Don E. Gibbons, Ph.D., NJ Licensed Psychologist #03513
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Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Of COURSE Hypnosis CAN be Used for Mind Control, Seduction, or Committing a Crime!

During the break between classes, a student once told me that her father used to hypnotize her mother every night and tell her what he wanted her to cook for dinner the following evening. She would not remember this, but he would always prepare his chosen meal as if she had thought of it herself.

Of course I cannot diagnose anyone I have never met, but this pattern perfectly fits the definition of a dependent personality disorder. People with this diagnosis want to be told what to do, instead of making up their mind themselves. When people
with dependent personality disorder are hypnotized, the hypnotist can easily get them to comply with many instructions, merely by suggesting that this is what they are going to do. 
Hypnosis itself is not an instrument of mind control, but it provides both the opportunity and the occasion for a person who wants to be told what to do to go ahead and comply with the instructions and suggestions that he or she is given.

With regard to the question of whether or not hypnotized individuals are more susceptible to sexual seduction,  the short answer is no, but the longer answer is sometimes yes. Let me respond by asking three questions. First, does seduction ever occur outside of hypnosis? The answer is obviously yes. Second, does hypnosis make people any more virtuous than they were before? Of course, the mere act of being hypnotized does not automaticrally change you into somebody who has a 
stronger moral code. Third, is it logical to assume that fantasies of seduction under hypnosis only occur to hypnotists themselves, and never to hypnotic subjects? Obviously not!

As far as the commission of a crime under hypnosis is concerned, laboratory investigations into whether or not hypnosis can be used for antisocial purposes such as committing a murder or other offense invariaby fall short of the mark, because the circumstances are not sufficiently taken  account. Imagine that Prof. Snarf has asked for volunteers in a psychological experiment. They are given a hypnotic induction, followed by  instructions to pick up a beaker of acid and hurl it in the experimenter's face, to pick up poisonous snakes, or to shoot the experimenter with a supposedly loaded gun. (All of these instructions have been used in actual experinents!) Would you really believe that a reputable scientist would let you commit a murder as part of a psychological experiment? Or would you be inclined to believe that because you are ordered to do these ridiculous things there must be a reason for it other than the one that was given, so you might as well go ahead and do as you are told? Many would be inclined to,choose the second option (Sarbin & De Rivera, 1998). Dr. Martin Orne coined the term demand characteristics to refer to this tendency of a subject in an experiment to act in the way that the subject thinks that he or she is supposed to behave, rather than simply reacting to the instructions in themselves.

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 teenage 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. I testified that while hypnosis cannot force people to people do something which is against their moral and ethical codes, it is impossible to conclusively demonstrate in the laboratory whether or not hypnosis could be used to compel anti-social behavior. You could never actually allow such behavior to occur in an experimental setting, or in any kind of staged demonstration, and the subjects know it! But, in what I like to call "the laboratory of life," the results are more clear-cut. Hypnosis in its modern form has been around for over two hundred years; and if you have to go half way around the world and back several decades in time in order to find even one instance of its alleged use in the commission of a crime, then it would be easier to conclude that this individual was psychotic or mentally deranged than to conclude that his or her behavior was the result of the alleged coercive power of hypnosis. If hypnosis could be used in such a manner, by this time its anti-social applications would be well-documented and systematically employed -- in organized crime, in international espionage, by thwarted lovers, and in many other settings. And the evidence simply is not there.

When a hypnotist is accused 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 high status, as was the case with Rasputin, a priest and an advisor to the Tsarina in the court of imperial Russia. 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 that the hypnotist  abused his or her position of trust and authority in order to have sexual relations with the victim, which is tantamount to rape. Therefore, the prosecution's mistake was to attack hypnosis itself, rather than the power  s
differential between the hypnotist and his teenage victim. (He was still  convicted, however, because it was found that the girl was underage.)

It would be a serious mistake in situations such as these to assume that fantasies of seduction under hypnosis occur only to hypnotists and never to their subjects -- in which case, the problem is still not with hypnosis itself. However, if mutual consent is not freely given ahead of time, there is  a very high incidence of "buyer's remorse," due to the fact that the subject usually has conflicting motives.

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 and are sensationalized by the mass media, 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.

Whenever something acquires unsavory or unpleasant associations, the response of society is usually to reframe it if the practice is retained. Old people become seniors citizens, a public toilet becomes a restroom, and a feebleminded child becomes an exceptional or special needs child. In the minds of the general public, the term hypnosis continues to be plagued by outmoded, Nineteenth-Century, Svengali-like stereotypes - but it works!  So what's a body to do??  I would like to  suggest that we take refuge in the time-honored practice of re-framing, as I have done, and refer to a new discovery -- multiversal meditation --  along with some examples of its successful use as a method of altering the ongoing narrative of one's life story. A press release might come in handy in this regard -- especially if you take the reporter on an experiential tour of the multiverse!

(I am grateful to Dr. AƱnette K. Schreiber for her assistance in the preparation of this post.

Sarbin, T. R., & De Rivera, J. (1998),  Believed-in imaginings:The Narrative Construction of Reality (Memory, Trauma, Dissociation, and Hypnosis). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.