It isn't uncommon, especially in these days of internet-personality, for people to claim fantastic things about themselves without any foundation or accountability. This is especially dangerous when those people are offering helping services - because unskilled or poorly done "help" can quickly turn to harm for their clients, and because it damages the reputation of everyone in the helping professions.
One of the biggest challenges to professional and therapeutic hypnosis is that it is an unregulated industry. That is, there is no central authorizing or accrediting body whose singular responsibility it is to promote safe and effective practice, and monitor practitioner performance. While hypnosis is recognized as a legitimate and effective technique by the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Dental Association, there is no regulatory body that oversees its application and use generally.
Paradoxically, this is the way it should be - there shouldn't be a central authority for a phenomenon that every human being naturally possesses, and a technique that is present to some degree in virtually all communication. But, it does make for some awkward moments when talking about the formal practice of hypnotism.
That being said, I want to lay out some things to look for when considering a hypnotist, for the lay person or potential client. My hope is to help people make informed decisions that will lead to safe, effective, reliable and healthy results for themselves and their loved ones when considering hypnosis as a therapy.
Most hypnotists list among their credentials "Certified." As I mentioned above, there is no central certifiying body regarding hypnosis. Any quick Google search will prove this with startling vibrancy. There are literally dozens (perhaps hundreds) of ways to be "certified" as a hypnotist. Ranging from basic to rigorous, from legitimate to money-making "buy-a-diploma" scams, there is seeming no end to options and grandiose claims by this organization or another.
In truth, in most States in the US, there is no legal requirement or credential at all for calling oneself a hypnotist. All one has to do is hang up their shingle and they are as "legitimate" as any other. (I know this because I, not knowing any better, did this sort of thing after my first, elementary hypnosis certification.) One can call themselves "certified" or not, and it often doesn't make any sort of difference.
The question underlying certification is "Who is doing the certifying?" If you are investigating a hypnotist for services, and they claim a credential or other, ask who or what the credentialing body is. Don't be impressed with names or titles of organizations - most of the impressive-sounding "bodies" are really just one person who created a "Board" to credential their own hypnosis curriculum or service.
If there is a single body that serves as a legitimate credentialing authority for non-clinical hypnosis (not associated with a licensed medical practice), it is the National Guild of Hypnotists. The National Guild is the oldest and largest professional hypnosis organization in the world, and is not run by, started by, or serving any one hypnosis school or individual. National Guild certification requires a minimum level of 100 contact hours of qualified instruction and annual continuing education. So if a hypnotist is certified by the Guild, you can expect a reliable level of proficiency, service, and professionalism.
Another reliable body is the Hypnotherapists Union (OPEIU Local 472, AFL-CIO), which also requires 100 hours of qualified training to be a member, but I don't find many hypnotists or hypnotherapists referencing their union membership. There are also other, smaller, more local hypnosis/hypnotherapy unions in geographic areas with a particular concentration of hypnotists, with their own rules and requirements for membership, but these are not the national union I am referring to here.
Now, there may be other credentialing bodies out there that just as nobly serve practitioner and client as the National Guild, but I don't know about them. If your potential hypnotist claims certification from anyone other than the National Guild of Hypnotists, it is cause for further investigation. They could be totally legit... you just need to dig a little deeper.
In that case, ask for their particular qualifications and experience. What school/program did they attend? What kind of training was it - in-person or online, live or recorded? Did they have supervised clinical hours/practice?
One last element here is "certification" versus "re-certification." One-time certifications should raise red-flags - not that they aren't legitimate (college degrees are, after all, examples of one-time certifications), but just that they might be diploma-mill products. (My first two hypnosis certifications were, in fact, one-time non-renewables. They were good for what they were, but I wouldn't want to be hypnotized by someone relying on them.) The National Guild of Hypnotists (among others) requires annual re-certification, which ensures ethical and professional excellence. Make sure your hypnotist is currently Guild certified, or current with whatever credentialing body they reference. One simple way to do this is to contact the National Guild itself, asking for qualified/certified/credentialed hypnotists in your area.
Certification by the National Guild of Hypnotists is a good benchmark for basic qualifications. If someone isn't certified by the Guild, more questions need to be asked. If someone is, then you can begin to explore other training, experience and expertise they bring to their practice. 2. Techniques
Hypnosis is as diverse as there are hypnotists, and there are innumerable different "techniques" or methods or tools or procedures that one can use in the practice of hypnosis. Some require more training than others. Some are more effective than others in different situations.
What you want in a hypnotist is more than just "Direct Suggestion" and "Guided Imagery." Those techniques are good so far as they go... but they only scratch the surface of what hypnosis is capable of. Moreover, their effects tend to be short-lived, because the root cause of the problem has not been addressed.
I would highly recommend looking for a hypnotist or hypnotherapist who practices insight-based therapies - techniques and procedures that seek genuine insight, and go after root cause. Minimally, I would recommend a hypnotist proficient in Age Regression and Progression, Parts Therapy and Chair Therapy. You don't need to know what those are - you just need to know if your hypnotist takes an insight-based approach. A note of caution: the National Guild of Hypnotists requires additional, advanced training for hypnotists practicing in any of three areas - working with children, pain management, or age regression. If someone is certified by the Guild, and they are practicing age regression, they should have had qualified, advanced training. If someone isn't certified by the Guild, then specific questions about training for the techniques they use is wise.
Guided imagery, analogy, metaphor and direct suggestion are good for short-term/temporary effects, because they are good at "softening" the "hardened" mind - but they don't fundamentally change the underlying problem. More radical and far-reaching techniques (for example, age regression, or "parts therapy") go to the root association of the problem behavior/belief and change/heal it with the insight and understanding of the whole/adult/best person.
