In recent years there has been a myriad of books and articles written concerning the use of hypnosis and memory retrieval. Aside from the clinical application of hypnosis in treating a variety of psychiatric disorders, hypnosis has received much news coverage concerning its use in awakening early memories of sexual abuse, and even past life therapy. Moreover, there are numerous books and CDs available teaching self-hypnosis as a means memory improvement and recall as well as a method of self-help or self-therapy. Hypnosis, today, is used in a variety of therapy and research, including criminal investigations. Hypnosis is viewed as viable research and therapy tool.
Hypnosis is said to be a social interaction "in which one person, the subject, responds to suggestions given by another person, the hypnotist, for imaginative experiences involving alterations in perception, memory, and the voluntary control of action" (Memory pg). The responses are generally associated with a "degree of subjective conviction bordering on delusion, and an experience of involuntariness bordering on compulsion" (Memory pg). "The use of hypnosis for trauma-related distress has been around since the days of Freud" (Rowe pg).
The history of hypnosis reaches back to the ancient temples of Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine. While patients slept, the priest would utter advice and reassurances to them, causing them to believe the gods had spoken to them in their dreams (Memory pg). In the 1700's, Franz Anton Mesmer theorized that disease was caused by imbalances of a physical force, called animal magnetism, affecting various parts of the body" (Memory pg). Mesmer believed that by redistributing this magnetic fluid, cures could be achieved. This procedure usually resulted in "pseudoepileptic seizures known as 'crises'" (Memory pg). In 1784, Benjamin Franklin chaired a French royal commission concluding that the "effects of mesmerism, while genuine in many cases, were achieved by means of imagination and not any physical force" (Memory pg).
Franklin's proceedings might well be the "first controlled psychological experiments" (Memory pg).
Despite the fact that Mesmer's theory was discredited, his practices did not die. One of his followers, the Marquis de Puysegur, magnetised a young shepherd boy named Victor Race, leading to a major transition regarding Mesmer's theory (Memory pg). Rather than a magnetic crisis, "Victor fell into a somnambulistic state in which he was responsive to instruction, and from which he awoke with an amnesia for what he had done" (Memory pg). By the 19th century, John Elliotson, James Esdaile, and others were successfully using mesmeric somnambulism as an anesthetic for surgery (Memory pg).
James Braid, another British physician, speculated that somnambulism was caused by the paralysis of nerve centers induced by ocular fixation, in order to eliminate the taint of mesmerism, he renamed the state neurhypnotism" (nervous sleep), a term later shortened to hypnosis. Later, Braid concluded that hypnosis was due to the subject's concentration on a single thought monoideism) rather than physiological fatigue" (Memory pg).
Jean Martin Charcot, the late 1880's, believed that hypnosis was a related form of hysteria, a central nervous system disorder. A.A. Liebeault and Hippolyte opposed his view, emphasizing the "role of suggestibility in producing hypnotic effects" (Memory pg). Sigmund Freud also studied Charcot, and began to develop his "psycholgenic theories of mental illness after observing the suggestibility of hysterical patients when they were hypnotized" (Memory pg). During the early 1900's several researchers in the United States began conducting their own studies of hypnosis. Interest in hypnosis rose greatly after World War II, and gave rise to organizations such as the "Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, affiliates of the International Society of Hypnosis, as well as journals such as The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, The American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis," to name a few (Memory pg).
Hypnotizability is measured by standardized psychological tests such as the Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale or the Harvard Group
Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility. These instruments are work-samples, analogous to other performance tests. They begin with a hypnotic induction in which the subjects are asked to focus their eyes on a fixation point, relax, and concentrate on the voice of the hypnotist (although suggestions for relaxation are generally part of the hypnotic induction procedure, people can respond positively to hypnotic suggestions while engaged in vigorous physical activity). The hypnotist then gives suggestions for further relaxation, focused attention, and eye closure. After the subjects close their eyes, they receive further suggestions for various imaginative experiences. For example, they may be told to extend their arms and imagine a heavy object pushing their hand and arm down; or that a voice is asking them questions over a loudspeaker; or that when they open their eyes they will not be able to see an object placed in front of them. Posthypnotic suggestions may also be given for responses to be executed after hypnosis has been terminated, including posthypnotic amnesia, the inability to remember events and experiences which transpired during hypnosis. Response to each of these suggestions is scored in terms of objective behavioral criteria -- do the subjects' arms drop a specified distance over a period of time, do they answer questions realistically, do they deny seeing the object, etc." (Memory pg)?
