Coronavirus is NOT the End of the World

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One of the best things we all can do for our mental health is to simply stop watching and listening to media that are constantly bombarding us with threats and warnings about what must surely be the cause of our imminent death–COVID-19.  I have recommended this strategy to several of my patients, who have seen a concomitant increase in their positive outlooks on life.

As a former member of the media, I can assure you that while you may think the mission of our media is to disseminate true and verified information, that is sadly no longer true.  The mission of the media, as with any other category of companies, is to make money.  Shocking, I know, but their strategy is to generate sensational stories that will draw you in and keep you enraptured, especially as they pause for the commercial messages that pay their bills.  Thus, sensational headlines and sound bites that herald cataclysmic events such as the second coming of the Black Plague are a great inducement to keep watching, listening, and reading.  There are certainly political influences that are in play with the media’s treatment of COVID-19, but this column is not the place to discuss those factors.

Instead, let’s discuss how we are being manipulated by said media in service of their monetary ends.  One way they accomplish this is to publish incendiary messages, such as the fact that we are reaching new record highs in COVID-19 cases.  That certainly sounds frightening, and while the message is true, it is easily explained by the fact that we are also reaching new record highs in COVID-19 testing.  More tests=more results=more cases.  Somehow, our media reports tend to downplay or even fail to mention this reality.

Another set of facts that goes unnoticed by the media is that while the number of cases is “spiking” (note the incendiary term), the numbers of deaths and hospitalizations is not spiking.  The reason for this is very clear.  As noted recently by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the virus has spread to younger populations as the state has opened up, but nowhere do we see that hospitals are jammed with COVID-19 cases, or that mortuaries are overwhelmed with dead bodies courtesy of COVID-19.

The Explore Health website cites a viewpoint article published February 24 in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), where authors reviewed case records of 72,314 patients, 44,672 of which were confirmed as having COVID-19. Of those confirmed cases, 36,160 cases, or 81%, showed only mild symptoms, while 14% were severe and 5% critical. The overall case-fatality rate, or coronavirus cases that ended in death versus the total number of people with confirmed cases of infection, was only 2.3%, or 1,023 deaths.

Nevertheless, we have the unstated, but very clear message that if you get this virus, you are going to get very sick and die.  Another fascinating website,, actually lets individuals enter their age and some important medical data (cancer, hypertension, chronic respiratory disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and smoking) to calculate the odds of their surviving the Coronavirus pandemic.  If you’re a “high risk” male between ages 70 and 79, your chances of survival (no underlying conditions) are 94%.  If you are between the ages of 50 and 59, the number jumps to 99 percent.

Even in higher risk cases, such as an 80-year-old male with cancer who is also a smoker, the survival estimate is nearly 80 percent! (79.45).  A female in her 70’s with diabetes and heart disease stands a 71.63% chance of surviving.  This is not to say that high risk individuals should not take measures to avoid exposure, but it is to say that for the great majority of us, coronavirus is not the end of the world.

Finally, the lockdown of our population, which we now know was not necessary, except for the most high-risk individuals, has had a decidedly depressing effect on most of us, taking away our fundamental needs for touch and social interaction.  This, in turn, makes us much more likely to panic at the headlines with which the media assaults us.  The good news is you as an individual can decide how you will react to such messages.  Perhaps, instead of losing it, you will decide to take a logical approach and to limit your concerns to reflect a proper level of vulnerability.


The Dangerous Psychology of Coronavirus, Part 2

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As the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic continues to afflict our society and our world, many of us are starting to wonder where it will all end.  As noted in our first installment, enforced distancing and being held captive in our own homes is wrecking untold psychological damage on most of us as individuals, and on the American mindset as a whole.

We are a nation of workers, workers of all stripes.  As one can readily see, even from our corrupt mainstream media, people in many states are just fed up with having to sit idly by while our nation’s economy dies on the vine as millions find themselves unable to work.  That feeling of impotence, the hopelessness that is trumpeted by media, is unsettling for most of us who see the need to slow the spread of the virus, but who also desperately need to make a living for our families and for ourselves.  We want to be good citizens, but we also want to survive and thrive.  And we will only wither away in depression and helplessness should we suckle too long at the government’s breast.

