The following article was published in the Hypnotherapy Association’s journal in June 2015

There has been much talk on forums and discussion boards about being professional as a hypnotherapist, and it would seem, despite a handful of calls for breadth and authenticity, and a fair dash of lambasting of those that stray from consensus norms, a lot of it gravitates around what constitutes a set of ethical standards and professional image. However, whether that is actually ‘being’ professional or is just a set of standards that probably, in effect, almost all of us fall short of, is the question I have asked myself over many years.

It first came up as a discussion topic in my Open Mind supervision group several years ago. One of my members had handed in her self-reflective case study for a course I had run in integrative therapy and I had noticed in her reflections, the fear that most of us at some time or another have had to address, namely that we are really out of our depth with client x and fearful about not coming over professionally. What, I asked, is the most professional thing to do when you are presented with your own fears mid-session?

This opened a discussion on the nature of professionalism versus our own authenticity in the therapy room and whether we had to sacrifice one for the other, and if not, whether we could discover a happy coalescence between the two. My own experience valued the inner journey towards my own authenticity as a means of relating honestly and directly with my clients which often conflicted with others’ externally referenced notions of what professionalism ‘looked like’.
So in pursuit of what professionalism actually might consist of I asked the question:

Is it having qualifications?

The first knee jerk response to this was, “But of course, without a valid qualification we simply would not be qualified to practice.” I counter argued, “so is that all it is, many are qualified but not everyone is a therapist that you would trust?” They nodded, reflectively. Qualifications of all levels and descriptions may give us the tools, but they do not make the therapist. What qualifications signal is that we have been through a training programme. From the inside of our industry, they signal to me the likely approach a therapist might take and their level of self awareness based on their training background. They do not account for personality, history, attitude, determination; in fact, all of those qualities that you might consider when hiring someone to do such intimate and life changing work with you. Professionally qualified is not the same as professionally competent. The discussion continued.

Is it having boundaries?

Boundaries again are bandied around the therapy training room as though they are a commodity you can just install by uttering certain words, or behaving in certain ways. Boundaries are intended to keep our clients and ourselves ‘safe’. “Safe?” I quizzed. “What do we mean by that?” Safe, as the discussion unfolded meant building a bond, but not allowing it to spill over into friendship. It meant building rapport, trust and confidence but at the same time, ensuring that clients are kept exclusively as clients. Hmm, what a contrasting and challenging set of requirements! I anticipated most would be terrified of the responsibility of any form of familiar connection with a client for fear of encouraging dependency. Others were fearful of simply giving clients the wrong impression, and then not knowing what to do about it. We lead back to point one: professionalism versus authenticity. What do you do when you go off script with your client? How do you behave? In fact, who exactly are you in the therapy room?

These are really quite searching questions for the majority of therapists, be they hypnotherapists, psychotherapists or counsellors. I read in the March 2015 issue of the Therapist (BACP) Julia Buckroyd’s article describing her journey of self discovery through her romp through a number of different styles of therapy, incorporating what felt comfortable to work with and excluding styles not based in practical experience and application. She errs on the side of doing what will work for the client rather than adhering to any one protocol or set of ideas, a woman after my own heart.

Is our professionalism about being a guide?

So I continued in my challenge with my supervisee colleagues. Is being a professional knowing deeply you can only ever really be a guide and encouraging your clients to take their own responsibility for making what you show them work for them? I felt at least, we might be getting a bit warmer with this question. Well, let’s put it more transparently. At least we might be coming round to where I wanted the discussion to go. And why did I have such an agenda? I think probably because these are questions that are rarely asked and even when asked rarely demand our deep reflection. The reason is because fear, unspoken, often unconscious and yet collectively experienced, lies at the deeper core of society and lays dormant, unaddressed, unopened until such time as a client provokes a fearful moment in our therapy room.

