Is hypnosis dangerous? Fear is one reason that people do not try hypnosis. People are often keen to discover how dangerous hypnosis is before they will consider treatment. It is natural to want to determine the risks associated with hypnosis so that people have informed consent just as you would with any other treatment option.
The basis of the perceived risks of hypnosis stem from popular culture, usually B movies which focus on a Machiavellian controlling character that makes people behave in a way that is beyond their will. In recent times programmes like CSI have also suggested that hypnosis is used to make people do bad things. But is there any evidence that you can be harmed by positive hypnosis?
There have been reports that people have been hypnotised to do out of character things which could lead to them being vulnerable to convictions for criminality. In 2008 an Italian shop assistant was found to be 800 Euros short after being hypnotised to hand over too much change. Whilst in the UK, the hypnotist Derren Brown used hypnosis and convoluted scene setting to convince highly suggestible people to commit a robbery and even confess to a non-existent murder. It is stories like this suggest that hypnosis can be dangerous.
So hypnosis has links to getting people to do something which they would not ordinarily do. But is hypnosis dangerous? Will it harm you at a psychological or physiological level?
have been documented stories of people being injured by the effects of
participating in a stage show using hypnosis. In 2001 there was a case of a stage hypnotist
who was sued in the UK
for rekindling memories of childhood sexual abuse when he asked a participant
to go back to a time in their childhood and they revisited a time when they
were being abused.
The use of hypnosis was not the main issue here but it was the vague and inexact use of language which lead the participant to relive the feelings of child abuse. Any skilled therapist would be mindful of how to phrase their language to prevent this issue. So, in this case, hypnosis was the focus of the report despite being a secondary factor.
Other examples include someone being struck in the face by another participant who was directed to do something out of character; and so punched the person next them on stage or a person who sustained foot injuries after jumping off the stage because they were responding to a suggestion that they were riding a horse. These examples have nothing to do with positive hypnosis and would not happen in the clinical environment, as all clinicians adhering to their code of ethics. Clinical hypnosis involves training, clinical supervision, adhering to a code of ethics and ultimately a desire to do good for the patient.
When you consider the question of is hypnosis dangerous, it has to be taken in context. There is no evidence that hypnosis is harmful, and the evidence remains inconclusive that you can be forced against your will to do something against your moral code. Stage hypnotists have been prosecuted for failing to fully manage the risks of working with the public when they have been more focused on the entertainment aspect of their role. Basic common sense around the well being of their volunteers would have prevented all the above stories.
It is this negligence which has resulted in prosecutions not the use of hypnosis itself.
The concerns of hypnosis have been tested by ongoing research and in 1996 the Home Office in the UK published its own report which concluded that stage hypnosis "posed no serious risk to the public and that all indications are that there is not a significant problem directly associated with stage hypnotism".
Whilst the Health and Safety Executive’s own study concluded that, "it should be made clear to all authorities that HSE has no evidence to suggest that stage hypnotism poses a general risk to the public if it is carried out according to the Home Office guidelines".
So is hypnosis dangerous? No more and no less than other talking therapies. But when an unskilled or negligent person uses hypnosis, the lack of training may result in unintended consequences.