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 Ethics in Practice
 An ethical dilema?
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6 Posts

Posted - 08/12/2005 :  7:22:23 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
For a long time, I have heard that if a patient is given instructions that violate his/her base belief structure, that they will immediately come out of hypnosis. However, here is my dilema, I tend to do a lot of research in the area of hypnosis and I have never been able to breech that ethical line; direcctly ask them to do something that I would consider unethical. But in doing research I want to test that theory. Ethically, I do not feel comfortable asking someone to do something that is against their "will"; but I want to know how far hypnosis can go, in restructing people's belief systems and in the abillity to make more substantive changes in their way of thinking.

Some of my patients and I have had discussions about this and they say they are willing to work with me on the experiment, but if they already know I am going to test their will, then it is kind of like cheating, don't you think?

So my questions to the forum are this:

1) Has anyone tested this and did the patient truly come out of hypnosis, or did they just reject the suggestion?

2) Are there any clinical studies that have proven that the trance can be broken when ethical lines are crossed?

3) If so, where can I find copies of these studies.

Thank you for your time in this matter.


15 Posts

Posted - 08/13/2005 :  01:21:38 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
First of all, it is correct that your view that a subject who "is given instructions that violate his/her base belief structure . . . will immediately come out of hypnosis" is widely publicized.

Yet, there is a considerable difference between this standard, conventional "for public consumption" stance -- i.e., that nobody will ever do anything under hypnosis that is in breach of their own personal ethics/values/morality, etc. -- and the obvious, true fact, that this equivocal statement is, in itself, dangerously misleading.

Simply put, even though the statement appears to be true -- namely, that no subject has ever been known to perform any act which, for them, seems to go against their own values --- it is also entirely false, in the sense that any subject’s value system can be manipulated (so that the particular action in question is no longer against their expressed values).

Given the view that an extended sequence of hypnotic suggestions involve, from a subject’s perspective, the continued acceptance of a long sequence of small, but incremental movements (or changes); and, as well, that the best and most effective sequences of hypnotic suggestions involve acceptable incremental steps of precisely the most acceptable magnitude -- and given events of continuously applied cognitive restructuring such as that which preceded and generated the Jonestown massacre in Guyana in 1978 -- it is entirely possible that, given sufficient time, and given appropriately constructed sequences of suggestions, and given sufficient redundancy of message, and sufficient repetition of message delivery, that people can seem to be quite able to do something against their "will".

However, this whole business is not as clear as it first seems.

It would appear that what is actually happening is this: rather than an individual being coerced into going against their own set of values, it is far more a case of their values being altered – so that, in this new case the action desired by the hypnotist is no longer in conflict between the values they hold.

A thorough study of (especially Chapter Seven) of Robert Temple’s 1989 book "Open to Suggestion: The Uses and Abuses of Hypnosis", and of Daniel M. Wegner’s 2002 book "The Illusion of Conscious Will" will illuminate these issues for you.

Also, a small warning for you . . . in matters such as this, laboratory hypnosis is not always a very good indicator of what actually happens in the real world.

Hope the above helps you to understand the problem a little better.

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6 Posts

Posted - 08/15/2005 :  7:40:10 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote

Thank you so much. What you state is very close to my own beliefs and this is where the experimentation is so intriguing, yet also a bit concerning.

I will definitely look up your references and read up on them.

I have studied the cases of Jim Jones, Charles Manson, Heaven's Gate, Patty Hearst and David Koresh as the basis for my thesis. All seemed to pursuade people to stretch their moral "fibre", as you say, in slow measured ways. And there does seem to be a level of "hypnosis", although not directly implied, that forced the changes in these people. It must also be noted that these "subjects", all had particular personal characteristics, that allowed them to be pursuaded and were looking for something other than what they were lead to believe.......

But I have also looked at the work of Stage Hypnotists, and in some ways, just be repeating to the "hypnotees" that they won't do anything outside of their moral beliefs, may be a way of convincing them that they can trust and they may find themselves actually doing what the Stage Hypnotist says won't happen. Does that make sense?

I am sure there are a lot of people who feel that they can absolutely perform these tasks and can recite long anecdotal stories of there "conquests" (see other posts on this Forum); but I am more interested in a more scientific approach.

I also do not want to include other "external" inducers (sleep deprivation, loud music, torture, etc.) to affect the experiments.

I am just truly curious, if through a very basic form of induction and hypnosis, can a person be lead into doing something that is against their "will". And more specifically, if a suggestion for a "breach of ethics" is requested, will the subject, immediately come out of trance? Will they remember the suggestion? Will they block it from their mind?

I am a bit hestitant in "laboratory" experiments as well, as they are controlled and the fact that everyone knows that it is an experiment, I feel, makes them more willing to "strectch" their boundaries.

I do, however, feel that it may be possible to induce someone to act against their will, if the proper form of hypnosis is performed, the right bond of trust is established, and the external circumstances allow for this to occur.

Again, I am blocked by my ethical standards and not necessarily willing to test my own theory as in some ways, I am afraid of what I might find out.

However, if my theory is proven true, then there may be some incredible breakthroughs in the science of hypnosis, given the right curcumstances. But on the other side of the coin, this could be a bad thing, put into the wrong hands.

OK, enough of my diatribe, I look forward to further posts as I continue to formulate the baiss for my experiment.


Michael Doane

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305 Posts

Posted - 08/16/2005 :  02:22:15 AM  Show Profile  Click to see anthony's MSN Messenger address  Reply with Quote
On reflexion, I think it fair to say that the statement is true, but the goal is attainable by changing the moral outlook of the hypnotised. Naturally, it would take an expert practitioner to do this, one who throughly understands hypnosis, not just someone playing with it. However, if it were not possible, hypnosis would be of less value....
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15 Posts

Posted - 08/20/2005 :  02:31:14 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Me: "Also, a small warning for you . . . in matters such as this, laboratory hypnosis is not always a very good indicator of what actually happens in the real world."