The CDC warns that the stress of living in this artificially compromised environment may lead to a number of serious issues, including fear and worry about one’s own health and the health of loved ones; negative changes in sleep or eating patterns; difficulty sleeping or concentrating; worsening of chronic health problems; worsening of mental health conditions, and increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.  The stress of having to slog through life in a near-dead economy is one thing, but even worse is the stress of watching the chaos continue unabated.

Yet we are not as helpless as some would lead us to believe.  I am reminded of the oft-told story of a Midwest town under heavy rains with floodwaters quickly building up.  The pastor of a large church in that town stands on the steps of his church and watches as the water begins swirling around his knees.  A man comes by in a rowboat and says, “Pastor, jump in my boat and I will take you to safety.”  “No,” says the clergyman, “The Lord will provide.”  A few hours later, with water now up to the pastor’s chest, the boatman comes by again and offers rescue, but again the pastor declares, “The lord will provide.”  Some hours later, the pastor (who cannot swim) drowns in the swirling floodwaters.

Now in Heaven, our pastor is puzzled and angry and demands to see The Head Man.  Granted an audience with the Almighty, the pastor complains, “I put my faith in You but You let me die out there in the floodwaters!”  “Well what do you want from me?” says the Lord.  “I sent the boat for you twice!”

So what “boats” have been sent to us and for us that we might survive the current ordeal?  First, there is the fact that there are many positive developments that are often not reported.  For example (at this writing), even with expanded testing, the CDC reports COVID-19-related deaths in the U.S. are occurring in less than 5 percent of those diagnosed with the condition, while nearly 10 percent have already recovered.  When we consider COVID-19 cases as a percentage of the entire US population, the infection rate is slightly more than two-tenths of one percent–a small number by any reckoning.

Next, we are seeing that the “curve” of COVID-19 incidence has indeed been flattening out, and hospitalizations are down even in hotspots like New York.  The light at the end of our collective dark tunnel is growing ever larger and brighter as we move closer to it.

There have also been a number of promising studies and anecdotal reports about very effective treatments for COVID-19 being tested in the US and abroad.  While there doesn’t seem to be one treatment that works for all, there are several treatments that have worked for many.

As noted in our previous article, the numbers and the developments are on our side.  States are beginning to cautiously open up their beaches and other facilities.  All of these developments are a shot in the arm to our COVID-inspired lethargy and sadness.  The key, as always, is to shun fear and political foolishness.  Let’s look to the growing light of our situation and rely on the Light of the World.


The Dangerous Psychology of Coronavirus

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It is news to virtually nobody that a pandemic of COVID-19 is spreading across the world and is being blamed for many problems, from the actual sickness itself to the disruption of our daily lives and the damage to our economy.  The sickness, of course, can be attributed to the virus itself, but the attendant problems are the result of a single factor, namely fear.

As mental health professionals, we are seeing daily the stoking of the furnace of fear as more and more reports come out about the spread of COVID-19.  The emphasis is on which celebrity or government official has tested positive, how many have died, cancellation of sporting and entertainment events, and foolish political commentary designed to make government look incompetent at being able to stop a disease we have never seen.  All of this seems to threaten our sense of personal safety, and quite naturally makes us more fearful.

It is fear that, as of this writing, has moved government agencies to shut down any place–including open spaces such as beaches–at which more than a few people might congregate.  Officials, understandably, are afraid that if they don’t keep people apart, more of us might contract the disease, or even die from it.  They are protecting us from a threat, and rightly so.  The problem is that as more and more of us stay hunkered down in our homes, our economy and our daily lives grind to a halt, depriving us of several fundamental emotional needs:

First, there is the need for security, the sense that we are relatively safe in going about our daily work and lives.  The current media climate is one of implied, and sometimes explicit, gloom and doom.  And when we see businesses shuttered and activity in our communities virtually stopped, we feel less secure.

Next, there is, the sense of autonomy and control,  the idea that we have the ability to direct the course of our lives in ways that are meaningful and fulfilling.  At the moment, such control has been greatly reduced, leaving many with a feeling of helplessness, and even depression.  Many of the things we might turn to for distraction–watching or participating in sports, live entertainment, gatherings with friends and neighbors, eating at a restaurant–have been taken away.  Even our sources of inspiration and hope (churches, synagogues, etc.) are only available online.

