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Conducting hypnosis research

hypnosis research

What is research and how do I conduct hypnosis research?

In simple terms, research is finding out about something. It becomes more valuable research when you take an organised or systematic approach to find out facts and then be able to draw conclusions from those facts. For example, if you wanted to find some post-qualification training to boost your CPD record, you might think about what you need, search for courses that meet your general criteria and then look more closely to see which particular course is most suitable for you. Thus, fundamentally, with any research, you are likely to have a research question (what you want to find out), a way of conducting that research (methodology) and some analysis of the data, to the form conclusions.

There are two main types of research. Primary research creates new information (‘data’). For example, if you were to study your last 50 clients and see how many sessions they had as an average. Secondary research explores existing data, such as looking at a number of smoking cessation research papers. To decide which type is most appropriate for what you want to find out, it can be good to consider what you want to research and why.

Also, research can be either ‘deductive’ or ‘inductive’ in its approach. Research that is deductive or ‘top down’ works from a specified theory to a hypothesis, tested by observation leading to confirmation, or otherwise, of the hypothesis. For example, a theory might be that all clients with an external locus of control prefer a direct and authoritarian hypnosis approach. You might then seek information to ‘deduce’ whether this is or is not true. In contrast, you might want to take an inductive (bottom up) approach, whereby you make specific observations, to ascertain patterns leading to a tentative hypothesis, leading to a theory. Thus, you might observe the preferences of your external locus of control clients to ascertain which hypnosis approach they preferred.


Deciding upon your hypnosis research question

The very first part of any research is going to be the establishment of a research question. You might already have an idea about what you would like to find out, so you may read around the topic and look at what has already been written about it, getting a broad understanding of the relevant facts and information, whilst checking whether your intended research has already been conducted. This will lead you towards a general research question such as ‘what hypnotherapy approach do external locus of control clients prefer?’. You might stop here, particularly for a simple research project. Alternatively, you might return to the literature to seek out specific research that either supports or opposes your research question. Finally, you will finalise your research question to the specific words and style (hypothesis or question) that is most appropriate.

Hypnosis research hypnotherapy research

You might word your research question as a question, such as ‘Do behavioural approaches work better than cognitive approaches in addressing anxiety?’ or as a hypothesis, a statement, such as ‘Behavioural approaches work better than cognitive approaches when addressing anxiety’. For a question, you will be seeking an answer. For a hypothesis, you will be seeking to prove or disprove your statement.


 Choosing your hypnosis research paradigm

Whether you define it explicitly or not, your research is likely to have an overall philosophy or paradigm of approach. Paradigms come from common beliefs and agreements about how problems should be understood and addressed. There are quite a few different ‘styles’ of research, ranging from highly scientific (e.g. positivist) through to very broad (e.g. constructivist). Whilst a positivist approach would consider that there is a single reality, known and measurable (see ‘quantitative’ further on), a constructivist approach would consider there is no single reality, and thus reality needs to be interpreted (see ‘qualitative’). Another view is a pragmatic approach, which considers reality is constantly being debated, interpreted and redefined, and therefore the best approach to use is that which solves the problem or finds the answer.

Each of the key paradigms (such as positivist, constructivist and pragmatic) have their own views on reality (‘ontology’), how knowledge is found (‘epistemology’) and how the answers are sought (‘methodology’) and what particular tools (‘methods’) are used.


Hypnosis research hypnotherapy research


You may either adjust your research question or hypothesis to be a good fit with your chosen paradigm, or, more commonly, choose your research paradigm to best suit your research question or hypothesis. For example, if you want to know the number of clients you have had for smoking cessation in the past year, then this can be measured and would fit with a positivist approach. If you wanted to find out those clients’ reasons for seeking hypnotherapy to stop smoking, then this would better fit a constructivist approach.


Methodology and designing your hypnosis research study

The most common forms of research that you are likely to conduct are: primary research, systematic review, and meta-analysis.

New data or review of existing data?

Although we tend to think of primary research as conducting experiments, there are a range of approaches you can use when you are seeking new data. ‘Experimental’ research tends to have an intervention. This can be as simple as a hypnosis MP3 or a series of hypnotherapy protocols. You will also have a control group who don’t receive the intervention and allocate your participants randomly to either the intervention group or the control group. This enables you to compare the groups to observe any difference. This can be good when you wish to find out whether a particular approach has any effect at all.

If you don’t wish to have a control group, then you may prefer ‘quasi-experimental’ research. Here, all research participants (or ‘subjects’) receive the same intervention. This is a great approach to use when you want to see if there are differences in how a technique affects different types of people. Thus, to use our ‘locus of control’ example, you could give all of your participants a hypnosis technique and then assess whether those with an external locus of control responded differently to those with an internal locus of control.

Our third type of primary research is that of ‘non-experimental’ research. This has no intervention; it is just measuring something that already exists. For example, if you assessed twenty clients to see how many were internal and how many were external locus of control.

