Friday, 6 June 2014

The Dangers Of Hypnotists

The general public often thinks of hypnosis in terms of its potential for abuse. Most people have heard of the scandal which reached the highest levels of the Court of Imperial Russia and which may have been one of the factors which ultimately contributed to its demise, involving the notorious Russian monk, Rasputin who reportedly seduced many women by hypnotizing them.
It would be a mistake to assume that fantasies of seduction occur only to male hypnotists and never to their female subjects, especially if they should happen to find that the hypnotist, or hypnosis itself, is sexually attractive. In the sexually repressive atmosphere of Imperial Russia, it should not be surprising that Rasputin was able to find volunteers who would be willing to act out such fantasies, with varying degrees of self-deception.

Can hypnosis actually be used to compel obedience, when there is no underlying wish to comply? Some years ago, I was asked to testify in the case of a man who had falsely advertised himself as a psychologist and had begun hypnotizing teen-age girls in the area, one of whom subsequently accused him of rape. In order to make its case that hypnosis could be used to compel behavior, the prosecution had pointed to an incident in Eastern Europe several decades earlier, in which a stage hypnotist had handed a man a pistol loaded with blanks and commanded the man to shoot him. The hypnotized subject, who was an off-duty police officer, drew a loaded revolver from his pocket and shot three members of the audience. The defense, on the other hand, was prohibited from pointing to the girl's behavior in the neighborhood as evidence that she could have been voted "the girl most likely to. . . ."

I testified that while hypnosis cannot force people to people do something which is against their moral and ethical codes, it is impossible to conclusively demonstrate in the laboratory whether or not hypnosis could be used to compel anti-social behavior. You could never actually allow such behavior to occur in an experimental setting, or in any kind of staged demonstration, and the subjects know it! But, in what I like to call "the laboratory of life," the results are more clear-cut. Hypnosis in its modern form has been around for over two hundred years; and if you have to go half way around the world and back several decades in time in order to find even one instance of its alleged use in the commission of a crime, then it would be easier to conclude that this individual was psychotic or personality disordered than to conclude that his behavior was the result of the alleged coercive power of hypnosis. If hypnosis could be used in such a manner, by this time its anti-social applications would be well-documented -- in organized crime, in international espionage, by thwarted lovers, and in many other settings. And the evidence simply is not there, although it is difficult to convince some people of this fact.

Carla Emery, who was herself the victim of an abusive love relationship in which hypnosis was present, even went so far as to conclude that the practice of hypnosis involved a vast conspiracy which was designed to protect the income of those who used it, while preserving the freedom of those who would employ it for anti-social purposes to continue to do so!

With regard to the possibility of seduction under hypnosis, the problem is not with hypnosis itself, but with the power differential which is inherent in a therapeutic relationship. This trust must never be abused. The responsibility always lies with the person in authority, whether a physician, psychologist, priest, teacher -- or a hypnotist. It is necessary for the trusted person to maintain strong boundaries and to stop any inappropriate relationships from developing, even if a client displays seductive behavior due to transference, a personality disorder, or mental illness. A teenager would be especially susceptible to such suggestions; and If she subsequently accused the hypnotist of rape, then chances are, he may have abused his position of trust and authority in order to have sexual relations with his client, which is tantamount to rape. Therefore, the prosecution's mistake was to attackhypnosis, rather than the power which the hypnotist (who had falsely advertised himself a psychologist) had abused while hypnosis was present.

Instances such as these tend to be reported in great detail by the media, and are amplified still further by depictions of hypnosis in fiction. Because of the publicity which results from them, there are many people who will not have anything to do with hypnosis . And because these abuses continue to surface from time to time, the public is probably never going to be won over completely, despite our repeated assurances that hypnosis is perfectly safe when used by trained and ethical professionals. Hyperempiria, with its emphasis on suggestion-enhanced experience as a catalyst for growth and change, is much less likely to be perceived by hypnophobic members of the general public as inherently dangerous.

(I am grateful to Dr. Annette K. Schreiber for her collaboration and assistance in the preparation of this posting.)

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