We are deprived of being able to emotionally and physically connected to others, a basic human need.  Certainly, we can use technology to stay in contact, to see and hear those we care about on a screen, but that is not an ultimate substitute for an encouraging pat on the shoulder or a loving hug from a grandparent.  Research has amply demonstrated the importance of touch to emotional health, but the present situation has mandated that we do no such thing.  Even traveling to see those we love presents problems, particularly if they are not in the country.

Still, it seems wise to do whatever we need to do to stop the spread of the virus. If we accept that, how then can we help ourselves and others during this unprecedented time of emotional deprivation?  The answer begins with the realization that all of this is temporary.  God willing, we will see and end to this virus, and many of the promising medical advances that we hear too little about will bear fruit.  Financial experts assure us that the economy, which is another source of dysphoria for many of us, will eventually rebound.  Until that happens, here are some useful and positive thoughts to keep in mind:

Treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 are being developed and tested rapidly, with the government fast-tracking research.  The New York Post reports that an existing anti-malaria drug saved a Florida man from certain death at the hands of the virus.  Hydroxychloroquine, a prescription drug that has long been used to treat malaria, was the life-saver, and President Trump has instructed the FDA to fast-track testing of this medication and a related drug, chloroquine, as a treatment for COVID-19.

The CDC reports that in the US, the death rate among those who test positive for COVID-19 is (at this writing) only 1.3 percent.  To put that figure in perspective, there have been 473 COVID-19 deaths in the US at this writing, while there have been 23,000-59,000 deaths from the flu since Oct. 1, 2019.  Many who contract Coronavirus will be asymptomatic, or have mild symptoms.  The numbers are in our favor.

Finally, we must in all things look to our Maker for protection and relief.  While some would mock the power of prayer in healing, it has actually been demonstrated in research.  The present crisis will end, and Americans have shown themselves to be a strong and resilient people.

Psalm 91:
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!” For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper And from the deadly pestilence. …




Scientific Content Analysis: Lie Detection or Wishful Thinking?

Whether you know it or not, law enforcement agencies all over the world are using a method called Scientific Content Analysis (SCAN) to determine whether or not those they interview are being truthful or deceptive.  According to the Collins Dictionary, SCAN is “the close analysis of the content of statements made to the police by suspects in an attempt to identify innocence or guilt.”

Certainly, we can agree that statements made to police should be closely scrutinized and analyzed, since their truth or falsehood is critical to achieving the ends of justice.  It is alleged that studying the content and structure of a person’s written statements via SCAN will enable a detective or polygraph examiner to accurately judge whether or not the person is being truthful.  Obviously, if that is true, it is a small wonder that law enforcement personnel worldwide are being trained in this process.

The basis for this tool is the idea that certain factors are more likely to be present when a statement is accurate, as opposed to being completely or partially fabricated.  One such factor is that a greater quantity of details are mentioned (e.g., “I saw a yellow and red sunburst pin on the attacker’s left lapel” or “It happened in the rain in the alley next to the Blue Lion convenience store at 8:15 p.m.”) in accurate reports.

As scholarly and scientific as all this sounds, however, SCAN has not shown itself to be effective in revealing deception.  In fact, in an article published in Frontiers in Psychology, the headline conclusion is that “Scientific Content Analysis (SCAN) Cannot Distinguish Between Truthful and Fabricated Accounts of a Negative Event.”  Noting that research on the accuracy of SCAN is scarce, the article states that 117 participants were asked to write down one true and one fabricated statement about a recent negative event in their lives.  Statements were analyzed using 11 criteria derived from SCAN.  The results “indicated that SCAN was not able to correctly classify true and fabricated statements.”  In the researchers’ opinion, “the application of SCAN in its current form should be discouraged.”

Despite these findings (and no support elsewhere) regarding SCAN, it continues to be taught and utilized by law enforcement.  Why should this be?  The simple answer is that we wish it could be as effective as we want it to be.  Unfortunately, like much of what comes out of psychological research, we find that even if SCAN is effective somewhere, it is clearly not effective everywhere.  We want so much to uncover deception–not only in law enforcement, but in critical areas like government and politics–that we childishly cling to methods that sound promising, even in the absence of any credible proof.

