The Mind-Control Myth: Is Hypnosis Dangerous?

Filed under: Hypnosis Training

Hypnosis! The name conjures up all sorts of fascinating images, from swinging watches to obedient subjects who cannot resist doing whatever the hypnotist commands…

But is it really mind-control? And is it dangerous?

The answer may surprise you…

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Is Hypnosis Dangerous? The Truth You Must Know

Is Hypnosis Mind Control?

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Over the years, we’ve heard many experts of their own opinion, say things like: 

“Being hypnotized is giving control of your mind to another person!” 

Or the classic “All I know is it’s dangerous!”

Beware of “All I know” statements. They indicate a closed mind.

The fictional characters, Svengali and Trilby have done much to add to the misinformation around the subject. In fact, it seems like many people have been hypnotized into believing that there really was a dangerous hypnotist named Svengali, and Trilby was completely under his control. 

So what’s the truth here?

The Origin of the Mind-Control Myth

Let’s begin by looking at this idea that hypnosis is mind control.

Much of this belief comes from films, where evil hypnotists have a Dracula-like ability to conquer the will of other people, although hypnosis has far more to do with imagination than will power. In the movies, a hypnotist will often make eye-contact with an unwilling subject and take control of his or her mind.

Another source of this misinformation comes from hypnosis stage shows; something I did for more than forty years. As a therapist in the 1990s, many people had seen my show and wanted to book an appointment with me. Sometimes their beliefs about hypnosis were accurate, but there were also those who wanted me to hypnotize them and just command them to never smoke again. 

They would often go on to say that they didn’t want to quack like a duck or cluck like a chicken though, as they saw someone do in a hypnosis show.

The whole concept of hypnosis is so rife with crazy beliefs that it’s difficult to have a rational discussion on the subject, at least with some people. It’s as though their beliefs get in they way and the facts about scientific hypnosis just don’t matter.

Many years ago, an adult friend’s mother asked him what I did for a living. He responded that I was a professional hypnotist, and her response was immediate. She clenched her teeth in rage, and looked like she was having a stroke. Then after a few moments said “Well… I’d like to see him try it on me!”

The implication here is that I went around hypnotizing people against their will. It also implied that all hypnosis was at least bad, and most likely evil. She was one of the strong-minded people who was out to resist me, in order to make a point. 

In reality, I had zero interest in hypnotizing her at all. 

And the chance of hypnotizing someone against their will is very slim.

3 Fears 

Most of the misunderstandings people have involve three fears; all of which are about giving up control to the hypnotist.

#1 - Fear of Getting Stuck

Some people believe they might “get stuck” in a hypnotic trance, and not be able to ever awaken from it, but a thorough search of the literature will show how ludicrous this idea is, because it’s never happened in the long history of hypnotism. In reality, there isn’t anything to get stuck in, because hypnosis is about powerful communication.

Being stuck in hypnosis is as ridiculous as asking a waiter in a restaurant to not give you a menu, in case you get stuck reading it and can’t stop.

#2 - Fear of Telling Secrets

Then there are those who want to know what questions I’m going to ask them, and the answer is I’m not going to ask them any questions. Once again it’s a control issue, tied to the belief that hypnotized subjects will reveal their credit card PIN, or even deep dark secrets, if the hypnotist asks them to.

In reality, after years of providing forensic hypnosis and working on major crimes, I can assure you that a hypnotized subject won’t reveal anything that they don’t want to discuss; no matter how deep the trance. Instead, they’ll either awaken from hypnosis, or simply not comply with the request.

#3 - Fear of Undesirable Hypnotic Suggestions

The third fear around being hypnotized is also about control. As strange as it sounds, there are people who think that a hypnotist can convince them to remove all their clothing in a public place, which again is ludicrous. This is a belief that also arises from watching hypnosis stage shows, where subjects did all sorts of weird antics. They might have even attempted to remove their clothing, only to be stopped at the last moment by the vigilant hypnotist!

It’s Consent

But the reality is, hypnosis is a consensual state. No matter how deep the trance, there is an ongoing communication loop between the hypnotist and subject, and the subject must want to remain in that loop. This means that at any given moment, the subject can simply leave the loop, and stop the antics. That’s because the subject is the one controlling their own mind; not the hypnotist. 

Realize too, that people who do bizarre and even offensive things at so-called R-rated or X-rated hypnosis shows, are volunteers. They go up onstage fully aware of what the show is all about. 

They want to be at the show, and they want to be onstage. These shows provide a legitimacy for doing all sorts of off-colour things. An exhibitionistic personality after a few drinks might volunteer and engage in offensive acts, but it’s nothing to do with hypnosis, and everything to do with being provided with an audience. 

Hypnosis is all about context

What a volunteer will do onstage is much different from what a client will do in a hypnotherapy session. That’s because the context of hypnotherapy is vastly different than the context of being on stage for an entertaining show. A hypnotherapy session doesn’t provide the context for quacking like a duck. 

