Is Self-Hypnosis Dangerous?
The reality is that self hypnosis is a safe, natural state of the mind. You are under its influence – whether you apply it or not. Because it is a natural process and because it commonly practiced and applied by millions of people, I think we can easily conclude that it is safe.
This was proved many years ago when the “Bridey Murphy” craze gripped the country. Despite the fact that thousands of amateur hypnotists were practicing hypnosis, little or no harm resulted. Thousands of medical and non-medical people have been taught self hypnosis without a single case of a crisis or anything of a dangerous nature reported as a result of hypnosis.
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Many patients who seek treatment from competent psychiatrists, psychoanalysts and psychologists do not always obtain good results. This doesn’t mean that everyone should stop seeking help from these specialists. Even a specialist doesn’t have a perfect record of successful self hypnosis therapy.
What then is the objection to hypnosis? The theory that if you get rid of one symptom another symptom will take its place really holds no truth and is usually advanced by those who have had little or no experience in the hypnosis field. However, a difference of opinion does exist even with those practicing hypnosis in this area. Some hypnotists “trade down” symptoms by replacing a serious symptom with a minor one, while others just remove the symptom. The latter is what a doctor does when he recommends aspirin for arthritis. He knows the aspirin will not cure the arthritis, but he wants to alleviate the symptom. To say that another symptom will replace the pain is unscientific—and untrue. The same is true of hypnosis.
Lewis R. Wolberg, M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry, New York Medical College, canvassed 30 experts in the field of hypnosis and found a few who felt symptom removal was “irrational, temporary—or outright dangerous.” The large majority, however, “employed symptom removal where indicated, and minimized or ridiculed any possible bad effects.”
A further objection to hypnosis is that the results are temporary as well as symptomatic. It is well to remember that most medical therapy is specifically directed to symptom removal. How permanent is most medical treatment? Once you couple hetero-hypnosis with self-hypnosis, you afford the patient the opportunity of utilizing suggestions for his own benefit any time they are needed. This, of course, can make symptom relief permanent.
As an example, I would see no harm in teaching a patient self-hypnosis for symptomatic relief from a problem of insomnia. It would certainly be better than physically depressing the higher brain centers with sleeping pills to produce unconsciousness every night.
I needn’t tell you that millions of dollars are spent every year on sleeping pills and patients become dependent upon them, needing more and more pills in order to produce sleep. Many accidental suicides stem from an overdose of sleeping pills. Yet, despite the inherent dangers of sleeping pills which are glaringly apparent, they are prescribed by the millions, to say nothing of those that reach the market through illegal channels. Furthermore, how much effort is really made to get the patient off the sleeping pills? There are also more voluntary suicides by sleeping pills than by any other method. Perhaps if these drugs weren’t so readily available, many of these unfortunate individuals would be with us today.
What about the often-quoted statement that “you might do some damage”? Let’s explore this area. I assume that the reader is somewhat familiar with the work of Emile Coué or at least has heard of his famous autosuggestion formula of “Day by day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.” During our time, thousands upon thousands of seemingly helpless and hopeless cases have been cured by repeating this affirmation over and over again, day after day, as the individual falls asleep.
I think we should make it clear that whether we call it autosuggestion, positive thinking, meditation, yoga, affirmations or self-hypnosis, we are, in reality, talking about the same thing. All require certain basic prerequisites before they will work effectively for the individual. We’ll discuss these prerequisites in the next chapter.
What should be remembered is that the suggestions are being filtered into the subconscious mind which does not question, doubt, analyze or dispute the efficacy of these beneficial thoughts. You can be sure that the constant repetition will have its effect. Hasn’t the mind, in the past, accepted the individual’s diagnosis when he said, “I’m sick,” “I have an inferiority complex,” “I can’t stop smoking,” “I can’t lose weight,” “I can’t concentrate,” “I can remember a person’s face, but I can’t remember names,” “I have a difficult time falling asleep,” “I just can’t seem to relax.” Isn’t such an individual, in effect, using self-hypnosis? And hasn’t the person convinced himself of the validity of his present state? This is truly dangerous. It is negative hypnosis.
The question that I raise is: “Why shouldn’t the subconscious mind be even more convinced and respond strongly to suggestions which are in conformity with the natural desire to be of sound body and mind?” I have never been able to find a logical answer.