The point is that many hypnotists rely on very light-level therapeutic techniques - which are fine when used in concert with more powerful and transformative techniques, but alone do not provide the level of change and lasting effect hypnosis is capable of.
3. Advanced Training
We all want a hypnotist at the top of their game. This requires not only the best education starting off, but continual professional advancement and continuing education. (I mentioned earlier that membership in the Guild is predicated on a minimum level of annual continuing education. This is another reason why Guild membership is the Gold Standard for certification.)
There is an abundance of very good advanced training and education available to qualified hypnotists. The National Guild, for instance, goes to great effort to encourage and promote excellent continuing education. This is training in addition to the basic training required for membership in the Guild.
Among the most advanced and (in my opinion) best is 5-PATH certification. 5-PATH stands for Five Phase Advanced Transformational Hypnosis, and it takes the most powerful and effective tools for hypnotherapy and systematizes them for greatest efficacy. I, myself, have had this training, so I can personally vouch for the quality of the training and the power of the tools it provides. I highly recommend seeking out a hypnotist with 5-PATH certification (www.5-path.com), annually re-certified by the International Association of Hypnosis Professionals (an organization solely for 5-PATH hypnotists and hypnotherapists).
Another advanced training I can personally recommend is that required to become a teacher of 7th Path Self-Hypnosis. 7th Path Self-Hypnosis is unique in that it is the only self-hypnosis program that actively seeks out and neutralizes negative or erroneous programming in our subconscious. Instead of just offering affirmations that paper over the underlying issues, 7th Path works to rid ourselves of the root causes of our problem behaviors or beliefs, while at the same time helping us re-program our sub-concious for the kind of life we want to live. Becoming a 7th Path Self-Hypnosis teacher isn't difficult, but it does add depth and endurance to any hypnotherapy process. If you can find a hypnotherapist trained in both 5-PATH hypnotherapy and 7th Path Self-Hypnosis, I would be very surprised if you found your time with them anything less than profoundly transformative.
The point here is that there is additional training beyond basic certification (by the Guild or anyone else). But what you want to make sure of is that this training is in addition to qualified basic education - not in lieu of it.
4. "Systematic" versus "Client-Centered"
There is a spectrum of hypnotherapy. "Systematic" denotes that the hypnotist has a particular system, process or pattern that she leans on in her practice. These usually are fairly general, outlining a process whose specific content is provided by the client and their issue.
"Client-Centered" points to a philosophy that the client steers the therapy in the direction they choose. This isn't absolute, of course, because the best "client-centered" hypnotherapists have a wealth of experience, knowledge and tools to draw on, to offer the client, and to guide with. But in contrast with the systematic practitioners, client-centered hypnotherapists don't have a pre-planned process, route or procedure for a client before meeting with them.
Both types of hypnotherapy are valid and good, with their advantages and disadvantages. In reality, of course, no hypnotist is at either extreme. Even the most dedicated systematic hypnotist leaves room for client response and engagement. Even the most client-centered hypnotist has some idea of what might best serve a client with a given problem - that expertise is exactly why we seek out qualified hypnotherapists. The preference really comes down to the personality (and perhaps training) of the individual hypnotist and their individual client.
For instance, I lean towards a systematic approach, since I like being confident about the journey the client will go on, the benchmarks I know I have to meet before proceeding to the next step, and the consistency of the tools and techniques I employ. The actual content of every session will vary widely from any other, based on the client's contribution and the "step in the process" we find ourselves. That having been said, every client is an individual, and I find that responding to those variables a healthy challenge and a delight. I have a roadmap I like to use, but sometimes our journey takes us elsewhere.
The point is that different hypnotists do hypnosis differently. When exploring hypnotists in your area, it might be good to have a conversation with them not just about techniques but about their philosophy about hypnosis, and how you as the client fit into it. In any case, you should be convinced that they have your best interests at heart, are able to respond to your individuality, and have the experience and expertise to give you the product you seek: a healthier, happier you.
It seems intuitive, but it is important enough to emphasize here: you should jive well with your hypnotist. You should implicitly trust her – her manner of speaking, her training and methodology, her intentions and goals. You should enjoy the sound of her voice (she’ll probably speak slightly differently during formal hypnosis, but you’ll probably like it even more then). You should feel good around her. You should be confident that she is professional, in the very best sense of the word.
Hypnosis is all about trust, and if you have any misgivings or doubts or heebie-jeebies about her, then consider looking for a different hypnotist. There is no shame in having consultations or conversations with several hypnotists to find the right one for you. You shouldn’t feel any pressure to sign up or commit right then. (If you want to commit right then, they should be prepared to act on your enthusiasm!)
Rapport isn’t just desirable for good hypnotherapy – it is absolutely essential. If you are distracted by concerns or mistrust, you’re not going to be able to fully engage in the process, there’ll be a part of you always holding back. And hypnosis works best when you’re all in. (You always maintain control of yourself, and will reject any suggestions inconsistent with your values, morals or intentions.) Having a good relationship with your hypnotist is important. If you get any feeling like that might be an issue, don’t ignore it. Trust your instincts!
I really believe in hypnosis – I’ve seen amazing transformations in my office and in my own life. Every day I am in awe of the human mind and its power. I hope that if you are interested in exploring hypnosis to help you, that these five guideposts will help you find the perfect hypnotist for you. Because you are worth it.
If you have any questions or additions to make to this list, please leave a comment below!