Christianity and Hypnosis: Answers from an Academic and a Minister
In order to help clarify the range of Christian viewpoints on hypnosis, we interviewed two experts about hypnosis and Christianity. Neither one is affiliated in any way with The Hypnosis Network.
Of course, everyone has their own theological perspectives. You may find that neither of these commentators reflects your views. The interviews are provided strictly as information for those who are curious about possible Christian perspectives on hypnosis.
Our interviewees are:
- John Court, Professor of Psychology, University of South Australia Ph.D., Clinical Psychology, University of Adelaide Diploma of Clinical Hypnosis, Australian Society of Hypnosis Certificate in Theology, Sydney
- Paul Durbin, United Methodist minister Chaplain (Brigadier General), United States Army (retired 1989) Director of Pastoral Care & Clinical Hypnotherapy, Methodist Hospital, New Orleans, LA (retired 2001) Director of Clinical Hypnotherapy, MHSF, affiliated with Methodist Hospital (retired June 30, 2005)
Below are their answers to some of the questions we frequently receive.
Some Christians are concerned that by undergoing hypnosis they might be going against their faith. Why is this?
John Court Because they have been told, or have read in Christian books, that hypnosis is condemned in the Bible. Those who love to find a proof text for their beliefs use one word in Deuteronomy 18 (vv 10-11). In English the Hebrew word is usually translated 'charmer,' or 'one who casts spells,' and from other contexts it is clear that the word refers to snake charming. To relate it to hypnosis is quite misleading.
Good exegesis, of course, calls for more than a simple proof text, and this is lacking.
On the other hand, there are two examples in the Acts where it refers to Peter going into a trance (the Greek word is ekstasis from which we get 'ecstasy') and both events are reported as both positive and significant.
Paul Durbin As you well know, there are many misconceptions concerning hypnosis which make some people (religious or non-religious) have some fears of hypnosis.
A few years ago, I read an article in Family Weekly titled "Boom Days For Devil Hypnosis." Hearing that title, what ideas, images, or thoughts come to you? Though the article had what I considered a very negative title, it was a very positive article on hypnosis in the health care field. The only reference to the devil was in the last paragraph, "Some conservative religious groups consider hypnosis to be the work of the devil."
Hypnosis is mistakenly viewed as mind control or demonic by many misinformed people. Let me describe one situation I've experienced:
Recently I received a physician consult to work with a Catholic woman for pain management. As I explained the process of relaxation, imagery, and hypnosis, I could see that she was very responsive. As I concluded my pre-talk, she said, "I am really looking forward to this experience, but I need to tell you that my daughter is a self-proclaimed born-again Christian and she may say something negative to you about this. If so, do not pay any attention to her, for I am the one who is hurting and I want this."
As I completed the induction, the phone rang. I told the patient, "Just allow the ringing of the phone and my answering it to add to your relaxation." I answered the phone, "This is Mrs. Doe's room. As she is in therapy, please call back in 30 minutes," and hung up the phone.
When the procedure was completed, I walked out of the room and there was her daughter standing in front of the door with arms folded over her chest. She said, "What have you been doing to my mother?" I explained that I had taught her mother relaxation, self-hypnosis, and pain reduction. She responded, "I am a born-again Christian." Before she could continue, I raised my hands and said, "Praise the Lord, so am I." She was speechless, so I continued, "I will bring you some information on hypnosis, but regardless of how you feel about hypnosis, your mother has found it very helpful in the reduction of pain."
Some would say that there is no place in religion for hypnosis. I believe that hypnosis and religious faith can work hand in hand to bring about a better life. Jesus said in St. John 10:10, "I am come that you may have life and have it more abundantly."
Christianity includes many different denominations. Which denominations support hypnosis and which do not? Please explain why some traditions do, and some don't.
John Court This is not easy to answer. In general the Catholic tradition has no problem with hypnosis. The Anglican tradition also has no problem. Lutherans have varied: some for, some against. Seventh Day Adventists used to be against it but appear to be changing.
It is mostly the smaller Bible-based and fundamentalist churches, and especially Pentecostals, who have taught against hypnosis. They have largely been teaching from second and third hand writers who have observed some aspect of hypnosis but without personal study of the subject.
Apart from the biblical evidence, the other major issue that has caused this is that some of the less orthodox traditions such as Christian Science have favored hypnosis, and so the orthodox seek to create distance.
