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.