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Information about Hypnosis

The American Medical Association's Council on Scientific Affairs issued a report on the use of hypnosis in 1984. No therapist or client should consider using hypnosis for any purpose without first reading the full report and studying the known risks of this technique. Here are some quotes from the report:

  • "It is the consensus of the Panel that hypnotic age regression is the subjective reliving of earlier experiences as through they were real--which does not necessarily replicate earlier events."
  • "Although the Panel recognizes that there are many factors--including leading questions--that affect eyewitness testimony in the non-hypnotic state, subjects in hypnosis are more vulnerable to the biasing effects of leading questions."
  • "[T]here are clinical case reports that appear to demonstrate memory enhancement in hypnosis. The vast majority of these reports are anecdotal, and most fail to provide independent corroboration of the memories recovered in hypnosis or to establish that hypnosis was responsible for any effects observed."
  • "In no study to date has there been an increase in accuracy associated with an appropriate increase in confidence in the veracity of recollections. Consequently, hypnosis may increase the appearance of certitude without a concurrent increase in veracity."
  • "Witnesses and victims, however, are not selected for their mental health .... the Panel believes that it is essential that hypnosis be conducted by a psychiatrist or a psychologist who is competent to help the witness or victim deal with overwhelming affect."
  • "Not only is there a question about the accuracy of a subject's recollection during hypnosis, but there is also the problem that hypnosis leads to an increased vulnerability to subtle cues and implicit suggestions that may distort recollections in specific ways, depending upon what is communicated to the subject. Both the expectations of the hypnotist and the prior beliefs of the subject may determine the extent of confabulations or pseudomemories during hypnosis. The manner in which a question is framed can influence the response and even produce a response when there is actually no memory."
  • "Before proceeding with hypnosis, informed consent should be obtained from the subject."
  • "The Panel found no evidence to indicate that there is an increase in only accurate memory during hypnosis and recognized that there is no way for either the subject or the hypnotist to distinguish between those recollections that may be accurate and those that may be pseudomemories."

One of the known risks of hypnosis is the deliberate or inadvertent suggestion of information to the client by the hypnotist. Research studies have shown that even without the use of hypnosis, interviewers can suggest information to and cue desired responses from interviewees unintentionally and without either party being aware that suggestion has taken place. This unconscious "cueing" is believed to occur through body language, tone of voice, and other implicit means of communication. Consider this warning issued by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in 1997:

"Forceful or persuasive interviewing techniques are not acceptable in psychiatric practice. Doctors should be aware that patients are susceptible to subtle suggestions and reinforcements whether these communications are intended or unintended." -- "Reported Recovered Memories of Child Sexual Abuse: Recommendations for Good Practice", Report of Royal College of Psychiatrists' Working Group on Reported Recovered Memories of Child Sexual Abuse

When hypnotized, a person's succeptibility to suggestion (whether deliberate or inadvertent, conscious or unconscious) may increase. Individuals vary in their degree of response to hypnosis. Herbert Spiegel, M.D., studied suggestibility and hypnosis and classified 10 percent of the population as highly-hypnotizable "Grade Fives:"

"Spiegel also claims that Grade Fives exhibit 'readiness to trust; a relative suspension of critical judgment; an ease of affiliation with new experiences; a telescoped time sense; an easy acceptance of logical incongruities.' He thinks that they possess a capacity for intense concentration, 'overall tractability [and] role-confusion, [with] a subtle sense of inferiority.'" -- Victims of Memory, p.184

Such individuals probably have a greater-than-average risk of developing false memories of events which never occurred, particularly if hypnosis is used during psychotherapy, if the individual is not warned about the risk of suggestion, if informed consent is not obtained, or if the therapist assumes that problems in adult life are always rooted in childhood experiences. Research studies currently underway may shed light on the possible connection between suggestibility, hypnotizability, and the development of false memories.

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