Paul Durbin Each one here comes with his/her own history: religiously, personally, and professionally. I come to you as a Christian Minister who looks upon hypnosis as a valuable tool of counseling. Coming from a religious profession and working in a church-related hospital for 30 years, I was often asked, "Why does one of religious faith need hypnosis?" or "How can you use hypnosis? Isn't there a conflict between religious faith and hypnosis?" I believe that these questions can be responded to by referring to the statement of Jesus in John 10:10, "I am come that they may have life and have it more abundantly." Hypnosis is one of the gifts of God which help people experience the "more abundant life."
Hypnosis is neither anti-religious nor pro-religious. It can be used for good or bad, depending on the hypnotist and the subject. Today, most religious groups accept the proper ethical use of hypnosis for helping people.
The Roman Catholic Church has issued statements approving the use of hypnosis. In 1847, a decree from the Sacred Congregation of The Holy Office stated, "Having removed all misconceptions, foretelling of the future, explicit or implicit invocation of the devil, the use hypnosis is indeed merely an act of making use of physical media that are otherwise licit and hence it is not morally forbidden provided it does not tend toward an illicit end or toward anything depraved."
The late Pope Pius give his approval of hypnosis. He stated that the use of hypnosis by health care professionals for diagnosis and treatment is permitted. In 1956, in an address from the Vatican on hypnosis in childbirth, the Pope gave these guidelines:
(1) Hypnotism is a serious matter, and not something to be dabbled in. (2) In its scientific use, the precautions dictated by both science and morality are to be used. (3) Under the aspect of anesthesia, it is governed by the same principles as other forms of anesthesia. This is to say that the rules of good medicine apply to the use of hypnosis.
Except for exceptions noted, no other Protestant or Orthodox Churches have any laws against the proper-ethical use of hypnosis. To the best of my knowledge, there has been no opposition to the use of hypnosis in the Jewish faith when it is used for the benefit of mankind. Many of the Eastern faiths, such as Buddhism, Yoga, Shintoism, Hinduism and others, approve the use of hypnosis and they often use hypnosis in their worship. Islam has no opposition to hypnosis that I have been able to discover.
Hypnosis should not be condemned as anti-religious just because some people misuse it. Some oppose hypnosis because the say it is used by the occult, but do they condemn prayer because prayer is used for occultist purposes? Hypnosis can be a very helpful tool in counseling. Without apology and when appropriate, hypnosis can be used for growth, health and the benefit of people.
Are there any Christian denominations where hypnosis is absolutely forbidden? (We want to make sure that no one purchases our CDs and then subsequently regrets his or her purchase due to this reason.)
John Court There are certainly some strong prohibitions in some Christian books, but the readership is, I think, restricted to fundamentalists.
Paul Durbin Exceptions are Christian Science, Seventh-Day-Adventist and some individuals of various churches.
In recent years, the Seventh-Day-Adventists have lessened their resistance by using relaxation therapy and suggestion therapy. A hypnotist by the name of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby greatly helped Mary Baker Eddy overcome an illness and she used many of his teachings and techniques in developing the Christian Science Church. Though Quimby used hypnosis to help her, she denounced hypnosis while using its techniques.
Though many in various churches opposed to hypnosis are using the principles of hypnosis (relaxation, concentration, suggestion, repetition) in their healing services, they denounce hypnosis. For those who oppose hypnosis on religious grounds, I remind them of the words of Baptist Van Helmont, "Hypnosis is a universal agent . . . and is a paradox only to those who are deposed to ridicule everything and who ascribe to Satan all phenomena which they cannot explain."
Is hypnosis a form of mind control?
John Court It can be, and in stage hypnosis, obviously is.
In clinical work the control is negotiated between therapist and patient so that control is largely with the patient, who is then invited to allow the therapist to work within clearly identified ethical boundaries. There is also self hypnosis, which emphasizes the point that ultimately the control of the mind is with the person in trance (either self-induced or delegated to the therapist). Certainly clinical hypnosis is about enabling the patient to gain greater control of the mind; that is, empowering, not taking control away.
Paul Durbin Hypnosis is no more mind control than watching TV, listening to a political speech, or attending a worship service. It is my belief that a person will not do anything under hypnosis that is against his/her will.
There is a story about Milton Erickson going to his secretary and telling her that he was tired and wanted to rest so anyone called, she was to say that he was out of the office. She agreed to do this for Dr. Erickson. Some days later he put her in a hypnotic state and make the same request. She responded that she could not. He asked her "Why?" and she responded, "Because it would be a lie." She had stronger moral resolve under hypnosis than in the normal waking state.
