Posted by: Stephen Rigby at 15:14, August 31 2015.
It comes as a surprise to some people to discover that they sometimes get emotional when visiting a hypnotherapist and as people rarely visit a hypnotherapist because everything in their life is perfect, the emotions they experience can be unpleasant (and sometimes extreme). All therapy can be simplistically described as learning to think differently. The use of hypnosis is one of the most effective ways to do this and if the emotions are unpleasant the best way to deal with them is in small chunks. When someone comes to me with a problem, rather than making them dwell on that problem and the negative emotion that creates, I see my role as replacing those negative emotions with positive ones like empowerment, confidence, pride and achievement. Unfortunately, there are many hypnotherapists who believe it is their responsibility to find something in the past that will distress their client and make them experience extreme unpleasant emotion. They call this “abreaction” and go by the belief that “there is no change without abreaction”.
Does feeling worse help you feel better?
This theory is incorrect on two counts. Firstly, forcing someone to experience negative emotion is just reinforcing that emotion. This can be illustrated by the example of a person with a fear of being beaten up joining a self defence class to address that fear. It is unlikely that this person would continue the classes if, in their first lesson, they got beaten up! If, however, they have a gradual introduction to violence they will become more competent at addressing it and lose much of the fear they held (the process is called desensitisation).
Are you abnormal for feeling upset?
Secondly, the “abreaction” theory suggests that current problems are the result of abnormal emotions that have to be purged before normality can be regained. This would imply that one is abnormal for experiencing issues like, for example, a phobia, a weight problem or difficulty sleeping. One can find any problem distressing if one is forced to dwell on it and feeling emotional as a result can in no way be described as experiencing something abnormal.
Abreaction is responding abnormally
Anyone who has ever done any computer programming will be familiar with something called an “abend”. An abend is something that happens when a computer program fails unexpectedly and is an abbreviation of the term “abnormal end”. If a program contained code to terminate a program in response to a recognised error, this would not classified as an abend but a normal end. The term “abreaction” is an abbreviation of “abnormal reaction”. If your butcher burst into uncontrollable laughter or chased you from their shop with a meat cleaver in response to your politely asking for a pound of pork sausages, that would be an abnormal reaction.
Should abreaction concern you as a client?
Abreactions in the therapeutic environment are fairly rare. When one experiences an abreaction it is usually quite mild and occurs for only a brief period of time. The most common abreaction probably being “getting the giggles” and feeling that the room is spinning is probably the next most common. An abreaction can be pleasant (e.g. giggles) or unpleasant (e.g. room spinning). One theory as to why abreactions occur is that one has unaddressed emotion that escapes when ones mind relaxes during hypnosis. Abreactions in stage hypnosis are a completely different matter. When a stage hypnosis performance “goes wrong” it is usually because one of the volunteers has abreacted to hypnosis. One of my objections to the use of hypnosis on stage is that the hypnotist is too remote to assist one of their volunteers if an adverse abreaction occurs. The amount of legislation surrounding stage hypnosis and the difficulty of getting insurance tends to support my view.
Abreactions are by definition unpredictable and can, extremely rarely, be alarming for both the client and therapist but fortunately, in the therapy room extreme abreaction is very unlikely because of the hypnotherapist’s proximity to their client, the level of control over how the hypnotherapist interacts with their client and the environment in which the therapy session is conducted.
Your Hypnotherapist Should be There for You
Many hypnotherapists seem to think that it is morally and professionally ethical to conduct hypnotherapy sessions without having any physical proximity to their client, no control over their environment and very little ability to manage a severe abreaction, were it to occur. It may be suitable for a “chat” or something like Life Coaching but the possibility of severe abreaction is one of the reasons why communication through technology like Skype is not an appropriate way to conduct a hypnotherapy session. A hypnotherapist who uses Skype may justify its use with the comment “I have never had a problem” but this is burying ones head in the sand. If we extend the same attitude to something like rail or air travel one can see how foolish it becomes. The rail and air companies strive to have “fail safe” systems because they have discovered, through terrible experience, that “if it can happen, eventually it will happen”.
Is Your Hypnotherapist following Best “Skype” Practice?
Back in 2012 I raised the issue with the General Hypnotherapy Register (the professional body of which I am a member and probably the largest registrant of hypnotherapists in the country) and as a result they added another section to the GHR code of ethics (see GHR code of ethics numbers 32 – 40)
If you are considering having hypnotherapy via Skype (or similar communication method) you may like to check with your hypnotherapist how they are complying with the requirements stated in this code.