by Tim Brunson DCH
An issue that often comes up with new subjects involves fear and concerns about being led by the hypnotic operator to perform acts, which would be against that their moral or ethical values. This phenomenon is normally called hypnocontrol. This is a myth. Having performed hypnosis sessions since 1992, I’ve never seen anyone do anything that was against their will.
Fears of hypnocontrol have been perpetuated by the media for a long time. George Du Maurier (1834-1896) wrote a novel, Trilby, about hypnocontrol. In the novel, Svengali, a character, used cruel domination of his hapless hypnotic suspect. In fact, in the late 19th century, both natural split personalities and artificial personality splitting (by suggested amnesia under hypnosis) were hot new items in psychological research. The unknowing young female in the novel was subjected to such artificially-split personality. The continuance of this myth has carried on in recent movies about vampires and a relatively recent Woody Allen movie where the character was induced by hypnosis to burglarize homes. Unfortunately for the public, these myths have greatly hurt the reputation of hypnotherapists.
The fear caused by this myth is an obstacle to hypnotizability. As David Elman stated in his 1964 book, Hypnotherapy, the fear of a subject may often prevent someone going into trance. (Elman was a stage hypnotist who spent the final years of his career training medical and dental professionals in the art of hypnosis.) This is why all new clinical hypnotherapists are taught to discuss this “Svengali” phenomenon early in the pre-induction talk thereby assuring the client/patient need not fear the hypnotic process.
As far as legitimate research attempting to dispel this myth, I am not aware of any. I can state, however, that this has been addressed in numerous court depositions and articles by Martin Reiser, Ed.D, Director of Behavioral Science Services at the Los Angeles Police Department. Essentially Dr. Reiser‘s comments together with the case law history supporting (and sometimes rejecting) forensic hypnosis fully address the risk that victims and witnesses may have implanted false memories and/or due to hypnosis take actions that they would not take otherwise. Frankly, I feel that even the courts have finally ruled that hypnosis intrinsically cannot sufficient alter someone’s behavior in a way to induce them to take actions that are contrary to their normal activities or actions.