To be sure, we as mental health practitioners look for and often find deception in the statements of those we see.  But deception is a deceptively broad term.  It could refer to an outright lie, or it could be a result of wanting to make oneself look better, or it could be to make someone else look worse.  Then there is that long-recognized bugaboo–social desirability.  Especially when it comes to embarrassing details, patients are likely to change the narrative in order that they appear to be the heroes of the story, or at least the innocent victims.

There may well come a time when things like SCAN are clinically verified, and their use justified.  As things stand, however, we are better off trusting the therapist’s instincts over an unproven system of wishful ideas.

Examining the Dangers of Hypnosis

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I have often said that when it comes to hypnosis, there are literally no negative side-effects connected with its practice when it is performed by a trained and qualified individual.  Nevertheless, there are some who believe hypnosis can be a negative factor, causing a variety of problems, including fatigue, antisocial acting out, anxiety, panic attacks, concentration loss, delusional thinking, depression, insomnia, tremors, weeping, and a host of other complaints.

First, let me note that I have hypnotized close to 1,000 individuals and I have never seen any of the above symptoms arise–or had them reported at a later date.  Since some claim that these things do happen, however, I looked into what they were saying.  In one online article, the author provides a much more comprehensive list of problems he claims can occur with hypnosis, including things such as fainting, fear of fearfulness, guilt, headache, histrionic reactions, identity crisis, insomnia, irritability, nausea, vomiting, obsessive ruminations, over dependency, personality change, phobic aversion, psychosis, sexual acting out, sexual dysfunction, somatization, spontaneous trance, stress, lowered threshold, stupor, and tactile hallucinations.  And this is not the complete list.

Once again, I have to say that none of my hypnotherapy patients has exhibited any of the symptoms above, nor were they later reported.  Allowing for the remote statistical probability that my patients have avoided these outcomes due to random chance, I read further into this article until I was finally able to discern the cause of some reported cases (he cites four case examples).  It appears that in at least some of these cases, the problem was caused by ineptitude on the part of the hypnotist, rather than by some innate factor in the practice of hypnosis itself.

For example, one case cited is that of a woman who had hypnosis to alleviate the pain of a dental procedure because she was reportedly sensitive to local anesthesia.  While riding her motorcycle on the way home, she experienced “dizziness.”  Was the dizzy feeling a result of the hypnosis, or did it occur for another one of the various reasons that people sometimes get dizzy?  When we ask the question “why do people get dizzy?” lists 84 different possibilities (low blood sugar, low blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, stroke, inner ear problems, etc.), but hypnosis is not among them.

The article sidesteps the question above by attributing the dizziness to the idea that “the de-hypnotization was too quick and incomplete,” although it does not cite any proof that this was the reason.  Whatever the cause, however, it seems clear that there is no evidence to support the idea that hypnosis, in and of itself, causes dizziness.

In another case cited by this same author, a woman who had dental phobia apparently went into a trance before she even sat in the dental chair.  Here, the solution was that the hypnotist had to be more precise in his instructions for the patient to relax, telling her the relaxation would happen at the moment she sat in the chair, rather than when she was simply on the way to the office.

It seems that a number of the problems that are reported with hypnosis are traceable to the therapist and his or her flawed technique, rather than being a natural reaction to the hypnotic process.

In defense of the article cited above, the author does affirm that hypnosis is “one of the safest tools in the healing profession,” and that adverse effects occur when it is misused, misapplied, or done by amateurs.  He also notes that patients who come in for hypnosis for one problem may be experiencing a variety of other problems, and this is where the importance of a comprehensive clinical interview becomes evident.  If a patient is depressed after being hypnotized for weight loss, we really need to know whether the depression was the chicken or the egg.

Another Internet source sums this up nicely: “dangers do exist in hypnosis, but… they are no worse than those associated with psychotherapy in general. The real dangers… arise with the therapist, not with hypnosis:”  The lesson?  Seek out hypnotherapists who are fully trained, certified as required by law, and experienced in the areas in which you would like to work.  Much of this information on practitioners can be found online.  If not, ask questions!