There is one area where there is a danger, and that is in what I would call "brainwashing," which can be accomplished in or out of hypnosis. It consists of a person being bombarded with suggestion time after time, day after day.
Many therapists of the past 30 years produced false memories for their clients by telling them that they would never get well until they admitted that they were sexually abused as children even though they could not remember it. They would have them imagine what might have happened, and even used guided imagery to help them remember. The results from many were the recovery of false memories which brought havoc to the client and family of the client. I have had several articles published on the subject of "False Memories," and one can find articles on my website by me and others on this subject
Does someone who uses hypnosis for themselves risk punishment in some divine way?
John Court No.
Paul Durbin I certainly do not believe that one risks divine punishment for using hypnosis, or I would not use it in my counseling. Some may risk criticism from their church, but not from God.
You have used hypnosis with many devout Christians. Do you have any examples of people who initially feared hypnosis that ended up benefiting?
John Court Yes, often. My book (Hypnosis, Healing and the Christian [Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2002]) contains a number of examples of client experiences, published with their permission.
Paul Durbin While a hospital chaplain and hypnotherapist, I had some people who feared hypnosis either on a personal basis or religious basis. Often a physician would send me a referral to work with a patient who was from a Pentecostal-type church. Many said, "Is it alright for me to call my pastor to see if it is OK?" In each case, their pastor said that it was OK. I had been a chaplain at Methodist Hospital in New Orleans for 6 years before I began practicing hypnotherapy, so the pastors knew me and so did not fear me working with their members.
It has been our position that hypnosis actually gives a person more control as opposed to less control. What are your views on this?
John Court Agreed.
Paul Durbin I totally agree. It gives the person the power to use what he or she already possesses but has not been able to control. People gain control over bad habits, control over fears and phobias, and the list goes on.
I know this is a personal question and just your opinion, but do you see any reason why a person would not try hypnosis only because he or she is a Christian? Please explain.
John Court I know of people who do adopt that position. They have been told Christians must not be hypnotized because that would be to relinquish their free will to another person. If that view can be shown to be false, then it is possible to proceed.
I am saddened at how many Christian people feel unable to accept hypnotic-based interventions, when they could be very helpful in dealing with physical and emotional issues. Christians will also often report with surprise that the experience is spiritually beneficial, as it is possible to incorporate prayer and meditation into the therapeutic process.
Paul Durbin I can see a person who would not use hypnosis because of his/her church position or on their personal understanding.
As an example, I was referred to a lady for pain management who wanted her pain medication long before the required time. I told her that I had been referred by her physician to help her reduce pain with hypnosis and she said "No, I am a Christian." I talked with her about that and even explained some of the common misconceptions about hypnosis. I told her that hypnosis was a normal experience that we pass through many times a day, but she said "No." So she just hurt until her drugs were due.
We have heard that people are concerned that hypnosis can override a person’s "will" and/or create space for evil spirits to enter. What are your thoughts on this?
Paul Durbin The vast majority of research disagrees with the above statement. A person in hypnosis will not do anything against his/her will. They may do things that they would not normally do, but would do if the situation were such as to entice them to do it.
For a physician, it is not unethical to prescribe drugs to stop pain, but it is unethical for a physician to intentionally set up a situation where the patient becomes dependent on that drug so the physician can make more money.
I am a theologically conservative United Methodist Christian and ordained clergyperson of the United Methodist Church. Hypnosis happens all the time: watching television, driving your car, being involved in a worships service, just before going to sleep, and just after waking up. Anything can be used unethically, but that is a problem of the person involved, be he clergy, physician, fireman, policeman, business person, wife, husband, teacher, or hypnotherapist. But don't condemn the profession or the role for the unethical ones among us, or we would have no professions.
People who have been smoking for years, no longer smoke due to hypnotherapy and at a much higher rate than patches, gum or drugs. People are released from fears in a few sessions that have been going to therapy for years. People in pain have had pain reduced or eliminated. Babies have been born to moms who did not have to take any drugs, a positive for both baby and Mom. Cancer patients have been able to take chemo with some of the side effects and have been helped to reduce the pains of cancer and even be healed of cancer. Burn patients have been able to have 3rd degree burns reduced to 2nd and 2nd to 1st when cared for by a hypnotherapist within the first few hours following burns, and to undergo painful procedures following burns with a great reduction of pain. These are blessings from God to be used to help relieve suffering emotionally and spiritually.