by Tim Brunson, PhD
There is a big difference between the popular use of many terms and their more precise – and correct – usage. While conversations may abound using the former, legal authority and credibility depend upon the latter. And, it is through the precise use of our terminology that we set ourselves apart from others.
Are you a professional practitioner or just a lay person? Are all of your degrees from "fully accredited" universities? Over the years I've heard many of the leaders of numerous international associations talk about their organizations being comprised of professionals despite their having only a vague idea as to what they were saying. And, there are plenty of websites on which practitioners are extremely adamant claiming that the legitimacy of their organizations or their degrees and certifications are more valid than others. Unfortunately, too many people – with numerous initials trailing their names – are excessively quick when it comes to throwing around terms as if they are certain that they know about what they are talking.
A few years ago I started researching the official definitions of hypnosis, hypnotherapy, accreditation, and what is called lay status. What I found was a constellation of opinions, which rarely agreed and usually served only to coat the speaker or writer with a blanket of misguided, ego-based protection. Rarely did I find their ranting to be accurate. Regardless, widely accepted dictionaries are rather specific when it comes to such words.
For instance, most people use the word "professional" to denote someone who is paid for their performance. Thus we have professional athletes, janitors, and even call girls. However, a more restrictive definition of a profession requires that its members have certain shared attributes other than paid remuneration. One writer said that having highly distinctive behaviors, being organized into formal associations, and sharing ethical standards are required. Therefore, a real estate agent or a military officer may also be a professional – but not the janitor or call girl unless they form organizations and formally share ethical codes. Others, such as medical doctors, attorneys, and psychologists, comply with the strictest definition, which requires that there be a significant academic body of knowledge and that their members obtain the highest academic degrees of that field.
In other words, in our culture there are three primary views when it comes to what constitutes a professional. When the leaders of hypnotherapy organizations state that they consider their members to be professionals, it leaves me to wonder whether they are referring to the level of a call girl, a real estate agent, or a surgeon. If we are ever to earn the respect of the rest of the healing professions, it should be obvious that we must set our standards at their level.
Accreditation is another loosely used phrase – especially when it is preceded by the word "fully." The general fallacy is the view that degrees require accreditation. That is not true. The right for a post-secondary institution to award an academic degree is based entirely upon a license issued by a specific governmental entity. This includes the non-traditional ones that always dominate emerging fields such as hypnotherapy. Accreditation is merely a credibility-awarding system that is based upon subjective processes, which are often peer-oriented. To the contrary, accreditation bodies receive their credibility from their claims of objectivity rather than themselves having been accredited. Nevertheless, having run a multi-state trade school, which was successful in earning an accreditation, I understand the importance of seeking such recognition.
The word fully implies that an institution has either received the approval of all interested or applicable accreditation bodies or has successfully completed the procedure for at least one awarding organization. Frankly, it is a rather imprecise and meaningless term.
The other almost always misused term is that of "lay." Technically, the word means "not of." For instance, a priest would call his non-ordained parishioners laity as they are not of the priesthood. Similarly, medical doctors could safely say that staff psychologists and nurses are not of their profession even though they may be members of their own.
However, if a psychologist states that a hypnotherapist is a lay practitioner, logically they are admitting that there is something called a hypnotherapy profession – regardless which of the three previously mentioned definitions they use when referring to the term. But in retrospect, in this case the only way that the speaker could legitimately be correct would be if he or she used the most liberal and unflattering definition – which would be saying that their opinion relies upon the same level used when referring to the athlete, janitor, or call girl. Frankly, my respect for the psychology profession is much higher than that.
To the contrary, if the other two definitions are used, it would be impossible for the professional psychologist to label the hypnotherapist as a lay person. Hypnotherapists regularly congregate in associations, which have defined codes of ethics. And, there are many hypnotherapists, who have earned doctoral degrees from properly licensed post-secondary schools. In these cases, it is the psychologist who the member of the laity – not the hypnotherapist.
Unfortunately, this conundrum is a holdover from the rather limited opinions of Dr. Erickson, rather than the result of a highly educated use of accurate definitions. It serves no one. When referring to anyone other than themselves as lay practitioners, the frequent use of the word lay by psychologists is divisive, demeaning, and unwarranted. I'm glad to say this trait is untypical of other professions. Therefore, I restrain myself from calling my friends and colleagues in the esteemed psychology profession lay hypnotherapists despite the rectitude. In fact, many of them, who I consider to be my teachers and mentors, are very talented when it comes to hypnotherapy and have contributed immensely to the field.
Our accuracy regarding how hypnotherapists define themselves – whether as professionals or proud members of a trade or occupation – will influence how others see them. If we are to be a profession deserving the respect given the other healing fields, we must be more precise in our language. Indeed, like the medical field I see hypnotherapy as being comprised of both proud trades people and competent professionals. Furthermore, once we improve our accuracy, I am sure that the unjustified pejoratives thrown at many practitioners by those attempting to vindicate their own credibility will be increasingly rare.
For more information about the Institute's official definitions click here.