Hypnosis-Aided Memory is a Slippery Slope

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Memory is a vital element to all sorts of learning in life, yet it can be elusive at just the wrong times, such as when we are taking a final examination or we need to recall the combination to a safe.  In this modern age, there are all sorts of solutions to memory problems, from smartphone apps and other clever devices to supplements made from jellyfish that are alleged to increase one’s powers of recall.

But what happens when we witness something–a critical incident for example–and our memory stubbornly refuses to cooperate, due to stress or nervousness or some other psychological manifestation?  In those cases, many turn to hypnosis as a means of clearing the mind and thus aiding in recall.  The problem, however, is that no matter how clearly one recalls something, it is not the same as a mental video recording.

It was once assumed that any information taken in by the brain (especially the unconscious mind) was stored like an exact video reproduction, ready to be recalled when needed.  Research in memory, however, has revealed something completely different.  Certainly, the brain records most of what it experiences–either consciously or subconsciously–but that information is filtered through the individual’s own assumptions, knowledge, sensory limitations, emotions, and prejudices.  The resulting report of the person doing the remembering may actually be quite different than what was happening.

For example, suppose you and your five-year-old child take your family dog to the veterinarian for its shots.  You watch calmly as the vet struggles a little to get your characteristically rambunctious pet under control, perhaps with a bit of a grimace on his face.  “There, I’ve got you,” says the frustrated vet, whereupon he proceeds to administer the shot.  Everything goes as expected, and you would report that you had seen the vet give the dog a shot, perhaps laughing at the rambunctiousness.

Your five-year-old, knowing nothing about veterinarians and shots, sees something completely different.  He sees a strange man in a white coat grabbing his beloved pet and struggling with it.  He sees what could be an angry look on the vet’s face.  “There, I’ve got you,” snarls the mean man.  Then he sees this man sticking the poor dog with a long needle that he thinks must be causing a lot of pain.  Your five-year-old might tearfully report that he had seen a ,man grab and wrestle with the family pet, then assault the helpless animal with a needle.

You and your five-year-old witnessed the exact same incident, but your reports are significantly different.  Even under hypnosis, neither of you would be likely to change your report significantly.

A recent news item actually reports a murder conviction being overturned on the basis that the state’s sole witness had undergone hypnosis to sharpen his memory before testifying (a fact not revealed by the prosecution).  The article noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a person under hypnosis “could potentially fill memory gaps with fantasy or experience increased confidence in both accurate and inaccurate recollections.”

This is certainly true, but the reason for inaccurate recollections lies not in the fact that the witness was or was not hypnotized.  It is likely that any factual inaccuracies are simply the product of the way the mind works to remember things, putting its own “spin” on the story, so to speak.

This should serve as a reminder to all of us that memories are rarely 100 percent factual, if “factual” is defined as the equivalent of a video and audio recording of an incident.  A person’s whose memory of an incident is “sharpened” via hypnosis may experience recalled images more vividly (including heightened emotions) and may recall other things such as sounds and even smells, but this does not mean that the memories are more factual as we have defined that term above.

Can a Hypnotist Really Make You Cluck Like a Chicken?

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As habitual readers of this blog (obviously very discerning individuals) know all too well, I have been writing for years about the myths and misconceptions that surround the practice of hypnotherapy and hypnosis in general.  Many of these half-truths, lies, and nuggets of fake news emanate (not surprisingly) from mainstream media and from entertainment media in particular.

But what about some other questionable things that seem to have some basis in reality?  I refer to hypnosis ostensibly being employed in order to get people–usually audience members at a hypnosis show–to do strange and embarrassing things.  There is no question that such shows, both live and recorded, do exist, and that it certainly looks like we hypnotists have the ability to make the general public look like childish fools if we apply our mysterious powers to them.

A number of examples exist online, and I invite you to search for them.  In one particular video, the voice over claims that the subjects (all young women, for reasons on which I will not speculate) have all been hypnotized to start acting like chickens when they are prompted by the alleged hypnotist.  How this was accomplished is not shown, which leaves one wondering if any real hypnosis was involved, or if the video was just produced for entertainment purposes.

