Hypnotherapy on TV...Let's All Let Out A Collective Sigh:

I'm sure it's the same in many professions like paramedics watching hospital programmes and teachers watching school based programmes. You sit there and cringe wondering what on earth is going on. And it's certainly true (or at least should be for the well trained) for hypnotherapists watching hypnosis being portrayed on TV. As soon as a character in a drama mentions the possiblity of going to a hypnotherapist I let out a little sigh...

And soo it was with ITV's latest episode of Marcella. If you haven't seen it, Marcella is a detective drama starring Anna Friel. I think it's an excellent drama with a gripping plot and great actors and it's a firm fixture in my weekly viewing. But then they go and do that sloppy thing that dramas do and introduce a hypnotist to move the plot along.

You see, the main character (Friel) suffers with violent black outs in moments of extreme stress and has no recollection of them afterwards. So, having been given a contact number by her ex-husband's girlfriend, she goes to a hypnotist to help to deal with these black outs.

Let's remember that it is a drama and not a documentary but still...we get to see Marcella sat there, visibly distressed, before a hypnotherapist apparently induces hypnosis and takes her back to the time it all started, a particularly traumatic memory that generates huge amounts of distress and frustration for the detective client. To end it all, the therapist, to her very visibly distraught client, says something along the lines of "we'll leave it there for today then". Seriously? 

hypnosis on tv hypnotherapy ely


Now, as I've mentioned it's just a drama and not a documentary so I can't expect them to cover everything but this kind of portrayal of discussing emotional traumatic memories, becoming distressed and then being sent on your way, is the sort of thing that can keep someone with a mental health issue from seeking professional help and support (from a hypnotherapist or any other type of therapy).

There was no indication of any sort of information gathering as to the nature of the issue or other related factors or previous help sought from other professionals. There was no attempt to create an effective working alliance (which research demonstrates is more likely to lead to beneficial client outcomes). There was no inclusion of anything for the client to do if she became overly distressed to save her from feeling so bad. She was probably way too distressed before the 'hypnosis' started to even attempt to dive straight into a traumatic memory and no professional therapist should ever just send a still-distressed client out into the real world with all those traumatic thoughts and feelings swimming around their mind.

Whilst there is an outdated perception that hypnosis is all about regression and past memories, this ignores the latest research on the nature of memory. That is, we reconstruct our memories rather than remember them. Our memories are all coloured by our current experiences, values, beliefs, ideas and experiences. They aren't factual and accurate; they are distorted perceptions. And I would say that most well trained hypnotherapists these days help clients to tackle past and current issues in much more effective ways that don't involve having to relive trauma and the associated risk of retraumatisation. I'm guessing that achieving therapeutic goals in a way that actually helps a client overcome their issues wouldn't help the plot as much as peddling outdated myths and misconceptions.

On another website I read an interview with a Director of a Trauma Centre talking about the programme and actually (in 2018!) saying that with hypnosis, the hypnotist is the one in control. Pass the sick bucket! It seems it isn't just writers of TV detective dramas who need to update their knowledge and actually read the growing body of research about hypnotherapy... 

To your success,

Dan Regan

Hypnotherapy Ely, Newmarket, Skype