Scientific research has proven how valuable hypnosis is in relieving the symptoms of mental and physical ailments.
However, the open state of mind that hypnosis creates can be misused and abused. One area in which abuse is possible is in the planting of false memories. False memories are not always directly or deliberately planted. In some cases, the simple suggestion that some event might have occurred is enough for a client to believe that it did take place. Once the idea is formed, the person perceives that thought as a "memory."
Loftus outlines a series of case studies that show that hypnosis has been and still is used to coax "memories" out of people, usually women or children. Unscrupulous psychiatrists or hypnotherapists might plant memories of physical or sexual abuse. False memories can pose serious legal problems for defendants but also for psychiatrists. One woman sued a psychiatrist for planting false memories; the case was settled out of court for $2.4 million (Loftus). Even scarier is the possibility that false memories make their way into case evidence, used to convict someone of a crime they did not commit. The possibility that false memories might be misused in courts of law, any testimony recovered under hypnosis is taken lightly in courts of law or even banned. In 2007, the Canadian Supreme Court banned the use of testimony obtained under hypnosis because the information is "not scientifically reliable," (Tibbetts). Witnesses tend to strongly believe what they experience in the state of hypnosis, even if those "memories" are false or planted there by a therapist (Tibbetts). Loftus notes, "misinformation can change an individual's recollection in predictable and sometimes very powerful ways." Rather than negate the efficacy of hypnosis, such information substantiates claims that the procedure has clear clinical applications and should be researched more. More than one hundred years ago, Charcot understood that hypnosis could be misapplied and used in the creation of false memories (Waterfield). However, the misapplication of the practice in no way detracts from its validity.
Hypnosis is a Farce
Another anti-hypnosis argument is that the practice is not real. Some researchers claim that practitioners have fabricated data, "sensationalized treatment results," and made outlandish claims about the efficacy of hypnosis and its scientific potential (Yapko 5). This is true, but all fields of scientific research are subject to charlatans, which is why peer-reviewed journals and professional organizations like the American Psychological Association are stepping in to regulate and monitor hypnosis research. The "cheesy stage acts" that Yapko refers to are also to blame for the notion that hypnosis and hypnotherapy are false (5). Cheesy stage acts pretend to use hypnosis to make audience members act like chickens or perform silly acts. In the days of Mesmer and spiritualism, hypnosis was viewed as a sensationalist practice or a parlor game. In the worse cases, greedy performers would manipulate people into handing over money. Untrained hypnotherapists are guilty of the same practices, manipulating the public into believing that their ailments can be cured. A quack in hypnotherapy is no different from a quack in any other field. Hypnotherapy must be carefully distinguished from stage hypnosis, and research-based hypnosis must likewise be discerned from chicanery. Cheesy stage acts should not be confused with the genuine application of hypnosis in a clinical or laboratory setting.
Hypnosis is sometimes presented in the media as a "pseudo-science" (Tibbetts). In fact, the argument that hypnosis is a farce is sometimes issued directly from a scientific community. Not all clinicians or scientists support hypnosis or hypnotherapy as a valid treatment intervention. For example, strict behaviorists argue that the subjectivity of hypnosis automatically disqualifies it from empirical research (Fromm & Shor). Only by measuring observable behaviors can the technique be proven. Therefore, a behaviorist might agree that the practice of hypnosis -- regardless of what the state of mind represents -- is one that can lead to measurable effects such as smoking cessation. Research into hypnosis will show which areas the practice leads to measurable effects. Hypnosis has become integral to clinical research and counseling practices. Research-based, academic, and professional institutions endorse hypnosis when it is practiced correctly. Because of the credible scientific data backing up hypnosis and hypnotherapy, the claims that hypnosis is a pseudo-science are falling apart.
Only Certain People Can be Hypnotized
One of the arguments against the use of hypnosis is easily unsubstantiated. The argument is that hypnosis only works on certain people and is therefore not a valid practice. People who are fantasy-prone are easily hypnotized, whereas "those who think hypnosis is rubbish can't be hypnotized," (Carroll). Carroll also claims that "the usual personality traits measured on the typical personality inventory such as the Myers-Briggs or introversion/extraversion scales do not correlate well with hypnotizability." Indeed, this may be true. However, motivation is more important than personality. The Mayo Clinic claims that hypnosis "seems to work best when you're highly motivated and your therapist is well trained." The key is being motivated and working with a qualified professional. A qualified psychologist or psychiatrist should be able to determine which persons would be best suited for hypnotherapy intervention.
