Authors: Anuradha Arasu
Publication date: 09 Oct 2004
Footballer, anaesthetist, and general practitioner Dr Brian Roet tells Anuradha Arasu how his opinion on hypnosis changed from “rubbish” to a niche market in the NHS
There is only one world, but there are many ways of looking at it. This is the principle that Dr Brian Roet has lived by through multiple lives that have involved entailed working in four different countries, balancing professional football with medicine, mixing general practice with anaesthesia, and then discovering hypnotherapy.
Brian Roet, who has used hypnotherapy for over 20 years, and has written seven books about the subject, runs his own psychotherapy practice in south London.
He trained as a doctor in Melbourne, Australia, where he played professional football while at medical school. After graduating, he went to Hong Kong and worked for a charity called Project Concern. Then he worked as a general practitioner, which he combined with anaesthetsics for 15 years before exchanging the theatre for hypnotherapy.
“I went on a weekend course sponsored by one of these drug companies, just for fun, and the subject happened to be hypnosis.”
Brian says that before the course he had no knowledge or special interest in the subject. “If you'd said to me, `Does hypnosis interest you?' I would have said, `Not at all.' I would have said it was rubbish.”
But Brian explains how his attitude changed. “At that time, I was an extrovert doing everything. But this course helped me to say, `How about stopping and having a look at yourself?' Something inside me said: `This is good for you,' and that's why I took it on. I'm much more aware of myself now than I was back then.”
He explains: “At the weekend course, the people running it taught us hypnosis. They recommended buying a book and practiscing hypnotic techniques with a pendulum on your pet, a dog or a cat. So I made this pendulum and I tried it on the cat, but the cat just scratched me! I put the pendulum in a drawer and forgot about it. About a month later a patient came in and said she was having problems with her memory and could I help? I said, `I've learnt this hypnosis thing and it didn't work for the cat but I can try it with you.' She said that she was willing to have a go. Weeks later, she came back and said that it had been great and had really helped her.”
In his book Understanding Hypnosis,  Brian explains how hypnosis can be used clinically to reduce pain and stress and help overcome phobias and insomnia in patients. He defines hypnosis as a trance state that “occurs in a cyclical rhythm throughout the day” but is different from sleep.
He says that hypnotherapy “uses the benefit of the trance state, where conscious and unconscious minds are communicating, to aid therapy.” The role of the hypnotherapist is to use their skills and make suggestions to help patients solve their problems (physical or psychological) while in this trance state. Brian points out that hypnotherapy is particularly effective in children, who are more willing to accept suggestions less critically. “Many childhood conditions respond well to hypnotherapy.”
But he says: “Hypnotherapy is a just a tool. I challenge restricted beliefs. When people come to see me, my job is to sense what beliefs they have. If those beliefs are restricting them, I help them change those beliefs and make them more open.”
Brian says: “As a GP, I don't think I did that much good. Occasionally you'd see someone who you could really help, but in my experience the majority of people would get better anyway. Whereas with this I spend an hour with each person and I really think I help people.” However he warns that hypnotherapy is “not a panacea to cure all ills” and says:
“Sometimes people want a magic wand to fix them but I tell them straight away that's not what it's about. I recognise when I can't help people.”
Brian explains how other practitioners incorporate hypnotherapy into their work.
“There is the Medical and Dental Hypnosis Society, which is a group of doctors and dentists that use hypnotherapy.” He explains how dentists use hypnotherapy to reduce patients' pain, minimise bleeding, and lessen the fear of needles. But he says: “Limiting factors are the number of dentists competent and interested enough to spend the extra time involved, and the lack of information available to people about dentists who do use hypnotherapy.”
Brian argues that too few medical practitioners consider hypnotherapy as an option.
“At the moment, medicine is too focused on the physical. Often the physiological and psychological is so interwoven that helping the psychological will help the physical. For example, hypnotherapy is proven to be good for irritable bowel syndrome.”
He argues that there is a need for hypnotherapy: “Psychiatrists refer people to me. I think they see me as a niche. Some NHS practices are starting to employ complementary therapists to assist medical treatment and some employ hypnotherapists but at present these practices are in the minority.”
Brian cites scepticism and the lack of formal qualifications or regulations as reasons why hypnotherapy has been largely ignored by the medical profession in the United Kingdom.
“The Australian society responded much better to hypnotherapy because they're much more open, much more willing to have a go. Here, it is being accepted a bit more, but the word `hypnosis' still makes people run. I think that changing the name might help.”
He is currently working with a group of health professionals to set up an alternative medicine practice by next year. The team will be multidisciplinary and will include osteopathy, acupuncture, pilates, and homoeopathy, with nutritionists.
Brian explains why he enjoys his work: “I enjoy puzzles and I see the person coming in as a puzzle.” His final word of advice: “I recommend practising hypnotherapy to “any doctor who is interested in people and the mind.” He adds, “It also helps to have a bit of a boring voice!”
Anuradha Arasu fourth year medical student
University College London