In another video, the hypnotist explains his suggestions, then shows the alleged effects in a stage show that features mostly women (do I sense a trend here?).  One woman in particular is quite an enthusiastic clucker, much to the delight of the audience and the other supposedly hypnotized individuals.  So let us at least admit that in some cases something like hypnosis occurs and individuals find themselves doing strange and embarrassing things.

Interestingly, none of these individuals behave as if they were embarrassed at exhibiting such behavior, at least in the clips I was able to find–and in my experience having attended such shows.  There is one logical reason for this: These people are not embarrassed!  These folks are enjoying being part of the entertainment, and they are completely comfortable acting silly for the enjoyment of others.

Further, there is no evidence whatsoever that any hypnotist is “making” these women do embarrassing things.  There is also a good reason for that phenomenon: We hypnotists can’t make people do things they wouldn’t ordinarily choose to do!

So, when any potential patient asks me whether or not I will make them cluck like a chicken, I answer in all honesty: “Only if that’s what you want me to do.”

Welcome to reality!

Hypnosis as a Part of Mainstream Medicine

If you ask most medical doctors today about the use and effectiveness of hypnosis in the clinical setting, it is safe to say that many (although not all) will pooh-pooh the notion and express doubt that anything so mysterious could be of any help to the scientists who call themselves physicians.  To put it bluntly, hypnotherapy (like the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield) gets “no respect.”

Yet there was a time when doctors–and psychiatrists in particular–regularly utilized hypnosis as a valuable tool to help their patients.  For example, according to The Freud Page, “Sigmund Freud studied with Charcot, in France, in 1885 and was impressed by the therapeutic potential of hypnosis for neurotic disorders. On his return to Vienna he used hypnosis to help neurotics recall disturbing events that they had apparently forgotten.”  Similarly, “It is clear from (psychology pioneer Carl) Jung’s writings that the way he was using hypnosis was what is called today ‘paternal’ hypnosis, i.e., the hypnotist gives specific suggestions for attitude or behavior change to the entranced client. He referred to it as hypnotic suggestion therapy’,” says ResearchGate,net.  

In his seminal work “Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death,” Frederic Myers cites the case of an apparently epileptic itinerant preacher in Rhode Island who, at age 61, suddenly disappeared one morning and remained missing for two months.  When he was finally located, he was in Norristown, PA, where for the past six weeks he had been operating a variety store under a different name which was not dissimilar to his given name.  When he regained his ordinary waking conscious state, says Myers, he had no memory of his life or actions in Pennsylvania.  Later under hypnosis, however, he was able to give a full account of his eight-week absence.

Said Myers, “It is doubtful, I think, whether any definite post-epileptic memory had ever previously been recovered,” adding that “this application of hypnotism to post-epileptic states affords us possibly our best chance… of getting down to the obscure conditions which predispose to each attack.”

One might suppose that after this success, there would be increased use of hypnotherapy in such cases, but apparently not.  One neurology expert I spoke with said it is extremely unlikely that modern medicine would have turned to hypnotherapy to help an epileptic who had lost significant memory as recorded above.  The answer, instead, would be increased application of pharmaceuticals to help prevent further episodes.

It is unfortunate that the practice of hypnotherapy still labors under false and misleading characterizations put forth by films, television, and stage entertainers.  When it comes to accurate portrayal of this helpful practice, much of what is still out there is “fake news.”  Happily, this is changing.  Even as prestigious an organization as the Mayo Clinic now includes hypnosis as part of its offerings on a limited basis.




Book Review: “Battle for the Mind”

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I first heard of Battle for the Mind: A Physiology of Conversion and Brain-Washing in a sermon that was addressing the godly and ungodly choices one can make in life, as well as the things that influence us.  The preacher let us know that this controversial work had made quite a stir since its first appearance in 1957, but that it since had been “discredited.”  Far from discouraging me to forget the title, this only made me more determined to find out what this book was all about and why people were upset to the point that they wanted to discredit it.

One clue was the subhead on the cover, which reads “How Evangelists, Psychiatrists, Politicians, and Medicine Men can change your beliefs and behavior.”  The idea that evangelists and psychiatrists–people with respectable and sometimes laudable credentials–should be lumped in with politicians and medicine men–whose credibility and intentions may be seriously in doubt–certainly could ruffle some feathers.  And it just didn’t make any sense on the face of it.

