Hypnosis and Legislative Problems

The arguments that Stage Hypnosis is dangerous are for the most part based on atypical and anecdotal reports, such as the case Kline cited of a woman who sustained a serious burn to her hand because of the incomplete removal of suggested of anesthesia made by a Stage Hypnotist. The bulk of the evidence appears to indicate that Stage hypnosis, even in incompetent hands, is no more dangerous than experimental hypnosis because of the episodic character of the session and the fact that neither the subject nor the hypnotist expects to produce permanent changes in the subject's behavior.

The argument that Stage hypnosis can be humiliating to the subject or in bad taste is a more interesting one but would be difficult to resolve. The problem is in deciding whose standards of good taste to adopt. The argument that hypnosis is a medical device is neither true nor relevant. First, if hypnosis were to be looked upon as a device, it would clearly be a psychological and not a medical one. Second, it is neither a device nor the exclusive property of any professional group but is, in fact, a naturally occurring phenomenon. If it were a medical device, it would make no sense to restrict its nonmedical uses to physicians anymore than it would to prevent an auto mechanic from listening to a noisy engine with a stethoscope to localize the noise. Stage hypnosis is neither a medical nor a psychological use of hypnosis.

There are three major reasons why legislation restricting the practice of stage hypnosis should not be enacted. First, there is no need for such legislation to protect subjects. If a stage hypnotist did something either to harm or embarrass a subject, he or she would presently be fully liable in tort for these actions. Merely consenting to be a subject in such a performance in no way waives the participants rights against the hypnotist for any injury sustained, and if a demonstration subject (or an experimental subject for that matter) were induced to sign a release of all claims prior to the procedure, such a document would be without legal effect in most jurisdictions.

A more important reason for opposing this type of legislation is that hypnosis involves nothing more than a hypnotist talking to a subject. Legislation restricting the freedom of one person to talk to another seems to be a dangerous violation of the freedom of speech assurances of the Constitution. If the government can restrict the freedom of one citizen to talk to another, to protect the latter from some undefined danger of hypnosis, it is a simple step to take similar action to protect him from the dangers intrinsic in unpopular political ideas. For this reason alone, legislation to limit stage hypnosis should be opposed, even if it could be shown to have substantial capacity to harm a subject.

A third reason for reluctance to support antistage hypnosis legislation is of particular concern to psychologists. Kline (1976) believes that hypnosis can be defined clearly enough to enable legislation concerning ------Psychologists need to be particularly cautious in supporting legislation restricting the practice of hypnosis. Often medical lobbyists have used such legislation as a means of downgrading psychologists. For example, although some states, such as California, have statutes defining the practice of psychology and specifically listing hypnosis as included within it, other states, such as Florida, have a hypnosis law that reduces a psychologist to the level of a hypnotechnician and authorizes only physicians, dentists, and a variety of other unqualified practitioners, to practice hypnosis without medical supervision. In effect, such a law requires a psychologist with over six years of graduate training to be supervised in the practice of his or her profession by a layperson who may have no training at all in either psychiatry or hypnosis.--------In addition, the proper method for using hypnosis with a particular patient must take into account the underlying dynamics of his personality. There is no doubt that many lay hypnotists are extremely skillful in inducing hypnosis, and some have taught this technique to professional people. There is no reason why they should not do so; but it is a very different thing to be able to induce a hypnotic state, which can be learned in a few minutes, and to use it to help a patient, which takes many years of training.

--------Although the author believes that stage hypnosis is a proper activity, he does not believe that the practice of hypnosis by hypnotechnician is. Professionals should decline to refer patients to such individuals for treatment. This view may seem to contradict the view that stage hypnosis should not be outlawed because it involves the issue of freedom of speech. Hence, this matter needs clarification. After all, the practice of psychotherapy also is nothing more than two people talking to each other. It is the authorÕs belief that freedom must necessarily include the right to do something that others may consider ill advised or even stupid If a person wants to be treated psychologically (or medically for that matter) by an untrained layperson, he should have the right to do so, and this treatment should not be made illegal. What should be illegal is not the conducting of therapy by a layperson to charge a fee for practicing psychotherapy; this restraint would effectively prevent him or her from making a living by practicing psychology and at the same time preserve the rights of the patient.