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
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.
 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."