The author, William Sargant, himself a highly controversial figure, is described by one web site as being “perhaps the foremost face of British mind control experimentation.”  His basic premise in the work under discussion is that brain-washing–in this case, the radical shift from even core beliefs to different beliefs suggested by someone else–is accomplished by bringing the subject to a state of complete nervous, and often physical, exhaustion–or what today we would refer to as “trauma.”  Modern referents would be terms like battle fatigue, shell-shock, or PTSD, but Sargant makes clear that such breakdowns may also occur due to administration of drugs, electro-convulsive therapy, fear of punishment (proximate, as in torture, or future, as in the prospect of eternity in Hell for sinners), and even continued exposure to rhythmic sounds such as are present in voodoo ceremonies or while dancing to rock and roll.

Sargant’s explanation of this begins with records of experiments on dogs by Ivan Pavlov, the Russian physiologist famous for his work on classical conditioning with salivating dogs.  When Pavlov’s dogs were accidentally traumatized by nearly being drowned in his flooded laboratory, he noticed significant changes in their behavior.  They seemed to have forgotten their recent conditioning and were even observed to have reversed their training in some cases.  They also seemed to show a dislike for human keepers whom they had previously liked.  In short, they lost their previous thought patterns.

Sargant then goes on to postulate that this inducement of trauma, whether deliberate or accidental, is the key method used by the various groups mentioned to influence behavior and change thought patterns.  The weakness in his argument lies in the fact that he applies it too far afield, perhaps revealing his own personal prejudices rather than proven facts.  His examples run the gamut, and in many cases the connection is obvious–as in the tortures used to elicit confessions during the Spanish Inquisition and in the jails and police stations of Communist states who were hell-bent on wiping out all ideological opposition.  In some cases cited, individuals were subjected to so much pain, monotony, and physical deprivation that they would have confessed to anything.  Ironically, however, Sargant points out that it was not uncommon for these individuals to later insist on their guilt as wrongdoers (despite there being no evidence) and on their allegiance to the new state, the new religious teachings, or the new way of thought.  They had truly been brainwashed.

But is this what happens in a psychiatrist’s or psychologist’s office?  Certainly, an effort is made to convince patients that certain behaviors are constructive and others destructive, yet we see none of the continued deprivation, torture, and threats to life and family experienced in the cases mentioned above.  Even a more extreme measure like ECT, which has been shown to be highly effective in reversing some symptoms of certain mental illnesses, is generally aimed at resetting the brain function to a calmer level and not at implanting new thoughts.

Then there are the evangelists.  There are definitely “hell and brimstone” preachers who will bring up the threat of eternal punishment for unrepentant sinners, but elevating the fear of eternal punishment to the level of the fear of losing one’s present life is, for most of us, a non-sequitur.  To be sure, the idea of being thrown into a lake of fire for eternity is a powerful argument for faith, but for non-believers, Hell is not an issue.

My readers may wonder how the practice of hypnosis–erroneously thought by some to be a form of brain-washing–fits into this picture.  The answer, according to Sargant, is that it doesn’t. He does cite instances in World War I in which hypnosis was used to help battle-scarred individuals to mentally (and safely) relive their traumas in order to deal with them in therapy. This is hardly the same, however, as deliberately invoking a disabling mental crisis.

On the other hand, it is not difficult to imagine that the relentless drumming and exhausting dancing for hours that is part of some voodoo rites does indeed leave the individual in a dog-tired stupor–a state in which minds may indeed be influenced and declarations of voodoo practitioners believed.  Whether or not the same effect is produced by dancing to rock and roll seems questionable at best.

All this being said, there is definitely value to realizing that thoughts and even core beliefs may be changed by traumatic experiences or treatments.  It is important to note that Sargant is not advocating such experiences; he is merely explaining what he believes to be the mechanism and method for changing thoughts and, perhaps, behaviors.

This is a fascinating book, but the reader should be aware that descriptions of some methods of brain-washing are disturbing to read.  Whether you credit or discredit all or parts of this book, it certainly offers some interesting explanations for changes that we sometimes find inexplicable.