I think this is what happens many times. A person seeks help with a problem which, in reality, has nothing to do with hypnosis. His cure is not contingent on being hypnotized or on suggestions he or the hypnotist feel are indicated. You will read in nearly every book and article dealing with hypnosis that “hypnotism is not a cure-all.”
No one has suggested or implied that it should be used exclusively for all emotional problems. You may read a newspaper article warning about the “dangers” of hypnosis. It may tell of a person who rid himself of one symptom and developed another in its place. You usually get a grossly distorted picture of what happened, with many aspects of the case not included. It’s a matter of taking what you want to prove out of context. Propagandists use this technique all the time to get across their message. It’s the old story of telling a half truth.
Honest criticism and a sincere difference of opinion are always welcome. But criticism must be well-founded from a scientific point of view and not stem from an emotional reaction. You have probably heard the remark, “I won’t let anyone hypnotize me.” What are they really saying, and what does hypnosis represent to such an individual? To them, hypnosis represents some sort of “magic spell” which invokes a state of complete helplessness and dependency upon the hypnotist. We previously discussed how this erroneous conception can take place because of the manner in which hypnosis is usually interwoven with bizarre fictional stories.
For many, the hypnotic state represents a period in which the conscious guard is dropped. They feel they may compulsively reveal the darker side of their nature, confess their hostility or relate information they would never voluntarily divulge to anyone. This is the real danger they see in hypnosis. To protect themselves from it, they attack it. It is much like the fanatic vice crusader who militantly attacks sin in order to alleviate his own feelings of guilt stemming from the fact that vice actually attracts him.
Fear of Hypnosis
Fear of hypnosis takes different forms, but basically it is the fear of revealing one’s true feelings. An employee, for instance, at a gathering which included the employer he dislikes, would never volunteer as a subject for hypnosis if the occasion arose. He would be afraid he would do or say something which might endanger his position. Hypnosis for him would be “dangerous” because he would be afraid to take the chance. The truth is, however, that this individual would be taking no chance. The hypnotic state is not a confessional period. The subject is aware at all times of what he is saying. If the subject does not wish to pursue a line of questioning, he tells the hypnotist. If the hypnotist persisted further along this line, the subject would shake off the hypnotic state.
Another misconception about hypnosis is the widely held belief that the subject is unconscious. This represents a threat to the security of the individual. Actually, the hypnotic state is a period of extreme awareness in which the subject is hyperacute. Furthermore, the subject is not asleep, nor is he in a trance state in the correct meaning of that term. He is in an altered state of awareness with his faculties and reasoning ability intact. Inducing hypnosis merely creates a mood or state in which the powers of suggestibility are heightened.
Suggested Hypnosis Sessions: Overcoming Your Fears
When the general public and the medical profession become familiar with the true nature of hypnosis, we shall have a greater acceptance and utilization of this power. It is a slow process but one which will finally evolve. In the final analysis, I believe the only danger that exists is in the mind of the individual who fears hypnosis because of whatever subjective qualms he has about his own emotional involvement in the hypnotic process.
Of course, all persons using hypnosis for the alleviation of pain should consult their family physician. Pain is nature’s way of indicating that something is wrong with the organism. It would be foolish to suggest that a pain in the stomach will disappear when this may be a sign of a needed appendix operation. The same may be said of constant migraine headaches. It must be determined that the headache is not a symptom of a brain tumor or some other pathological condition. It may be of interest to know that hypnosis is presently being used to relieve pain in terminal cancer patients. There is an excellent article on this subject, and I recommend it to doctors reading this book. It is called “The Use of Hypnosis in the Case of the Cancer Patient” which appeared in the January 1954 issue of Cancer.
There are at present several thousand dentists throughout the country using hypnosis. They have formed their own society and publish a quarterly journal, The Journal of the American Society of Psychosomatic Dentistry. One of the best books in this field is calledDental Hypnosis Handbook by Jacob Stolzenberg, D.D.S.
An excellent article is “Danger! Hypnotherapist at Work” by M. Abramson. The author reviews briefly the pros and cons regarding the medical use of hypnosis. He concludes: “It is the author’s opinion, based on an extensive personal experience of over 15 years, that the use of hypnotherapy by a physician or dentist who has been properly trained and who uses this technique strictly within his field of competence carries with it no more (and probably less) ‘danger’ than the use of many other techniques of treatment used in medicine today.”