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Dangers Of Hypnotism

There are many and various opinions of the dangers of hypnotism. Some
of those who have given it a fair trial have insisted on its dangers.
Some of those who have had very large experience have declared
emphatically that there is no danger at all. Occasionally it has
seemed that such a declaration must be considered as having been
dictated by such intensity of interest as sometimes leads men to
overlook the darker side of things with which they are much occupied.
Certain moral aspects of hypnotism are at least dubious, and, it must
be admitted, present opportunities for abuse. There are certain
dangers connected with its effect upon nervous patients, and
especially with its influence upon character, that have become more
and more clear in recent years. Dr. John K. Mitchell, in his "Self
Help for Nervous Women," a series of familiar talks on economy in
nervous expenditure, [Footnote 21] has dwelt on certain of these
dangers of hypnotism for nervous patients in a passage that deserves
to be recalled. As a representative of a school of thought that is
worthy of special regard from American physicians his expressions must
carry weight:

[Footnote 21: Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1909.]

The greatest danger of all is the use of hypnotism in any form or
degree, a two-edged sword, capable indeed of usefulness, but more
capable of harm. After years of study, beginning with too easy an
approval of it, hypnotism, whether called by that name or by the
unsuitable one of suggestion, has been laid aside by the medical
profession as a means too dangerous for ordinary use, involving
great risk of deterioration of character in the subject if often
repeated, and putting a terribly tempting tool in the hands of the
user, fascinating in the ease with which it can produce superficial
and temporary good results and equally capable of being used for
harmful ones.

A susceptible person, once hypnotized, is more and more easily
thrown into the hypnotic state until even the slightest hint
suffices to bring about the condition. It is not necessary for the
hypnotization to go so far as deep sleep; this more advanced stage
is indeed seldom required, and to say that persons are not
hypnotized because they are not put into a sleep or a trance shows
ignorance of the subject.

I am not asserting that very slight degrees of the hypnotic
condition are as dangerous as the deeper, but I do say that all
degrees of it are dangerous to the integrity and healthy action of
the subject's nervous system. The danger of harm increases with
every repetition of the hypnotization.

In suggestible, that is, over-susceptible, individuals, who are
almost universally neurotic persons, to fix the eyes on a small
point, especially a bright one, sometimes even to fix the mind on
the one idea of going into the hypnotic state (mild or deep), is
enough without further intervention from any one to put them into
that state.

In an article on the "Danger and Uses of Hypnotism" Prof. Forel, of
Zurich, twenty years ago, while frankly admitting that hypnotism is by
no means a panacea for all nervous affections and unfortunate habits,
found it to be an extremely valuable help in the treatment of many
forms of functional nervous disease. He suggests that some of its many
dangers are due to the fact that hypnotism is practiced by men who are
too distrustful of it, and this distrust, unconsciously communicated
to the patients, produces an unfortunate effect. On the other hand,
fear and distrust on the part of the subjects seriously disturbs the
process of hypnotization, interferes with its effect and sometimes
leads to unfortunate results.

In some cases it seems that the state of dependence on some one else,
at least by suggestion, that had been created during the hypnotic
experience, resulted in a diminution of will power and caused a less
hopeful state on the patient's part than before. I found personally
that suggestion in the waking state might in most cases be used quite
as efficiently as hypnosis itself, and that when improvement came
under these circumstances, the patient always felt more confidence in
himself and less in the operator. Anything that restores
self-confidence and gives patients the feeling that they can conquer
inclinations, tendencies, even habits, if they only will, merely by
firmly resolving to do so, is the best possible mental influence for
them. The hypnotic relief is always easier, but nothing that is easy
is likely to be of lasting value. The enduring effect of gradual cure
by suggestion means much more than the hypnotic miracle that these
patients are so prone to crave.

At present there is a very general feeling among those who have had
considerable experience with hypnotism, that in spite of the claims of
certain votaries for it, there is no justification for its frequent or
habitual use. It has a definite place in diagnosis, in certain
difficult cases, and at the beginning of the treatment of certain
forms of the psycho-neuroses. When repeated frequently it is not
therapeutic, but is likely to produce serious results in a certain
lack of self-control and tendencies to auto-hypnotization with
deterioration of character. There is very seldom need of a repetition
of deep hypnosis, and, as a rule, all the diagnostic benefit can be
secured in one or two seances. Its continued use only illustrates the
tendency noted at all times, in the history of medicine, for the
unthinking or unprofessional to persist in the application of supposed
remedial measures after they have been shown to be useless or even
harmful. The subject well deserves further study, but investigations
should be carefully made by men who realize the dangers, and who are
not likely to be tempted to exploit patients and curious psychological
phenomena for the sake of sensational reputation. The use of hypnotism
for exhibition purposes, by men who are not physicians, is an unmixed
evil, producing entirely wrong impressions on the public, and doing
untold evil to the subjects employed.

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