If you read, or have read, this book.  Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions here.



Hypnosis and Telepathy: Perfect Together

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The practice of hypnosis has been linked with many other practices and ideas–some clinical and health-oriented, and some “alternative” and often controversial.  One example of the latter is the phenomenon known as telepathy.

Telepathy, in simple terms, is, according to Merriam-Webster, “communication from one mind to another by extrasensory means.”  In this context, “extrasensory” refers to something that is beyond the capability of our five senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell.  Some would refer to perception of an event without the involvement of the senses as mind-reading, but this is a less-than-complete definition, in that much of what we refer to as telepathy occurs spontaneously–that is, the person is not consciously trying to send or receive a message from another mind, whether that mind is close by or far flung.

Much has been written about this subject, and many demonstrations have been performed–some of which actually do resort to using sensory means (e.g., pre-arranged signals between the thought sender and the thought receiver).  The key question is whether or not we believe that such a phenomenon actually exists.  Opinions on this point are sharply divided.  Wikipedia, admittedly not the most reliable of sources, claims that,  “There is no convincing evidence that telepathy exists, and the topic is generally considered by the scientific community to be pseudoscience.”  Of course, the scientific community also once believed that Earth is flat and that one could fall off the edge into oblivion if one ventured too close to the horizon.

On the other hand, sites like Collective Evolution point to numerous studies that support the idea that telepathic communication does take place, particularly in dream states.  Then there are the well-documented instances of telepathy between twins. In fact,  according to an article on, “Although a telepathic connection between twins is not universal… it is common enough to serve as some of the best evidence for the reality of telepathy among humans.”

My own humble view is that telepathy definitely exists, and I take this view because I have personally experienced it on many occasions.  I often “hear” or anticipate my wife’s thoughts before she verbally expresses them, but one might as well put that down to the fact that we are very familiar with each other and are likely to know what the other is thinking at times.  But what about complete strangers?  On one occasion, I stepped into an elevator at a hospital and before the door closed, a woman (a stranger to me) stepped on as well.  As she did so, I heard the name “Patel” clearly in my mind.  Not a second later, the lady asked me, “Can you tell me where Dr. Patel’s office is?”  I did not know the doctor in question, nor anyone else of that name.  And let me add here that I have had other similar experiences with people who were not known to me.

Of course, my personal reports are anecdotal and not peer-reviewed studies.  I certainly claim no extraordinary abilities for telepathy, since I am convinced that most of us experience it in some form or other.  Nevertheless, I have no doubt that these things occurred and no other explanation for them other than that some form of mind-to-mind communication was responsible.  I am certain that many of the readers of this article will have experienced similar events in their lives.

So, how do we relate what I believe to be a real phenomenon to the practice of hypnosis?  In his book, Mind to Mind (1948 Hampton Roads Publishing), author Rene Warcollier discusses “the value of hypnosis… for concentration of the attention in a relaxed and receptive state” in order to facilitate mind-to-mind communication.  Indeed, this notion makes sense, since hypnosis endeavors to clear the mind of conscious thoughts in order to allow the suggestions of the hypnotist to be heard without interruptions from the conscious mind.  It is not a giant leap to assume that clearing conscious thoughts from the mental stage might well open the person to thoughts from others.

Later in the same work, Warcollier recounts a clinical case in which a woman who was uneducated and could not even read was capable under hypnosis of understanding the meaning of words which she failed to comprehend in the [normally conscious] state.  The doctor involved said that this could only be explained “by recognizing that this woman read in my own thoughts the meaning of the word on which I had questioned her.”

One can imagine that this woman, in her normal conscious state, would have clearly stated that she had no idea what “encephalon” (another term for “brain”) meant.  Her conscious mind would certainly tell her that.  Yet the unconscious mind found a way to acquire the information from the mind of the clinician, and hypnosis was the means by which her unconscious mind could so operate.  As we have mentioned before, hypnosis is viewed by many–including this author–as the “royal road to the unconscious mind.”

The mind certainly remains as a vastly unknown and unexplored frontier.  Hypnosis, I am certain, will turn out to be a most valuable tool for this exciting exploration now and in the future.