Hypnosis is Dangerous
Opponents of hypnosis sometimes claim that the practice is dangerous. The danger is framed in a number of different ways. For example, some sources claim that hypnosis is "contraindicated for individuals with certain medical problems, or who are actively abusing drugs or alcohol, or who are delusional or hallucinatory," (Pearson). This simply means that certain clients may not benefit at all from hypnosis, but hypnotherapy is not necessarily dangerous for all clients. Some clients report a sense of mild disorientation after a session but that feeling is harmless and will dissipate with practice (Pearson). Moreover, "headache, dizziness, nausea" are some uncommon symptoms that can be addressed sensibly.
Hypnosis and hypnotherapy are not recommended for small children. However, the recommendation against its use on small children is not because the practice is deemed dangerous but because of children's naturally short attention span (Pearson). In other words, children might not benefit from hypnosis or hypnotherapy as well as adults can.
Religious organizations often frame hypnosis as spiritually dangerous. Hypnosis is a tool of the Devil according to some Christian sects like the Seventh-Day Adventists and Christian Science. Even moderate Christians discourage hypnotherapy, claiming "Through God's help, we can find lasting hope and healing. The answers to your recovery do not lie in hypnosis therapy," but rather in religion or God ("Hypnosis Therapy"). Not all religious organizations eschew hypnosis, and many embrace the practice as a valid treatment option. "Hypnosis is neither anti-religious nor pro-religious. It can be used for good or bad depending on the hypnotist and the subject. Today most religious groups accept the proper use of hypnosis," (Durbin).
As with any clinical practice, "hypnosis therapy can be abused and misused," ("Hypnosis Therapy"). Ulman claims that hypnosis can be achieved covertly. Practitioners who make outlandish claims are less likely to be trusted than clinicians who use hypnotherapy in conjunction with other treatment interventions. Clients should therefore seek qualified practitioners who are fully licensed or recommended by psychiatrists. Once trust is established between client and therapist, hypnosis is extremely safe. Hypnosis is "not a dangerous procedure" and should not be confused with "mind control or brain washing," (Chakraburtty). The creation of false memories remains a genuine concern for therapists and is the "greatest risk" with using hypnotherapy (Chakraburtty). Contrary to popular belief, a person is "not immobilized" during the state of hypnosis and remains thoroughly aware of the surroundings (Pearson). The person being hypnotized does not surrender free will, is not under the control of the therapist, and does not suffer any type of amnesia, (Mayo Clinic).
Hypnotherapy and hypnosis are clinically proven treatment modalities that also offer insight into the nature of consciousness and cognition. Although some problems such as false memory creation have been associated with hypnosis, the practice is extremely safe. Hypnosis and hypnotherapy do not involve the surrender of self-will. The practice of hypnotherapy is not dangerous to the client, and many religious institutions endorse the practice for healing. Stage hypnosis has no clinical benefit but is a harmless form of entertainment. Therefore, more scientific research can and should be done to reveal the tremendous and promising benefits of hypnosis.
Durbin, Paul G. "Hypnosis and Religious Faith." Excerpt from Kissing Frogs Practical Uses of Hypnotherapy. 1997. Retrieved 16 Nov 2009 from http://www.godrules.net/NeuroSemantics_Articals_PaulGDurbin_Hypnosis.html
Fromm, Erika and Shor, Ronald E. Hypnosis: New Developments in Research and New Perspectives. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine, 1979
"Hypnosis has Real Brain Effect." BBC.com. 16 Nov 2009. Retrieved 16 Nov 2009 from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8359170.stm
Knight, Bryan M. Health and Happiness with Hypnosis. Montreal: Chessnut, 1994.
Yapko, Michael D. Trancework: An introduction to the Practice of Clinical Hypnosis. New York: Brunner-Routledge, 2003.
Chakraburtty, Arnal. "Mental Health: Hypnotherapy." WebMD. Mar 01, 2007. Retrieved Nov 16, 2009 from http://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/mental-health-hypnotherapy