Therapists frequently use hypnosis to help patients recall forgotten incidents, such as child sexual abuse. There are numerous reports regarding the success of this technique, however, many of the reports are "anecdotal in nature and fail to obtain independent corroboration of the memories which emerge" (Memory pg). Due to the fact that hypnotic hypermnesia tends to be unreliable, the "risk of increased responsiveness to leading questions and other sources of bias and distortion, such clinical practices are not recommended" (Memory pg). The same is similar for forensic situations. The introduction of memories recovered through hypnosis are generally severely limited in many legal jurisdictions. For those wanting to using hypnosis for forensic purposes, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has published a set of guidelines, "despite the lack of evidence supporting the practice" (Memory pg).
Most psychologists and psychiatrists believe memories of trauma can be put "out of reach of consciousness and alter retrieved, however most now avoid using the Freudian term 'repression,' in favor of more descriptive terms such as 'amnesia and delayed recall' (Horn 52-63). Still others refer to dissociation, "which describes the mind's protective detachment from a traumatic experience as it is happening, effectively fragmenting consciousness" (Horn 52-63). Studies of dissociative disorders "maintain that memories of traumatic events formed while a person is in the altered state of mind induced by terror are frequently inaccessible to ordinary consciousness" (Horn 52-63).
However, experts say that dissociated memories remain indelible and can be triggered decades later by events or sensations (Horn 52-63).
The physiology of memory loss and retrieval is only beginning to be understood.
Scientists believe that memories are stored as electrical patterns in neurons deep in the brain's hippocampal region...Over time, these patterns are translated into new neural circuitry in different brain area, creating a permanent record of the events. I ntensely traumatic events, says Yale University psychiatry Prof. Michael Davis, 'produce unusually strong nerve connections that serve as long-lasting memories.' Years later, the right stimulus can set those nerve circuits firing and trigger the fear, with no immediate understanding of its source" (Horn 52-63).
Although, may scientists believe that memories can be lost and then recovered years later, there is a growing number who do not. Sociologist Richard Ofshe of the University of California at Berkeley says that after sixty years of experiments, there is yet any empirical evidence to prove that repression exists (Horn 52-63). Ofshe believes that people forget things, intentionally avoid painful subjects, and may actually have selective traumatic amnesia, "if the terror of an experience is so great that the normal biological process underlying information storage is disrupted - as in an alcohol - induced blackout...But no one has ever shown that the memory of repeated abuses can be uncontrollably and completely stripped from a person's consciousness" (Horn 52-63).
Prof. Paul McHugh of Johns Hopkins University says that quite the contrary, most children are more likely to remember severe traumas rather than block them out. Elizabeth Loftus, a memory researcher at the University of Washington says,
What's being claimed is that traumatic memory is driven into a corner of the unconscious where it sits like Rip van Winkle and doesn't age and wakes up 20 years later" (Horn 52-63). Memory, Loftus says "is not a computer or videotape recording. We don't just pop in a tape or call it up in perfect condition. Memory is not objective fact but subjective, suggestible and malleable" (Horn 52-63). Loftus has conducted research in which she has implanted false memories of unhappy childhood incidents in adults by simply having an authoritative older sibling recount the event (Horn 52-63). Skeptics say the possibility of retrieving memories is all the more unlikely due to the use of such methods of 'memory retrieval' "as age regression, hypnoisis and injections of sodium amytal,…