Disclosure: I have used hypnosis for most of my life and have been deeply involved in the study and practice of hypnosis for well over a decade. I have earned certification as a clinical hypnotherapist, certification as an instructor of hypnosis and hypnotherapy, and certification in several specialties.

It’s Back…In a New Way

When people get interested in learning hypnosis, their focus is frequently on the induction, moving from non-hypnosis to hypnosis. Usually, the first style of induction learned is the progressive relaxation (or progressive muscle relaxation) induction. It’s the “relax your feet, relax your ankles, relax your calves, relax your thighs” etc. induction. It takes a long time but it’s easy to learn and, in many instances, it works.  In fact, you could just read a typical PR induction written on a piece of paper and it can work.

Inductions are actually fairly simple. So why are there so many books on hypnosis? It’s because the really challenging part of hypnosis is learning what to do after the induction, after someone is hypnotized. Say the right thing in the right way and you can help people create powerful, desired changes in their lives. That’s the job of the hypnotherapist.

While in hypnosis, it’s very common for a person to want to please the hypnotist. If the hypnotist asks a question the hypnotized person will try to answer it. If that person doesn’t have an answer, the person may actually make one up. They will blend memories with invention (known as confabulation) and often do so in a way they think will please the hypnotist. This can result in long, convoluted stories that in their essence are false and sometimes actually horrifying.

This happened in the late 1980s and early 1990s. People who had a specific ideological bent and were trained in other areas and who learned a hypnotic induction but not how to properly interview the hypnotized person caused people to believe horrific things. These included such things as being brutally raped, becoming pregnant, and then forced to observe or participate in the ritual murder of their infant. None of these things happened (at least not as confabulated), but the belief of these victims in the reality of the events combined with publicity by promoters had terrible outcomes. Families were destroyed, lives were shattered, several trials costing tens of millions of dollars were held, communities were ripped apart, and innocent people were imprisoned. This period has become known as the Satanic Panic and was caused by the creation of false memories. Of course, once it began, people simply out for attention and money ran away with it, but the original cause can be traced to confabulations.

Now, an article indicates that this mess is back. The article claims that a woman went to a Missouri in-patient clinic for weight loss and a doctor “hypnotized her while she was on psychotropic drugs, inducing false memories of being raped and belonging to a satanic cult.” She’s suing for $650,000.

But He’s A Doctor…

If you go through medical school and earn an M.D. after your name, you have rights that others simply don’t have. For example, you could take a weekend course in liposuction or hair transplantation and then go into the business of plastic surgery or hair “restoration.” I couldn’t take a course like that and do this, and unless you have an M.D. you couldn’t, but someone with an M.D. after their name can. That’s why, when looking at a doctor’s specialty, you should ask about their training and experience.

This is not limited to M.D.s. Certain licensed professionals—such as psychologists and other counselors—with far less training than doctors, also have special rights. For example, a licensed mental health professional with no training in hypnosis can legally use hypnosis in his or her practice! The same is true for psychologists, psychiatrists, and M.D.s. (Technically they are all supposed to remain within their area of expertise, known as a “scope of practice,” but this doesn’t always happen.)

Here, in California, by law, as a non-licensed hypnotherapist I have to inform potential hypnosis clients what training and experience I have. Licensed professionals don’t have to do that. It’s up to you to ask.

Know Your Hypnotist

Hypnosis can be an incredibly powerful and useful tool in the hands of someone who is trained and knows what he or she is doing. Although there may be exceptions, I have never heard of even one case where false memories were induced by an appropriately trained and experienced hypnotist. When false memories have been installed, in virtually every case, the person at blame was not primarily a hypnotist. Rather, it was someone with little knowledge of the intricacies of hypnosis who used it anyway.

My guess is that the doctor who is being sued had very little hypnosis training. For example, although hypnosis is named after Hypnos, the ancient Greek god of sleep, hypnosis has nothing to do with sleep. In 1843, a surgeon named James Braid published a book entitled Neurypnology, a term for “nervous sleep.” From this book came the term “hypnosis.” Braid, however, quickly figured out that hypnosis had nothing to do with sleep. Rather, it was a form of intense singular focus. He tried to rename hypnosis “monoideation,” but it never caught on. (For that I’m grateful, as I’d rather be known as a hypnotist than a monoideationist!)

So to effectively hypnotize someone you need to have that person alert and ready to focus. If they are on psychoactive drugs or impaired due to alcohol, lack of sleep, etc., they won’t have an effective hypnotic experience.

Therefore, the claim that the doctor gave this woman “psychotropic drugs” (indicating multiple drugs) and then used hypnosis is either inaccurate or shows that the doctor was using highly questionable and certainly unnecessary techniques. A trained and experienced hypnotherapist does not have someone use psychoactive drugs and wouldn’t work with a person while he or she is on such drugs.

Is Hypnosis Safe?

If it’s so easy to cause problems with hypnosis, can it be claimed that hypnosis is safe? The answer is a bit complex. In 10,000 years of experience with hypnosis (the ancient people of India and Egypt used hypnosis), there is not one verifiable instance of a person being physically harmed as a result of being hypnotized. There is no verifiable instance of any person ever being harmed in any way as a result of using self-hypnosis. In the situation of allowing yourself to be hypnotized by an untrained person and going through current life regression, there are instances of psychological confusion and problems resulting from that confusion. Therefore, I would strongly urge people to not allow hypnotic regression by someone who is untrained in this area of hypnosis.

But that allows for an enormous range of potential for safe, effective, and powerful hypnosis and self-hypnosis. If you want to learn the basics of hypnosis and self-hypnosis, I can recommend Hypnosis for Beginners and New Age Hypnosis. If you want to learn the power of self-hypnosis, try the books Self-Hypnosis for a Better Life and Self-Empowerment Through Self Hypnosis (and the CD Companion for that book).

These books will safely introduce you to the amazing power of hypnosis and self-hypnosis. And if hypnosis in the hands of people who have bizarre agendas and who don’t know what they’re doing can disrupt lives and families, imagine what hypnosis can positively do to help you change your life after studying the concepts and techniques in these books.

What do you think?
Do you regularly use hypnosis?
Have you had personal breakthrough with hypnosis?
Are you afraid to try hypnosis?

Written by Donald Michael Kraig
Donald Michael Kraig graduated from UCLA with a degree in philosophy. He has also studied public speaking and music (traditional and experimental) on the university level. After a decade of personal study and practice, he began ten years of teaching courses in the Southern California area on such ...