Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
This section should be read in conjunction with the entry on ‘Health: Therapies (General)'
• What is hypnotherapy?
• What claims are likely to be acceptable?
• What claims are likely to be problematic?
• What about references to minor addictions?
• What about claims relating to smoking cessation?
• What about serious medical conditions?
What is hypnotherapy?
Hypnotherapy is based on the principle that patients are able to relax into an ‘altered state of consciousness’ in order to utilise enhanced suggestibility to help treat psychological conditions and to effect behavioural changes.
Many trade bodies regulate and represent hypnotherapists and levels of training seem to vary widely.
What claims are likely to be acceptable?
CAP accepts that hypnotherapy can be used to help relieve anxiety and aid sleep and help with: bedwetting, confidence, eating problems (but not disorders) and minor skin conditions (e.g. those exacerbated by stress).
The ASA and CAP also accept that, in some circumstances, hypnotherapy can help with perceived pain control and perceived pain reduction (The Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine, 9 January 2013). In order to make claims about using hypnotherapy for reduction in pain perception/control, marketers are advised that they would need to hold robust clinical evidence.
Marketers should ensure they do not imply that they can treat the underlying cause of pain.
What claims are likely to be problematic?
General claims to treat disease or to treat physical health problems are likely to be a problem unless the marketer holds a robust body of evidence. In 2013, the ASA ruled against claims that hypnosis could benefit medical problems including IBS and Gastro-oesophageal Reflux and could be used to regulate various systems in the body including the immune system, nervous system and gastro-intestinal system, due to a lack of sufficiently robust evidence being submitted (University College London Hospitals, 9 January 2013).
What about references to minor addictions?
CAP Code rule 12.8 requires marketers to hold proof before claiming or implying that minor addictions and bad habits can be treated without effort from those suffering. For many, this will mean that success is largely down to participants’ commitment and determination and should not be attributed solely to the hypnotherapy. Some hypnotherapists argue that their treatment ‘by-passes’ the need for participants’ willpower because it affects the sub-conscious part of the brain. Those hypnotherapists would need to hold robust evidence before implying the participant has little or no role to play in breaking that bad habit or minor addiction.
What about claims relating to smoking cessation?
Many hypnotherapists who have claimed to offer smoking cessation have fallen foul of the ASA by making success claims they cannot support (Bromley Stop Smoking Clinic, 19 November 2003 and Practice Builders Ltd, 19 February 2003). One marketer (Equahealth UK Clinic, 23 October 2002) submitted a meta-analysis of the efficacy of different methods of giving up smoking: it stated that the average success rate of hypnotherapy was 36%. Marketers making success claims should ensure that they are based on rigorous evidence and not merely calculated on those patients who do not return for follow-up sessions or take up a money-back guarantee. Some marketers have followed up smoking cessation sessions with a telephone survey to establish success rates. The ASA has investigated that practice and concluded that, although it might indicate success, telephoning customers was not robust enough to prove definitive success rates (Dune Hypnotherapy Group, 5 November 2003). Blood tests are therefore likely to be the only way of ascertaining whether people have given up smoking.
Marketers should also ensure that success claims for a technique are not confused with success claims for an individual (Alexandra Swindells, 3 November 2004). Although the ASA and CAP have accepted that hypnotherapy can help smokers give up, the scientific community seems divided on whether the technique is effective.
See the entry on ‘Stopping Smoking’ for specific examples of what can and cannot be said by marketers claiming to be able to stop patients smoking. The general principles apply for all other hypnotherapists claiming to treat minor addictions and bad habits.
What about serious medical conditions?
Claims to offer treatment on conditions for which medical supervision should be sought are likely to be considered to discourage essential treatment unless that treatment is carried out under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional (12.2).
The ASA and CAP do not consider that hypnotherapists who do not hold a general medical qualification are likely to be suitably qualified to treat serious medical conditions.
Claims to treat depression, addiction, eating disorders and other serious mental or psychological conditions are likely to be considered claims to treat serious medical conditions and practitioners should not refer to the treatment of these conditions unless that treatment is to be carried out by a suitably qualified health professional (Leamington Hypnotherapy Clinic, 27 March 2013).
Updated 2 December 2016
Guidance on Health Therapies and Evidence QA (Sept 2011)