What About The Dangers Of Hypnosis?

One of the objections that you hear to hypnosis is that it can be

dangerous in the hands of those not trained in the psychodynamics of

human behavior. Inasmuch as psychiatrists and clinical psychologists are

the only ones who are thoroughly trained in the analysis of human

behavior, this objection, if valid, could limit hypnosis to a

comparative handful of therapists. Fortunately, it is not valid. This

was proved sever
l years ago when the "Bridey Murphy" craze gripped the

country. Despite the fact that thousands of amateur hypnotists were

practicing hypnosis, little or no harm resulted. I have personally

instructed several thousand medical and non-medical individuals and have

yet to hear of a single case where a crisis was precipitated or anything

of a dangerous or detrimental nature occurred as a result of hypnosis. I

have also taught several thousand persons self-hypnosis and can report

the same findings.

Many patients who seek treatment from competent psychiatrists,

psychoanalysts and psychologists do not always obtain satisfactory

results. This doesn't mean that everyone should stop seeking help from

these specialists. Even a specialist doesn't have a perfect record of

successful therapy.

What then is the objection to hypnosis? The theory that if you get rid

of one symptom another symptom will take its place really holds no truth

and is usually advanced by those who have had little or no experience in

the hypnosis field. However, a difference of opinion does exist even

with those practicing hypnosis in this area. Some hypnotists "trade

down" symptoms by replacing a serious symptom with a minor one, while

others just remove the symptom. The latter is what a doctor does when he

recommends aspirin for arthritis. He knows the aspirin will not cure the

arthritis, but he wants to alleviate the symptom. To say that another

symptom will replace the pain is unscientific--and untrue. The same is

true of hypnosis.

Lewis R. Wolberg, M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry, New York

Medical College, recently canvassed 30 experts in the field of hypnosis

and found a few who felt symptom removal was "irrational, temporary--or

outright dangerous." The large majority, however, "employed symptom

removal where indicated, and minimized or ridiculed any possible bad


A further objection to hypnosis is that the results are temporary as

well as symptomatic. It is well to remember that most medical therapy is

specifically directed to symptom removal. How permanent is most medical

treatment? Once you couple hetero-hypnosis with self-hypnosis, you

afford the patient the opportunity of utilizing suggestions for his own

benefit any time they are needed. This, of course, can make symptom

relief permanent. As an example, I would see no harm in teaching a

patient self-hypnosis for symptomatic relief from a problem of insomnia.

It would certainly be better than physically depressing the higher brain

centers with sleeping pills to produce unconsciousness every night. I

needn't tell you that millions of dollars are spent every year on

sleeping pills and patients become dependent upon them, needing more and

more pills in order to produce sleep. Many accidental suicides stem from

an overdose of sleeping pills. Yet, despite the inherent dangers of

sleeping pills which are glaringly apparent, they are prescribed by the

millions, to say nothing of those that reach the market through illegal

channels. Furthermore, how much effort is really made to get the patient

off the sleeping pills? There are also more voluntary suicides by

sleeping pills than by any other method. Perhaps if these drugs weren't

so readily available, many of these unfortunate individuals would be

with us today.

What about the often-quoted statement that "you might do some damage"?

Let's explore this area. I assume that the reader is somewhat familiar

with the work of Emile Coue or at least has heard of his famous

autosuggestion formula of "Day by day, in every way, I'm getting better

and better." During our time, thousands upon thousands of seemingly

helpless and hopeless cases have been cured by repeating this

affirmation over and over again, day after day, as the individual falls


I think we should make it clear that whether we call it autosuggestion,

positive thinking, meditation, yoga, affirmations or self-hypnosis, we

are, in reality, talking about the same thing. All require certain basic

prerequisites before they will work effectively for the individual.

We'll discuss these prerequisites in the next chapter.

What should be remembered is that the suggestions are being filtered

into the subconscious mind which does not question, doubt, analyze or

dispute the efficacy of these beneficial thoughts. You can be sure that

the constant repetition will have its effect. Hasn't the mind, in the

past, accepted the individual's diagnosis when he said, "I'm sick," "I

have an inferiority complex," "I can't stop smoking," "I can't lose

weight," "I can't concentrate," "I can remember a person's face, but I

can't remember names," "I have a difficult time falling asleep," "I just

can't seem to relax." Isn't such an individual, in effect, using

self-hypnosis? And hasn't the person convinced himself of the validity

of his present state? This is truly dangerous. It is negative hypnosis.

The question that I raise is: "Why shouldn't the subconscious mind be

even more convinced and respond strongly to suggestions which are in

conformity with the natural desire to be of sound body and mind?" I have

never been able to find a logical answer.