You: "I am a bit hesitant in "laboratory" experiments as well, as they are controlled and the fact that everyone knows that it is an experiment, I feel, makes them more willing to "stretch" their boundaries."

My first comment is that, in part, your response is correct.
Although lot of experiments have been performed that seem to indicate that people are prepared to do things under hypnosis that they would not do in the "real world" outside of hypnosis -- simply because they seem to, somehow, trust that the hypnotist will not allow them to get into trouble -- the nature of these experiments have also led the same researchers to assert that no hypnotized person will ever, say, commit a murder in the "real world" as a consequence of the hypnotic suggestion alone. [For a discussion, see Gibson, Contemporary Hypnosis, Vol.8, No.3, (1991), pp.129-140 and Wagstaff, pp.141-146; and Lehan, California Western Law Review, Vol.6, (1970), pp.303-315.]

In the extreme, this question of hypnotists being able to coerce people to act against their will was tested in the famous 1959 Californian case (People vs. Marsh). The case involved a (first degree robbery) prison escapee who justified his unlawful absence from prison at the California Institution for Men at Chino as follows: He had allowed his cell-mate to hypnotize him. Although untrained in a formal sense, his cell-mate had read many books and had hypnotized numerous subjects. His cell-mate (who, according to his own evidence in the case, was attempting to induce "age regression" in the accused) had instructed his subject "to go back to XXXX, where he was having a good time". The subject, soon after, left the prison. He was found the next day in Los Angeles and, despite the fact that he had changed from his jail uniform into civilian clothes, he claimed to be still in hypnosis at the time he was found in LA, and he claimed (in court) that he was not guilty of escaping from prison, because he had been forced against his will, under hypnosis, to leave the prison.
The court rejected the escapee’s case outright.

[However, it is also essential to recognize that there is, also, ample and equally impressive evidence -- e.g., from the work of Milgram on so-called "obedience", and the "Stanford Prison Experiment" (see Haney & Zimbardo, American Psychologist, Vol.53, No.7, (1998), pp.709-727) -- to the effect that otherwise apparently "normal" people will act entirely out of character in completely non-hypnotic coercive situations.]

My second comment is that, it seems, I did not clarify the point I wanted to make in relation to the to the extent to which laboratory hypnosis is a good indicator of what actually happens in the real world of clinical hypnosis.

It is reasonable to state that, in the majority of cases, research findings that have been gained through experimental hypnosis have almost no connection at all to what happens in clinical practice.

Firstly, in most cases of experimental hypnosis, so-called "hypnotic susceptibility" is measured, and only those with the highest levels of "hypnotic susceptibility" (however such a thing might be measured) are selected for the test group; which, of course, is something that clinical hypnotherapists never do (because they are there to assist "all comers", rather than just the elite group of the most talented of all hypnotic subjects).

Secondly, experimental hypnosis is delivered to a sophisticated and well-informed subject (who is almost usually a psychology student, whose participation as a subject earns them important credit points towards their degree), and is delivered by the experimental hypnotist in a very standard, authoritarian, structured fashion (and it must be so in order to be able to compare the findings between different individual subjects) in circumstances where the object of the specific experimental exercise is (in all cases) hidden from the subject.

By contrast, in clinical hypnosis, the subject is almost always (a) a naive participant in the process, (b) has no idea what is expected of him/her, and (c) treated with a carefully tailored set of suggestions that have been specifically structured for the needs of the moment, in that particular individual subject's case.

Another significant exception is that the clinical hypnosis subject actually actively presents him/herself for therapy (by this I mean they actively present with the strong anticipation that things will, somehow, be different by the end of their treatment).

A further exception (compared with the experimental subject who has no idea of the experiment’s purpose), the clinical subject also specifies the sorts of change they want to have engineered by the hypnotherapy they have volunteered to undergo (e.g., "I want to stop smoking) -- and this is true, even though they may have no idea at all (or have any interest in knowing) the details of the process through which those desired changes will be effected by the hypnotist.

I hope that this makes my position a little clearer to you.

Edited by - Suggest-o-Man on 08/20/2005 02:38:49 AM
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305 Posts

Posted - 08/20/2005 :  11:35:51 AM  Show Profile  Click to see anthony's MSN Messenger address  Reply with Quote
I think we are all agreed, which means that each of us is duty bound to a very high ethical standard of practise. If you want to experiment my friend, do so, it is wonderfully enjoyable, teaches you a lot, and promotes a better use or uses for hypnosis. Meantime, as you carry out your experiments, act as if each volunteer was as precious to you as your own family members, and treat them with the respect and loving concern they deserve as one who has put trust in you..... With that attitude, you will do no harm, yet still find ways to do the work you wish to do. Remember, you have no idea what the true bounaries of a volunteer are, so act with care.....
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6 Posts

Posted - 08/20/2005 :  4:50:04 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I will always act with care and caution. Not only is it my duty but it is also part of my makeup. It was a couple of my patients queries that lead me down this path as they had some fear in engaging in hypnosis. I had given them the "standard" answer, then got worried that I really did not know that for certain as was afraid of misleading them.

While my goal is for their improvement, in their stated case, I never want to have a subject feel as if they were manipulated in a way in which he is uncomfortable. I also want to make sure that I am giving them all of the facts on hypnosis, as they are entrusting me with their care, support and eventual and hopeful change.

Thanks to all for your help in this matter and direction on more research. If I decide to proceed with the experiment, I will keep the board posted.


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