Tim Brunson DCH

Welcome to The International Hypnosis Research Institute Web site. Our intention is to support and promote the further worldwide integration of comprehensive evidence-based research and clinical hypnotherapy with mainstream mental health, medicine, and coaching. We do so by disseminating, supporting, and conducting research, providing professional level education, advocating increased level of practitioner competency, and supporting the viability and success of clinical practitioners. Although currently over 80% of our membership is comprised of mental health practitioners, we fully recognize the role, support, involvement, and needs of those in the medical and coaching fields. This site is not intended as a source of medical or psychological advice. Tim Brunson, PhD

The Ethical Implications of Hypnotherapy

by Tim Brunson, PhD

During my initial hypnotherapy training, my instructor strongly emphasized that we should always inform our subjects that they could not be hypnotized against their will. Yet over the next couple of decades this claim was constantly contradicted by a string of knowledgeable authorities. These hypnotists imparted technique after technique that proved capable of changing a person's internal representations, emotional states, and behavior completely without the knowledge or pre-approval of a hypnosis subject. After years of active clinical practice, teaching, and writing I have witnessed the power that the hypnotic operator has over others. Even though such an admission may run counter to the dogma that is regularly espoused by the major international organizations, all one has to do is to witness an unintended arm catalepsy during a clinical session or observe a negative hallucination occurring during a stage hypnotist's performance to fully accept my conclusions.

In this respect hypnotherapists are not much different than attorneys, surgeons, and even sales people who regularly use their skills to influence a person who comes to them resolve a particular situation. However, I am still disturbed when too many people fail to see the ethical implications that are present in such an encounter. The opportunity for a practitioner to manipulate an unwitting individual solely for their personal gain is way too obvious. The realization that this may occur is exactly why peer-review entities and licensure board exists. They attempt to enforce boundaries, legal, and other ethical considerations lest the public begin to distrust members of that trade or profession. Although such groups emphasize limits, consent, and full-disclosure, still the opportunity remains that operators may harm their trusting subjects.

The field, trade, and profession of clinical hypnotherapy is replete with numerous neuroethical debates due to societal concerns about privacy and involuntary control of others. This is significantly more involved than the issues of transformation of quality of life for the patient/subject/client and the potential impact on their families. Yes, there are many fields that have the ability to adversely impact a person's health, personality, and relationships. Not only is this true of medical doctors and psychologists, many occupations – including teachers, financial advisors, ministers, and coaches – have the ability to use their skills to influence others. However, hypnotherapists are somewhat different in that they regularly deal with a person's preconscious. This means that they have the ability to communicate and manipulate people intentionally without their awareness. This has all of the science fiction implications of an evil scientist that seeks to control another for their own ill-conceived aims. Many years ago during an advanced hypnotherapy training course we were instructed on how to communicate with others on many different levels simultaneously. This means that we were connecting and leading a person without their consent. Herein lie my concerns.

There is an emerging field of which hypnotherapists must become aware as understanding it sheds light on my present comments. For years biofeedback devices – as well as the polygraph versions used in police work – have clearly established the existence of preconscious awareness. Taking this a step further, one need only to look at the recent invention of a host of neurofeedback devices that use live EEG or HEG readings as the basis of both physiological and neurological transformation to understand why there is an emerging ethical concern. Furthermore, it doesn't take much to realize that the recent development of neuroprothesis devices - which are designed to help patients who suffer from such pathologies as ALS, as well as numerous brain/mind computer interface devices that are emerging in the for the consumer and research markets - to realize that scientists are making preconscious communication a reality. Simultaneously, ethicists are increasingly questioning the issues of mind-control, mind-reading, privacy, side effects, and the impact of these issues on societies. When people can wear an EEG-like device and use their minds to control robots through an Internet connection or when two people can simultaneously don a similar device and communicate preconsciously, there are those who begin to ask ethical questions. (By the way, the devices that I just referred to are not only in the minds of science fiction enthusiasts. They exist today and are readily available to purchase over the Internet.)

The emerging concerns regarding the ability of machines to read and react to preconscious thought should not be anything new. Talented and competent hypnotherapists have always excelled in their abilities to operate in a preconscious environment. For instance, any neophyte Neuro-Linguistic Practitioner, who has learned the art of Pacing and Leading, knows that once Person A gets into rapport with Person B that it is a simple task for one to alter breathing rhythm intentionally and observe the other preconsciously matching them. We don't need a device to accomplish this. We've been doing it for centuries. As a clinical hypnotherapist I use my skills in preconscious communication to communicate and transform my subjects. Therefore, those who are frightened by the implications of the emerging Brain/Mind Computer Interface technology should consider the ethical practice of my field. When they do so, they would understand that preconscious communication can occur within the boundaries of ethics and morality.

Over the past several decades I have had the privilege of working within several different arenas – to include the military, financial services, and academia. Each has had its own concerns about ethical limitations. Even though I am vigilant of potential abuse, I have always been very impressed with the positive track record among my hypnotherapy colleagues. Rarely, do you hear of a well trained hypnotherapist being accused of misconduct. Nevertheless, I am still very concerned about the lack of formal ethical training discussed within the curriculum of the major hypnotherapy organizations. In fact, out of all of the endeavors which I have been involved with in the past, hypnotherapy is the only one that does not require ethics training – or at least risk management – to be a regular continuing education requirement tied to licensure or re-certification. This needs to change. To continue teaching novices that we should be telling potential clients that we don't preconsciously manipulate them is both dishonest and inaccurate.

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