Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
This is a study of the legal and ethical aspects in the use of hypnosis. The need for the problem is posed by the great amount of lay interest in the performance of trance induction. Historically, hypnosis has been the subject of periods of rising and falling interest. Since World War II, when it came into extensive use for therapeutic purposes, interest in hypnosis has been on the upswing. The consequent publication of literature on the subject has kept interest at a high level.
In compiling information for this study the writer has turned to books, journals, abstracts, newspapers, magazines, and other written materials. He has also corresponded with leading authorities in the field. The research procedure also has called for written inquiries to governmental agencies in this country and overseas.
The use of hypnosis dates back almost to the dawn of civilizations. The trance inductions described in the literature of various cultures the world over were roughly the same as those used today. However, in periods of the past, hypnosis had connotations of the supernatural. Anton Mesmer effected the transition to modern use. Early modern experimenters employed it for a great number of purposes--particularly as an anesthetic. It has found even wider use today. Theories concerning hypnosis are many and varied. They range from those of sex and subordination to cortical dissociation and conditioned reflexes. Nobody knows for certain what takes place in the trance induction. Experiments show that just about anybody can produce a trance provided he finds the proper subject. It has also been found that the ability to enter trance is a part of just about all of us. Trance depth can range from light to almost lifelessness.
The entranced mind appears to have a certain plasticity not found under ordinary conditions. By means of suggestions properly used the operator can elicit responses of regression, kinesthesia, hallucination, and anesthesia, to name a few. It is also possible to obtain personal information not ordinarily available from the subject and to implant ideas and compulsions that otherwise would be foreign to the subject.
Contrary to popular belief it is possible to elicit many asocial responses from entranced subjects. They have been persuaded to commit acts of assault, theft, lying and other asocial performances. Subjects have also been abused unintentionally by hypnotists.
Many physiological changes can also be brought about by means of hypnosis. By employment of indirect suggestions to entranced subjects, experimenters have noted changes in heart beat, respiration, blood pressure, blood content, muscular reaction, body temperature and other voluntary and involuntary functions of the body.
Hypnosis offers great promise as an instrument of therapy. Because it is possible to render the subject's mind to a plastic state, hypnosis has provided a handy means for the study of mental disorder. It has also been helpful in dentistry and medicine as an anesthetic.
There are few legal restrictions on the amateur use of hypnosis. Only six states have laws applicable to it. However, Great Britain specifically reserves hypnosis for the healing arts. Sweden also has restrictions on amateur performances.
The writer concludes that evidence supports the need for legislation restricting the use of hypnosis to those engaged in the healing arts. It is felt that the likelihood of unintentional harm is greater than that of intentional harm. A sound background in mental dynamics is recommended for those who would employ hypnosis.
Wells, Reese, "THE PROFESSIONAL USE OF HYPNOSIS: SOME LEGAL AND ETHICAL IMPLICATIONS" (1959). Electronic Thesis Collection. 155.