Hypnotism is a profession that has existed for over a century, though it has never achieved significant size or mainstream status. The hypnosis profession has grown over time, and today there are many professionals worldwide who offer services to people who need them. The majority of hypnotists offer consulting services for issues of personal development, wellness, and health, but there are also hypnotists who entertain with hypnosis. There is a disturbing trend happening within the industry, and it's something that concerns me greatly. Hypnotism is cannibalizing itself, and it's time to talk about it.
If It's a Profession, Where are the Professionals?
On the surface, it might seem like the hypnosis profession is doing well. One simple factor that would seem to indicate success is that there are more hypnotists than there have ever been, both in the consulting sector of the profession and the entertainment sector. And with eight billion people on the planet, there are many people out there who are interested in hypnosis and willing to pay for the services. It would seem that this is a great time to become a hypnotist.
However, the reality is that many of those who are offering hypnotism services are struggling to make ends meet. In fact, according to a survey conducted by Scott Sandland in 2014, the majority of hypnotists are not doing well financially.
- 73% of hypnotists see fewer clients than they'd like to see.
- 68% see fewer than five clients a week.
- 80% make less than $30,000 a year.
- 65% make less than $15,000 a year.
In fairness, this data is nearly a decade old at the time of this article, but as a hypnotist with two decades of experience who still speaks regularly with colleagues, I would bet that these figures still hold up. When you speak with most hypnotists privately, many admit that they aren't getting much work.
Also, you'll notice there is no data that specifically references stage hypnotists. Sandland's survey was mostly aimed at consulting hypnotists, and nobody has ever done a similar survey for entertainment hypnotists. As someone who has worked as a stage hypnotist since 2004, I can confidently tell you that the same issues exist for stage hypnotists. The vast majority of people who have trained as stage hypnotists are not making a living as entertainers.
Is hypnotism a profession if there isn't a core group of people working sustainably as professionals? If we refer back to Sandland's data, it would seem that only 20% of hypnotists are making more than $30,000 a year. To me, that's not evidence of a healthy hypnosis profession.
The Problem Starts Here
There are a few reasons why hypnotists are struggling to make a living, but the primary reason is that the entry level is based on a business model rather than an educational model. Too many professional organizations that exist for hypnotists are set up as funnel systems to sell training.
As a result, way too many decisions get made based on whether or not the decision is going to hurt enrollment numbers. If word gets out that your organization's training is too hard, too many hours, too much work, etc., then people will go find a trainer who's easier to train with, so the bar keeps getting set lower and lower, which results in certified hypnotists who don't feel confident working with clients or doing shows.
I received a phone call from a woman once who told me that she had taken a well-known hypnotist's $5,000 training, but that she still didn't feel confident doing hypnosis shows, and she wanted my advice about what to do. I told her she needed to either voice this concern to her trainer and get additional training and support from them, or she needed to train with somebody else. She informed me that couldn't train with anybody else, as she had no training funds left.
In a twelve month span, I was contacted by four different people who relayed a similar experience. This trainer had taken $20,000 from students, none of which now felt capable of entering the marketplace and doing shows to get a return on their investment. This type of thing is happening way too often.
The Problem Deepens
After people get their initial training but are left feeling not fully prepared to see clients or do shows, there are many who do manage to scrape together just enough money to take some kind of follow-up training. They might attend a conference in the hopes of learning about several topics and techniques over the course of a weekend, or they might sign up for a short training with a hypnotist who has developed a branded protocol or focused topical training (smoking cessation, weight loss, sports enhancement, etc.)
On the surface, this is completely reasonable. Continued education is something to be valued and appreciated. As professionals we should all be continuing to learn over the course of our careers. But for many hypnotists, what's happening in this phase of career development is they are chasing the elusive "magic bullet." The hope is that there is some particular method or skill that can be learned that will produce fantastic results so consistently that clients will be breaking down the door to work with you.
Rather than more hypnotism skills, what many of these hypnotists actually need is business mentorship. So many people come to hypnotism from other career paths that don't involve entrepreneurship, and so they often struggle with getting their businesses up and running. What would benefit them most is not another session on hypnotism techniques, but instead to learn about branding, marketing, and product development.
And here's another dirty secret of the hypnosis profession: many of these trainers aren't running successful full-time businesses themselves. They have started developing a training arm of their business to "diversify revenue streams" which has become a sort of code for "I'm not making a living doing the main thing I got into business for in the first place."
This is how many hypnotists become "certificate collectors." The sellers learn that providing a certificate gives the buyer a feeling of status, and indeed, the buyers feel better about their knowledge level and the number of skills they've acquired. They have an impressive looking collection of certificates hanging on their wall, but they're not seeing any more clients, or doing any more shows than they were before.
As this is the model they are participating in, it becomes normalized and they believe this is the path to success, so eventually they decide to get certified as an instructor through a professional organization, and to start offering hypnotism certification themselves. The organizations are thrilled to take their money, with little to no concern for their teaching ability or their level of experience in the field, because it's a business model, not an educational model.
It's like the old days when photocopiers were analog, not digital. If you made a copy of a copy, the quality would decrease. Each time you made a copy of the latest copy, the quality would keep degrading until the copies looked awful. That's the point we've arrived at. There are thousands of well-meaning hypnotists out there who want to be of service and help people, but they have not received the training they deserve and they don't have the skills to run a successful practice.
So we're now at this place where the hypnosis profession is largely feeding off of itself. Some of the most successful hypnotists in the profession are generating large portions of their business revenue not from seeing clients or doing stage shows, but from selling products to hypnotists.
And I want to be clear: I'm not saying this is some sort of dark conspiracy. I don't think anybody knowingly made things turn out this way. I believe that, perhaps more than any other profession, hypnotists understand the value of modeling, and the most entrepreneurial members of the community saw a model that was working and started replicating that model. It just happens to be an unsustainable one, and we should really think about correcting it.
What Do We Do?
Since hypnotism is an unregulated profession, the biggest challenge will be making any kind of meaningful change occur. There's no governing body that can mandate changes to how things work. For those that are making five to six figures selling trainings to hypnotists, there is little upside to changing the existing system, so they're not going to take it upon themselves. Nonetheless, that is what has to happen.
The profession has to move away from organizations, conferences, and conventions being primarily built as for-profit ventures pretending to be non-profit ones. That can only happen on the consumer side of things. The people getting into the field, and the hypnotists who are already in the field must start being more discerning about the organizations and trainers they are dealing with. They have to look beyond the marketing materials and do more research about what kind of results people are getting after training with these individuals or organizations.
Once again, please let me be clear: I am not saying that any particular organization or individual trainer has done anything immoral or illegal. All of these people have the right to conduct business as they see fit. There's nothing wrong with selling a training. The problem is that there are so many people out there selling crappy trainings.
When you organize around the primary concerns of selling a product or service, decisions get made too often based on what will prevent a sale from happening. The bar gets lowered too easily, and more energy goes into marketing and hype than on producing a quality educational product.
Make no mistake about it: the success of hypnotism as a profession will hinge on the quality of education that is delivered to its professionals, and right now the profession is failing that litmus test. If we wish to advance as a profession, there must be a renewed dedication to improving the educational models within the profession, which must include taking organizations and individuals to task who are more concerned with selling training than providing outstanding education.
What is really needed is for the "bubble" of conferences and trainings to pop. The profession could do just fine with half the number of conferences there currently are, and less than half the number of trainers. There needs to be a flight to quality, but right now it seems like consumers aren't really concerned with that, and that's unfortunate. They are setting themselves up for failure.