[Editors’ note: “Hypnosis Medical Scientific, or Occultic?” is excerpted from our book Hypnosis, Medical, Scientific, or Occultic?]

Hypnosis has been used as a method of mental, emotional, behavioral, and physical healing for hundreds and even thousands of years. Witchdoctors, Sufi practitioners, shamans, Hindus, Buddhists, and yogis have practiced hypnosis, and now medical doctors, dentists, psychotherapists, and others have joined them. From witchdoctors to medical doctors and from past to present, the rituals and results have been reproduced, revised, and repeated.

People typically use hypnosis because they have failed to find other means of cure or relief. As a result of its wide variety of uses and promises and the numbers who use it, hypnosis looks like a potential option to those in need. Because of the widespread illnesses and addictions that are not ameliorated by other means, hypnosis is often pursued as a possible antidote. But what is hypnosis?

The words most used by those who support hypnosis for Christians are medical and scientific. These words not only provide prestige, but also a feeling of safety. When the word medical comes up, the guard goes down. Any practice labeled medical, and therefore scientific, is an “open sesame” to the saints. Those who encourage hypnosis for Christians rely upon this questionable label of science to support its use. However, Donald Hebb says in “Psychology Today/The State of the Science” that “hypnosis has persistently lacked satisfactory explanation.”[1] At the present time there is no agreed-upon scientific explanation of exactly what hypnosis is.

Psychiatry professor Thomas Szasz describes hypnosis as the therapy of “a fake science.”[2] We cannot call hypnosis a science, but we can say that it has been an integral part of the occult for thousands of years.

E. Fuller Torrey, a research psychiatrist, aligns hypnotic techniques with witchcraft. He also says, “Hypnosis is one aspect of the yoga techniques of therapeutic meditation.”[3]

Medical doctor William Kroger states, “The fundamental principles of Yoga are, in many respects, similar to those of hypnosis.”[4] To protect the scientific label for hypnosis he declares, “Yoga is not considered a religion, but rather a ‘science’ to achieve mastery of the mind and cure physical and emotional sickness.” Then he makes a strange confession, “There are many systems to Yoga, but the central aim—union with God—is common to all of them and is the method by which it achieves cure.”[5]

Many medical doctors use the energy centers of yoga to alleviate physical diseases. Kroger and William Fezler say:

The reader should not be confused by the supposed differences between hypnosis, Zen, Yoga and other Eastern healing methodologies. Although the ritual for each differs, they are fundamentally the same.[6]

Thus, the word “medical” may include much more than one might suppose. Nevertheless, some in the church have advocated hypnosis as long as it is in the hands of a trained professional, especially a medical doctor. A person who desperately needs help for some long-term difficult problem and has tried other cures is vulnerable. He may grab at any implied or direct promise for help that comes along, and especially from a medical doctor. This is the very predicament in which many Christians find themselves.

Few people realize that medical hypnosis is any hypnosis used for medical purposes. Medical doctors use both hypnotic regression and deep hypnosis. At what point in hypnotic regression and at what depth in hypnosis should a Christian discontinue hypnotic treatment? Some medical doctors use a medical hypnosis which encourages a type of dissociation. The individual becomes an observer of his own body and helps in diagnosis and treatment. They have “the hypnotized patient mentally ‘go into’ the appropriate area of the body to do repairs, to help medicine be effective or to see the healing process at work.”[7] Would this type of medical hypnosis be acceptable to a Christian?

The following is a description of Jack Schwartz, who has conducted experiments at the Menninger Foundation using a visualization technique (equivalent to hypnosis) to heal a cut hand:

First, he instructs, use your mind to see yourself sitting there. Look at your hand (in your mind). Separate the hand from the body, and let it move away from you, growing larger and larger.

Then, in your mind, rise and walk toward it. Halfway there, look back at your body in the chair. Tell it to do a task, like crossing its legs. If it complies, face the hand. Move toward it, entering it through a door. Visualize yourself inside, looking at the cut. See yourself repairing the cut with glue or tape. Continue working—visually—until the cut is repaired.

