I have answered many of the more common hypnosis questions on this website already but recently I have been asked a couple of times whether hypnosis is safe. The reason for these questions is mainly down to a case in the American courts relating to George Kenney, a former high school head teacher who supposedly killed three of his students.
He has been accused of causing their deaths by being an unregulated practitioner of hypnosis, a crime in America, and hypnotising them which killed them. The three students, Marcus Freeman, Wesley McKinley and Brittany Palumbo died some time after their teacher hypnotised them.
I would at this point like to express my deep and heartfelt sadness for the parents of these young adults. Trying to comprehend what losing a child must be is not something I wish to spend any time even considering, being a parent myself. My thoughts are with the parents, family and friends of the students.
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Could Hypnosis Be To Blame?
It seems to me though that blaming their deaths on the fact that they requested to be hypnotised is incorrect. I can not imagine anything that the teacher did that could have caused their deaths. Marcus Freeman died in a car crash. Also in the car at the time of the crash was Freeman's girlfriend and they were driving home after he had been to a dental appointment. Apparently Freeman "got a strange look on his face" shortly before he veered off the road and crashed.
Wesley McKinley was hypnotised to help him with auditions for music school which were causing him anxiety. He hung himself and was said to have been acting strange on the day of his death. Brittany Palumbo also hung herself, three weeks after McKinley.
All three students went to their teacher to get help at dealing with their anxiety and Mr Kenney said that he only acted in the student's best interests and was trying to help them by helping them to be calmer and more in control. The teacher also hypnotised at least 75 other students and teachers in the school and they are all unharmed.
No Direct Evidence that Hypnosis Or Self-Hypnosis Was To Blame
The lawsuits seem to link being hypnotised to the deaths but offer no evidence for it being the direct cause of these tragic deaths. The death of Marcus Freeman was linked to hypnosis rather than the "painful" trip to the dentist. I would have thought if he was in pain that some kind of anaesthetic would have been used for the treatment he received which could have had an impact on his ability to drive safely.
In any school where there is a large number of students who are placed under huge pressure to perform there will be students who are unable to handle it. It is unfortunately not uncommon for students to take their own lives due to this pressure. The fact that Brittany Palumbo took her own life just 3 weeks after Wesley McKinley could suggest that she was influenced by him rather than the hypnosis they received.
The case is incredibly dubious and the facts just do not add up in my opinion. Some hypnotherapists and researchers in the field say that it is impossible to make someone go against their own moral compass and cause harm to themselves or others. Derren Brown did cast doubt on this claim when he hypnotised someone to assassinate Steven Fry. This seemed to suggest that people can be manipulated through hypnosis to do things that they would not normally do.
That being said, Derren Brown is incredibly experienced and skilled and spent weeks and weeks working with his subject to deliberately guide his subject towards acting as he desired. George Kenney taught himself some basic relaxation hypnosis through on line studying. He is hardly the master manipulator Derren Brown is.
Taking all that into account I would urge anyone reading this who is unsure about the safety of hypnosis to be assured that they are HIGHLY unlikely to suffer any undesirable side effects from hypnosis if they take sensible precautions.
Guidelines for finding a reputable hypnotherapist
Look for reviews. If your hypnotherapist is good and has been around for more than a year or so they should have reviews. If they don't this could be a sign that they are perhaps not that good.
Don't take professional body membership as proof of ability. There are many governing bodies in the world of hypnosis. Two of the biggest are the National Council for Hypnotherapy (NCH) and the General Hypnotherapy Register (GHR). I have been members of both at one time or other but have since severed my ties with them. This is due to a growing number of hypnotherapists recognising that these organisations do little more than collect annual subscriptions from therapists and offer very little in return.
Work with someone qualified. The unofficially agreed minimum qualification is the Hypnotherapy Practitioner Diploma (HPD). This qualification is externally awarded which means a professional assesses a therapists understanding of various key techniques.
Is the therapist insured? A good therapist will have public liability and professional indemnity insurance. It is an overhead for the hypnotherapist but proves that they value your health and wellbeing. Do not be afraid to ask for proof of insurance from your hypnotherapist.
Where does the hypnotherapist work from? Do they use a room in their own home or do they have a private clinic? A therapist with a clinic is more likely to have a successful practise and be the more professional choice.
About the author:
Richard Hennessy is the principal hypnotherapist at Focused Hypnosis. He founded Focused Hypnosis in 2009 and since then it has consistently been one of the highest rated hypnotherapy clinics in Sheffield. It is now the biggest hypnotherapy practise in Sheffield. Richard specialises in weight management.