It may be that instead of seeking new data, you wish to revisit existing data and you are likely to either conduct a ‘systematic review’, which is a review of all the relevant papers on that topic (thus broad), or a ‘meta-analysis’, which is a more focused analysis of the most relevant papers on that topic. Thus, if you wish to look at certain hypnotherapy trends in the research field by assessing how many studies have used certain approaches, then a systematic review offers a formal structured way of reviewing (collecting and summarising) all of the relevant (specific criteria) empirical evidence on this that apply to your defined research question. They are a great way of getting a general feel for a particular aspect of the research field. However, if you want to combine the results from those studies to get more focused data, then a meta-analysis can be used to combine numerical results from a number of studies and analyse that numerical data with statistical methods.

Numbers or words

As you may have already observed, some research approaches are more focused towards gaining numerical data (e.g. measurements) and other approaches will seek textual data (e.g. words spoken in an interview).


Hypnosis research hypnotherapy research


Specific data collection methods

There many be a number of different tools that you could use to gain your data. You are likely to select the one that is most appropriate to what you wish to achieve. Popular methods include:

  • Questionnaires and surveys can be used to collect either numerical or text data. Although, with the latter, you are likely to get brief answers that you will then analyse numerically (quantitatively).
  • Interviews are a great way of getting large amounts of relevant information (qualitative), to then analyse and look for patterns and themes (thematic analysis). These are great for seeking people’s experiences (phenomenological).
  • Observations and focus groups can save time by gathering more than one amount of data at a time, although as your attention is spread, you are likely to get less detailed data.


Hypnosis research data reporting and analysis

Your method of analysing your data will depend on whether you have numerical or textual (words) data.

‘Statistical analysis’: You might prefer to explore your numerical data manually (with the assistance of a calculator most likely!), or use a computer-based programme such as SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences). Depending on the amount of data you have, you may only be able to conduct a ‘descriptive’ analysis, where you look at the data itself and what it represents. For example, looking at the average (the mean), the middle point (the median), the most common (the mode) and the range (from lowest to highest). If you have sufficient quantity and relevant type, you can also explore your data with ‘inferential’ analysis. Here you consider whether the data can be generalised to the larger population. The type of analysis you conduct will also depend on the type of numerical data you have.

Hypnosis research hypnotherapy research

‘Thematic analysis’: There are many different analytical tools, both manual and computer-based programmes, for analysing the words that are in your data. These words may come from text-based questions, surveys, interviews and a number of other sources. For example, you might do some research making a note of all the different explanations of ‘what hypnosis is’ that are on YouTube and then exploring common themes or patterns (that would actually be interesting!) The most common form of manual analysis tends to be ‘thematic analysis’ and ‘NVivo’ is a popular software programme used to explore vast amounts of word-based data.

Drawing conclusions and making recommendations for your hypnosis research

You will consider the research field and question(s) and discuss the data analysis in relation to the literature, the research field and the questions. At the end of the discussion you will summarise and draw conclusions from your discussion and may choose to make recommendations, such as for further research in a particular area.


Writing up your hypnosis research

When you conducted your initial review of the literature around your topic, you are likely to have read some research papers. Even if you only want to publish your research on your own website, giving it a structure makes it easier for people to understand and absorb your information. You may have already noticed from research papers you have read, that there is a fairly standard structure to presenting research. This can differ between experimental and non-experimental research. The most common structure is that used for primary (experimental) research.


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Hypnosis research ethics

Wherever you conduct primary research, there will be ethical considerations. Some key points to think about are:

Voluntary participation: Will the individuals have the right to choose whether to participate or not?

Confidentiality and anonymity: Will confidentiality be maintained? Will their privacy be invaded? 

Informed consent: Will people be involved covertly, or with their knowledge and consent? Will the full nature of the study be revealed or is the participant fully or partly deceived? Is there a risk of harm (mental, physical, emotional) to the participant? Will the participants be vulnerable e.g. age, mental capacity?

Conduct of researchers: Will you respect intellectual property? Will you act with honesty, objectivity, integrity, carefully and openly? Will participants be treated fairly, with consideration and respect? Are you competent and possess sufficient expertise to conduct the research? Will participants have a right to withdraw and be informed of this?

Anyone can conduct research. Students often may have a research project as part of their studies. If you conduct research with the support of an organisation or educational institution you may be more likely to get participants, particularly if the organisation or institution has an ethical research policy and review procedure for proposed research.


Hypnosis research supervision

The final point is on the topic of hypnosis research supervision. Just as a professional hypnotherapist is likely to engage in regular hypnotherapy supervision, with an appropriately trained (in supervision) and experienced hypnotherapist, it is also good to engage in research supervision. There is increasing interest in hypnosis research (and hypnotherapy research), amongst the public and from professionals and academics.

Hypnosis research is moving beyond the traditional academic research laboratories and into the field, with ‘evidence-based practice’ becoming understood and used, and ‘practice-based evidence’ becoming more widely accepted. Whether you want to share good practice, a new technique you have developed, or even some great outcomes from a well-known application, there is much a hypnotherapist can share.

However, research skills are rarely taught on practitioner courses. So, supervision is helpful, to guide you through the entire process, from initial concept to publishing your findings.


If you would like private research supervision, I can help. For more information, visit:

We hope that this blog on hypnosis research has been helpful to you. If you have any more questions about this topic or anything else for that matter, do please get in touch, because we’re always happy to help!

– written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks
(HypnoTC Director)

Dr Kate Beaven-Marks HypnoTC the Hypnotherapy Training Company

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