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?” healthline.com 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!