My motivation was that un-packaging it, observing it, naming it, is part way towards knowing what to do with it. So being a guide, I felt, meant that in some way, we also had to model what kinds of behaviour we were encouraging in our clients. Perhaps being professional was about being genuine, straightforward, full of integrity …meaning we say what we mean and mean what we say. Perhaps being a professional hypnotherapist was more about being the change we wished to see than some of the ‘bluster’ that passes off as professional…the suit, the certificate, the office, the handshake, the solution focussed approach, to name the main culprits.

Is it about being authentic then?

So here we got onto a discussion about authenticity. What does it mean to be authentic? And how can we be ‘authentic’ and professional at the same time? Returning to our friend Julia Buckroyd’s article, she noted that in her ‘travels’ she took the most authentic and humanist aspect of any therapy and used it for her clients’ good. This excluded some of the main tenets of say, CBT, where the past was unaddressed: human nature directs us to tell stories, to be heard, to be seen for all we’ve been through. Yet despite her antipathy towards Cognitive Behaviour Therapy she was happy to adopt some of the principles of challenging thought patterns and behaviours as a means of encouraging some real and immediate change in her clients. These few sentences describing her selectiveness, made me smile as I remembered Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Catholic Priest: an amazing and unlikely luminary of things deeply authentic and spiritual, (unlikely because I’ve never associated spirituality with the Catholic Church) say that CBT was about “rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic”. His main source of disquiet was simply that it did not address the deeper layers of the mind and of course, the soul.

It would seem in both cases though, in their challenging of prescribed ways of being, they are each concerned with the true self, the self beyond our conditioning; The HUMAN self; the human BEING, not the human doing. That is, the point of commonality which is beyond external appearances: our common human inheritance.

So what is authenticity and how do we ‘do’ it?

intimacy is enlightenment wtih all things.My own training background required me to write self reflective case studies. In them I attempted to uncover all of my motivations, good, bad and oftentimes, judgemental to try and discover what I was seeing versus what was being presented to me. I realised, all too often that I was caught up in assumptions because I was looking to fit people’s words and behaviours into internal maps I already had of the world. Challenging my internal workings in writing was an amazing journey of self exploration and questioning. What if my assumptions of the world were wrong? What if only a fraction of my assumptions were actually about a shared experience? And the rest of them were based on my second hand interpretation of a current situation from an old experience? In order to really hear my clients and what it was they were asking and expecting of me, I realised I had to enter into an almost meditative state where the ego that was ‘Jenny’ was immune to personal attack, fear or misunderstanding.

In this state, all that exists is the here and now. No fears of failure, no fear of offending someone. Just a clean, open hearted space reflecting with my clients; questioning and making sure their understanding of what had happened to them was heard and actually, even more powerfully, in the witnessing, often transformed. The realisation that the ego is like an invisibility cloak that protects us from being hurt and is bound up with past experience: not the here and now, is extremely liberating. As a practising Buddhist of many years, this way of being has become integral to ‘who I am’ but as with all states of being or states of mind, it is in constant flux and requires continued effort in mindfulness to stabilise.

Remember those unaddressed collective fears?

Those fears of offending your clients – of getting it wrong, of tooting – talking out of turn – and knowing they’re just fears and that they belong in the past or the future but never in the now, can now dissolve in the light of being a real human being with your client and not just a suit, a certificate, and a set of skills. Sometimes even, being real and human can be the only time your clients get any accurate, honest feedback about how they impact the world and what they can do to change.

Needless to say, our supervisory discussion on authenticity opened up a huge debate on what authenticity means, how we can practice it more, how we can become it more, not just for our clients, but for ourselves. For example, imagine that going to work doing what you love is no longer work. Because all you are doing is bringing your full self into the therapeutic equation, no editing, no stuffy superiority and no condescending assumptions about your client’s version of their truth. In fact, in being this way, you model a professionalism that is way beyond the standard professional ethics of any organisation. You model a human dignity, a sense of self that is whole; a clear sighted, open hearted way of being that understands its limitations and honours the being in front of them. You also model a natural, healthy boundaried self, not in the fenced in sense, but in the whole and complete sense.