Attempted Murder

You may have seen a television show where a hypnotized person is given a gun and told to shoot someone. Amazingly, the subject complies, and attempts to kill the person. Fortunately, the gun is a fake or loaded with blanks, and the “victim” remains very much alive, again because of context. 

But since he pulled the trigger and tried to kill that person, doesn’t that show he was under the hypnotist’s absolute control?

Not at all.

Remember: The subject is on a TV show! He knows he’s on television, and presumes it’s going to be okay to pull the trigger. He rightly assumes that he’ll be stopped, or that something will be in the script to protect the person he’s going to shoot. This must be the case, because although he doesn’t know how he’ll be prevented from killing the person, he knows that no television show will encourage him to commit murder. 

Even television reality shows are not reality. 

They’re television.

And there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that the viewer never sees in the edited version that arrives in his TV.

A final point on this subject of mind-control…

If hypnosis was indeed the mind-control mechanism that many people believe it to be, there would be no psychological or behavioural problems anywhere. Hypnotherapists could simply line people up for hypnosis, and tell them that their problems were gone.

But if it’s powerful, surely it’s dangerous!

Knives can be dangerous if they’re misused, as can chainsaws, medicines, and fireworks too. The solution is to use them carefully in the way they’re designed to be used; not run from them.

It’s important to realize that being in a hypnotic state isn’t in, and of itself, dangerous. We actually slip in and out of trance all the time, every single day. It happens when we watch a movie and react emotionally, and even when we drive a long distance. They don’t call it “highway hypnosis” for nothing. 

The Ignorant Authority

Dangers may arise from a couple of sources with hypnosis. One of these is the Ignorant Authority. A stage hypnotist might tell a subject that he’s petting a non-existent puppy, which sounds fairly harmless. But if the subject has a phobia of dogs that the hypnotist is ignorant of, the subject could wind-up very frightened or even panic.

Or perhaps the hypnotist might tell the subject to run from the stage, not noticing there’s a trap door in the orchestra pit, possibly resulting in serious injury to the subject. In both examples, it’s the ignorance, or lack of knowledge of the hypnotist that’s the danger, not the hypnosis itself.

In my own case, I was forced by a gym teacher in high-school to do a neck-spring over a mat, even though I told him I couldn’t do it. He was an ignorant authority who thought anybody could do a neck-spring. I was seriously injured, nearly breaking my neck, and have suffered over 50 years of pain because of this authority’s ignorance. 

Hypnotists are in an authority position, which can be very powerful. It is vitally important that the hypnotist is aware of potential problems and works to eliminate them completely. Lacking key information, or having the wrong information, can be very dangerous for anyone in an authority position. 

If a volunteer in a stage show had a seizure during the show, the hypnotist might think it’s part of the hypnotic experience if he’s ingnorant of the subject’s epilepsy. Then, instead of getting medical attention for the subject, he might waste valuable time trying to shape the subject out of trance. Again, it’s not the hypnosis that’s the problem. It’s the ignorance of the hypnotist. 

If the person with epilepsy had a seizure at a party, his friends might think he’s joking around and not call 911. Again, the problem is ignorance, not hypnosis. 

Lack of Attention

In stage hypnosis, and even more in street hypnosis, there is the potential for the subject to make mistakes in maintaining their own safety. A subject in a crowd who’s responding to hilarious suggestions to tap dance, might step off a curb and twist their ankle or fall into oncoming traffic. It’s all too easy for an inexperienced hypnotist to be so amazed by his own brilliance that he simply forgets to pay attention and keep the subject safe. 

There is no reason for a hypnosis subject to ever suffer an injury, and zero excuse if it happens. In a street setting, it’s a good idea for a hypnotist to have assistants whose only purpose is to watch out for the volunteers, which brings us to the next point. 

Ecology First

In hypnosis training, we always teach our students the concept of ecology first and foremost. It is the hypnotist’s primary task to keep his subject, his audience and even himself, safe from all harm. 

Whether you’re a psychologist doing hypnotherapy or a street performer with an group of willing subjects, you must always keep your subjects safe. Always think of the subjects’ physical and emotional well-being, and ensure they leave your presence better off and happier than they were before the hypnosis. 

The second part of this is to ensure that you look after your own ecology too. It’s vital that you avoid potential legal problems by never doing any hypnotic procedure that you are not legally and professionally qualified to do. 

As you continue to learn more and more about this remarkable art and science, you’ll quickly see that care and reasonable concern for your subjects’ well-being will eliminate any potential danger. 

You’ll also see that hypnosis is indeed mind-control.

But it’s the subject’s mind that controls his response, not yours.

We're very confident that the fundamental principles contained in this article are of utmost importance to the work of any and all hypnotists. We're also very proud to have created what we believe to be the best online hypnosis training so far.

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Whether you're a beginning hypnotist or you already possess considerable experience, the Mike Mandel Hypnosis Academy will provide you with extremely valuable information to accelerate your progress tenfold. With bite-sized video lessons and exercises, we'll teach all kinds of knowledge experienced hypnotists and hypnosis trainers say they would like to have known when they were starting out.

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