I think this is what happens many times. A person seeks help with a

problem which, in reality, has nothing to do with hypnosis. His cure is

not contingent on being hypnotized or on suggestions he or the hypnotist

feel are indicated. You will read in nearly every book and article

dealing with hypnosis that "hypnotism is not a cure-all." No one has

suggested or implied that it should be used exclusively for all

emotional problems. You may read a newspaper article warning about the

"dangers" of hypnosis. It may tell of a person who rid himself of one

symptom and developed another in its place. You usually get a grossly

distorted picture of what happened, with many aspects of the case not

included. It's a matter of taking what you want to prove out of

context. Propagandists use this technique all the time to get across

their message. It's the old story of telling a half truth.

Honest criticism and a sincere difference of opinion are always welcome.

But criticism must be well-founded from a scientific point of view and

not stem from an emotional reaction. You have probably heard the remark,

"I won't let anyone hypnotize me." What are they really saying, and what

does hypnosis represent to such an individual? To them, hypnosis

represents some sort of "magic spell" which invokes a state of complete

helplessness and dependency upon the hypnotist. We previously discussed

how this erroneous conception can take place because of the manner in

which hypnosis is usually interwoven with bizarre fictional stories.

For many, the hypnotic state represents a period in which the conscious

guard is dropped. They feel they may compulsively reveal the darker side

of their nature, confess their hostility or relate information they

would never voluntarily divulge to anyone. This is the real danger they

see in hypnosis. To protect themselves from it, they attack it. It is

much like the fanatic vice crusader who militantly attacks sin in order

to alleviate his own feelings of guilt stemming from the fact that vice

actually attracts him.

Fear of hypnosis takes different forms, but basically it is the fear of

revealing one's true feelings. An employee, for instance, at a gathering

which included the employer he dislikes, would never volunteer as a

subject for hypnosis if the occasion arose. He would be afraid he would

do or say something which might endanger his position. Hypnosis for him

would be "dangerous" because he would be afraid to take the chance. The

truth is, however, that this individual would be taking no chance. The

hypnotic state is not a confessional period. The subject is aware at

all times of what he is saying. If the subject does not wish to pursue a

line of questioning, he tells the hypnotist. If the hypnotist persisted

further along this line, the subject would shake off the hypnotic state.

Another misconception about hypnosis is the widely held belief that the

subject is unconscious. This represents a threat to the security of the

individual. Actually, the hypnotic state is a period of extreme

awareness in which the subject is hyperacute. Furthermore, the subject

is not asleep, nor is he in a trance state in the correct meaning of

that term. He is in an altered state of awareness with his faculties and

reasoning ability intact. Inducing hypnosis merely creates a mood or

state in which the powers of suggestibility are heightened.

When the general public and the medical profession become familiar with

the true nature of hypnosis, we shall have a greater acceptance and

utilization of this power. It is a slow process but one which will

finally evolve. In the final analysis, I believe the only danger that

exists is in the mind of the individual who fears hypnosis because of

whatever subjective qualms he has about his own emotional involvement in

the hypnotic process.

Of course, all persons using hypnosis for the alleviation of pain should

consult their family physician. Pain is nature's way of indicating that

something is wrong with the organism. It would be foolish to suggest

that a pain in the stomach will disappear when this may be a sign of a

needed appendix operation. The same may be said of constant migraine

headaches. It must be determined that the headache is not a symptom of a

brain tumor or some other pathological condition. It may be of interest

to know that hypnosis is presently being used to relieve pain in

terminal cancer patients. There is an excellent article on this subject,

and I recommend it to doctors reading this book. It is called "The Use

of Hypnosis in the Case of the Cancer Patient" which appeared in the

January 1954 issue of Cancer.[1]

[1] At the same time, I would highly recommend the booklet,

Helping the Dying Patient and His Family, published by the

National Association of Social Workers, 2 Park Avenue, New York

16, New York. Price: 75 cents.

There are at present several thousand dentists throughout the country

using hypnosis. They have formed their own society and publish a

quarterly journal, The Journal of the American Society of Psychosomatic

Dentistry. One of the best books in this field is called Dental

Hypnosis Handbook by Jacob Stolzenberg, D.D.S.

An excellent article is "Danger! Hypnotherapist at Work" by M.

Abramson. The author reviews briefly the pros and cons regarding the

medical use of hypnosis. He concludes: "It is the author's opinion,

based on an extensive personal experience of over 15 years, that the use

of hypnotherapy by a physician or dentist who has been properly trained

and who uses this technique strictly within his field of competence

carries with it no more (and probably less) 'danger' than the use of

many other techniques of treatment used in medicine today."