure hadn’t come and despite being told again and again that he was a perfect subject for free-association and hypnoanalysis he was now told that they could no longer help him. Money back guarantee with this ultra-successful therapy? No chance.
Last of all comes the Danger part.
Two different hypnoanalysts fabricated false memories of serious abuse. This is dangerous because, if the client believes them, they could very well accuse loved ones of being criminals. There are many documented cases of this "False Memory Syndrome" and now I know where many of them came from.
Let me show you how this is done with this simple exercise.
1. Close your eyes and imagine there is a small blue elephant in the corner of the room.
2. He’s got something on his head, what is it? What colour is it?
3. Now open your eyes and understand hypnoanalytical logic: because you could imagine the elephant clearly it must have happened. It’s that simple. Now imagine you were being abused…can you make it seem real? Even though you know it never happened?.
I know the memories of abuse uncovered in this case were false and irrelevant (the mind will imagine the most unsavoury of things). In fact two hypnoanalysts used the same technique to bring up two quite separate false memories which they both claimed were root cause of my anxiety and low self-esteem. By their own admittance there can’t be two separate and different root causes. Of course again they were speaking rubbish.
Lots of people are conned in hypnoanalysis but few people complain, ask for a refund, or write about it online. Why? I’ll tell you why…anxiety sufferers are generally nervous and socially aware and don’t like looking bad. This type of therapy is cruel and degrading and tends to leave the subject feeling dejected and invaded. Few people want to speak out about such an unpleasant experience that has cost so much for such little reward.