What does it take for us to be fully present AND professional as therapists?

In witnessing this discussion with my colleagues, asking difficult questions, opening it up for sharing and airing, what was really acknowledged and in part cleared, were all the unspoken fears and anxieties that can, quite literally, destroy any hopes of becoming a professional therapist. This takes courage. And courage is not the absence of fear but a preparedness to confront the fears. Harbouring fears of your effectiveness, of the fact your clients appear to be sharing with you something that you not only have no clue how to treat but that you know, secretly, you are also personally struggling with: fears of offending your clients, of showing them your frustration or disapproval or of not knowing how or when to stop trying for fear of admitting defeat, are all signs that you too should look a bit deeper at what motivates you. And the worst fear of all? Fear of having too many clients in case you are swamped with demands or too much responsibility! This really has halted many, many potentially amazing therapists’ careers.

So what is the real fear that we as therapists share?

What is it that our ‘professionalism’ – as in the suit, the tie, the certificate, the office, the stultified set of professional ethics – guards us against – never mind the people we treat? Our professional ethics are there, we are told, to protect the client and are also there, of course, to protect ourselves and our profession and there is fear inherent in those ethics. That fear is communicated in all classes on professional ethics. It’s a ‘watch out or else’ kind of communication. Except for a ‘this is what not to do’ kind of warning, nowhere are we shown, not even in many of the examples of our trainers, how to simply be present, awake, respectful, open, authentic and clear with our clients and their needs. The fact that hypnotherapists are often still complaining about having to explain to their clients that hypnotherapy is not a magic wand is a sign of how deeply our fears as therapists have us in their grasp. If we were deeply confident and conscious about our clients’ needs, we would simply manage them, judging individually and intuitively with each client, which is the best way to approach their hopes and dreams.

The reason we falter is because we are in the grip of fears. Fears numerous and unconscious, dressed up as any one of a number of superficial reasons. I wonder however how many of those fears are really just collectively about being seen, being known or being accountable. In other words, a fear of intimacy: with ourselves, with our friends, our family and of course, with our clients.

Is our performance anxiety based on a fear of intimacy?

Most of us never know when or how to remove the mask when necessary. Many have become their mask. Many don’t even know their own hearts and minds: therapists or clients. Fears of being a fraud come from this place of not knowing our selves. There is a meme floating around on social media that says:


Dalai-Lama-on-Healers We are healers and we are leaders. This is our mission. It is what we are here to do. Clearing our fears signposts to others how they can clear theirs. Becoming the change you wish to see in others takes a lot of courage. And it takes courage to lead from a place of self discovery and yet paradoxically, imperfection. It takes courage to be known, warts and all for who you are and in your example of openness to signpost others how to discover their own hearts and minds; but it also means leading alone. And slowly and ever increasingly, finding others along the path, who are also leading their tribe alone.

As we step into the new era of awakening, it’s ever more important that we, the uninvited mentors of society, model our own transformations so that all of those we know, most importantly our clients and us as therapists, are inspired to their own transformations. This I contend is professionalism at its best, not restrained by outside-in rules, but inspired by personal growth and authenticity.

Jenny Lynn is a Transpersonal Therapist, Trainer, Author, International Speaker, Supervisor, Coach, Mentor, Tantric Practitioner, and Buddhist of 30 plus years embracing the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of health and wellbeing. She is also a recovered schizophrenic. She offers leadership to her therapist colleagues and seeks to put the personal development and spiritual awareness of the therapist at the centre of their practice enabling them to model authenticity and become the mentors that clients are looking for. Her style is insightful, intuitive, authentic and challenging.

She has worked in partnership with her local NHS trust treating patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and is a Fellow of the National Council of Psychotherapists.
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