Uses and Ethics of Hypnotherapy
Does hypnosis have any uses? I think so, in two ways. As the forefathers of psychology discovered, hypnosis is experimentally useful as a medium for demonstrating aspects of consciousness and therefore the distortions of consciousness which we have termed neurosis. It seems to pull off its own mask and in so doing uncovers the dynamic of neurosis: the dissociation from Pain. It provides confirmation of the crucial physiological component of memory, the imprinting of trauma, and the physiological effort needed to keep it unconscious. It explains the basis for suggestibility. Through its evident failings, we may better appreciate the meaning of experience. To effect lasting change, so that someone has complete rather than neurotic experience, consciousness must work as a whole.
Having said that, it should be noted that all of the above can be arrived at without once applying hypnosis. These matters are continually demonstrated in Primal Therapy, which is an entirely conscious process.
Perhaps the only occasions when hypnosis is unquestionably valid is in cases of chronic and terminal illness, to ameliorate painful physical conditions, and in surgery. Dissociation as part of the repertoire of the human psyche has long proven an adaptive response to excessive pain. That, after all, is the basis of neurosis. Someone in great physical pain or suffering the nightmares of debilitating disease might as well make good use of this capability. By all means, reach for the internal morphine.
As a foundation for psychotherapeutic treatment, however, I cannot support hypnosis. It runs counter to the very principles and processes of consciousness upon which health stands. In fact, hypnosis itself demonstrates why it is invalid because it reveals itself to be an active agent of neurosis. I cannot see how treating the disease with more of the disease can be helpful in any way. Hypnotherapy relies upon a diminution rather than a replenishing of consciousness. It models and amplifies the dissociation inherent in neurosis. It tends to take a single-cause view of symptomatology, thus bolstering the illusion of short cures. There is a reliance upon external authority as opposed to a trust of inner processes. There is an imposition of foreign ideas and assessments of reality that foster the very kinds of neurotic dependency and susceptibility which therapy should be aiming to resolve.
No matter what the apparent outcome, to render someone still more unconscious of his Pain means to take from him his only chance at real health. Worse still, it means to widen the internal split and deepen the disease.
In hypnotherapy or in hypnosis you can be told you are cold when you are really hot, you can be told you feel good when you feel bad, that you are comfortable when you are really in Pain. You can be told that your hands are numb and that you can numb the pain in other parts of your body simply by touching those spots with your hands. You can be told that you are eating divinity fudge when you are not, that you can recall and repress pieces of a forgotten memory at will and this will put an end to your suffering, or that you are going to return to a traumatic event in one of your past lives in order resolve your problems in this life.
As I discussed before, one can be suggested in a hypnotic state that one is undergoing a burn by a match and actually produce blisters. Thus meaningful sounds emanating from someone else's mouth enter the patient's brain and change his physiology and cellular activity enough to produce a burn blister. This phenomenon raises important philosophic and psychological questions as to the nature of reality. For if you produce a burn blister and you are not burned, what is real? If you are hypnotized to feel comfortable, when in fact you are very uncomfortable, what is real? In these hypnotic experiments, the primacy of psychological events over external stimuli is clearly evident. That is to say that reality is really first of all a matter of perception. What is really happening is that through someone else's ideation, a memory is evoked which takes primacy over current reality. This again is the Primal position -- that the past is prepotent over the present. Clearly there would be no burn mark if one had not already had the experience of the previous burn. And secondly, the concept of burn must also have been in the mind beforehand, otherwise there could be no manipulation.
What is actually being manipulated, in fact, in one's history and the power of that history is manifest in the fact that a burn blister can be reproduced from a past memory with no current reality involved at all. Thus, the hypnotist says you are being burned, the brain scans it's memory for previous burns, and that memory innervates the cells to produce cellular change. In this way, someone else's reality can change your basic brain functioning and immune processes. This is the essence of neurosis: we first respond to our history, and then our current reality.
So it is clear that we have two realities, a subjective and an objective one. It is when we are disengaged from the subjective reality that ideas from the outside will have primacy. When we are no longer anchored in ourselves, external forces become our key reality and subjective realities become secondary. Nowhere is this more clear than with the masses who are manipulated by politicians by the use of abstractions and ideologies that only symbolically fill the void of real need.
In both hypnosis and neurosis you "buy somebody else's program." If you are solidly rooted in yourself no one can convince you that when you are cold you are hot, and certainly nobody could tell you are not in Pain when you are. Our genetic legacy allows us to be unaware and unconscious at times, When this goes on for an extended period of time, it becomes neurosis.
The practice of Primal Therapy shows that it is possible for the conscious, cortical mind to dissolve into the all-important contents of the subconscious without surrendering an awareness of what is happening while it is happening.
Awareness must be allowed in because it has an important role to play in the process of healing. That role is attaching meaning to the Pain, mediating and communicating insight, and integrating and applying the experiences of the lower levels to present life. It is vital for a person descending into unconscious realities to know how he got there and how he got back. It is too important a journey to make with his "eyes closed."