The general public often thinks of hypnosis in terms of its potential for abuse. Most people have heard of the scandal which reached the highest levels of the Court of Imperial Russia and which may have been one of the factors which ultimately contributed to its demise, involving the notorious Russian monk, Rasputin who reportedly seduced many women by hypnotizing them. However. it would be a mistake to assume that fantasies of seduction occur only to male hypnotists and never to their female subjects, especially if they should happen to find that the hypnotist, or hypnosis itself, is sexually attractive. In the sexually repressive atmosphere of Imperial Russia, it should not be surprising that Rasputin was able to find volunteers who would be willing to act out seduction fantasies, with varying degrees of self-deception.
Can hypnosis actually be used to compel obedience, to suggestions of seduction when there is no underlying wish to comply? Some years ago, I was asked to testify in the case of a man who had falsely advertised himself as a psychologist and had begun hypnotizing teen-age girls in the area, one of whom subsequently accused him of rape. In order to make its case that hypnosis could be used to compel behavior, the prosecution had pointed to an incident in Eastern Europe several decades earlier, in which a stage hypnotist had handed a man a pistol loaded with blanks and commanded the man to shoot him. The hypnotized subject, who was an off-duty police officer, drew a loaded revolver from his pocket and shot three members of the audience. The defense, on the other hand, was prohibited from pointing to the girl's history of sexual acting out in the neighborhood as evidence that she could have been voted "the girl most likely to. . ."
When a hypnotist is ac used of rape or seduction, the problem is not with hypnosis itself, but with the power differential which is inherent in a therapeutic relationship, as it is when the abuser is a person in a position of authority or high status. This trust must never be abused. The responsibility always lies with the person in authority. It is necessary for the trusted person to maintain strong boundaries and to stop any inappropriate relationships from developing, even if a client displays seductive behavior due to transference, a personality disorder, mental illness, physical attraction or simple intimidation.. A teenager would be especially susceptible to such suggestions; and If he or she subsequently accused the hypnotist of rape, then the chances are, the hypnotist may have abused his or her position of trust and authority in order to have sexual relations with the client, which is tantamount to rape, as we are currently seeing on the news where hypnosis is not involved at all. Therefore, the prosecution's mistake was to attack hypnosis itself, rather than the power differential which the hypnotist (who had falsely advertised himself a psychologist) had abused, .
Instances such as these tend to be reported in great detail by the media, and are amplified still further by depictions of hypnosis in fiction. Because of the publicity which results from them, there are many people who will not have anything to do with hypnosis .And because these abuses continue to surface from time to time, the public is probably never going to be won over completely, despite our repeated assurances that hypnosis is perfectly safe when used by ethical and appropriately trained professionals.
(I am grateful to Dr. Annette K. Schreiber for her collaboration and assistance in the preparation of this posting.)