Come out, and walk back to your body. When you look at the large mind-body hand off in the distance, you see it is healed. It moves toward you and slips back into place, ending the visualization. Thank your body, and picture it as a whole and full of joy.[8]

We raise the following questions about the use of hypnosis by a medical doctor: How can one tell the long-range spiritual effect of even a well-meaning medical doctor’s use of hypnosis on a Christian patient? Would an M.D. with an anti-Christian or occult bias in any way affect a Christian through trance treatment? How about the use of a medical hypnotherapist who belongs to the Satanist church? What about an M.D. hypnotherapist who uses past or future lives therapy as a means of mental-emotional or physical relief? These and other questions need to be answered before subjecting oneself to such treatment, even in the hands of a medical doctor or psychologist.

We wrote to Professor Ernest Hilgard, one of the most-respected, leading authorities on hypnosis, at Stanford University and asked two questions in our quest for information:

  1. Have any follow-up studies been done five years or more after hypnosis has been used to relieve pain, change behavior, etc.? We are particularly interested in finding out if the results are long lasting.
  2. What is the difference between hypnosis as used by a trained practitioner and that used by shamans or witch doctors?[9]

Hilgard’s reply to the first question was:

Long term studies are scarce, but the results of hypnotic treatment are commonly made more permanent through the teaching of self-hypnosis.[10]

However, long term studies of those using self-hypnosis are also scarce. Therefore, science provides no valid information about the long-term effects on the individual as the result of hypnosis. On the other hand, we are concerned about the possibility of long-term spiritual effects on Christians who submit themselves to this treatment.

In reply to the second question, Hilgard wrote:

Trained practitioners know a great deal about contemporary psychotherapy and hypnosis is merely adjuvant. In this they differ from those whose practices are essentially magical.[11]

In short, the difference between a shaman and a trained practitioner of hypnosis is that the trained practitioner will use hypnosis with psychotherapy. Notice that Hilgard does not distinguish the hypnosis used by the hypnotherapist from that of the shaman except that the hypnotherapist uses hypnosis with psychotherapy.

Hypno-Psycho-Religious Synthesis

Joseph Palotta, a professing Christian who is also a psychiatrist and hypnotherapist, combines the worst of two evils into a practice that he calls “hypnoanalysis.” His system is an amalgamation of hypnosis and the Freudian psychosexual states of development. His book The Robot Psychiatrist is filled with unproven Freudian concepts, such as subconscious determinants, abreaction and the supposed determinism of early life experiences. He says that his book contains “extremely rapid systems of treatment for emotional disorders.” He promises, “These methods bring about definite therapeutic change of the underlying emotional problem.”[12]

Palotta attempts to support his system of hypnosis and psychoanalysis through describing certain individual cases, which he claims: “are typical of experiences with hypnoanalysis in the practice of Christian psychiatry.”[13] Palotta is educated enough to know that using his cases to prove success are invalid because there are no third-party experts checking him out. Nevertheless, he uses these cases to support his hypnoanalytic practice. Palotta describes a case of a 25-year-old mother who experienced anxiety and fear. Palotta says:

Analysis of her fear under hypnosis revealed that at age four she witnessed her father in a drunken rage, fighting with her mother, and then coming toward the patient with a knife in his hand. Her next memory was fainting, then getting out of bed, kneeling, and praying to God to take her then, to remove her from that awful environment. When God didn’t take her, she decided, “I hate God.”

She was then re-educated under hypnosis to correct the error that she had to die to be okay.[14]

Palotta claims to have helped this woman through hypnosis and psychoanalysis because “it provided the insight necessary for her to begin a course of emotional and spiritual healing.” Personal, unsubstantiated claims by Palotta and others with no means of checking and no long term follow up tell us nothing of value about his system. We have numerous claims by a variety of hypnotherapists who say they have cured such illnesses as:

  1. Migraine headaches.
  2. Obsessive eating and obesity.
  3. Bulemia.
  4. Stuttering.
  5. Parkinson’s syndrome.
  6. Chronic stiff neck.
  7. Chronic jaw pain.
  8. Arthritis. [15]

One hypnotherapist claims to have enlarged women’s breasts and even to have dissolved a kidney stone.[16] Should we accept all these unverified cases by these hypnotherapists without proof?

Open Door of Pragmatism

Some people use pragmatism to support the practice of hypnotism. They say that since it works it must be good. The pain may disappear, sleep may be attained, and sex life may improve. Who can criticize such a procedure? However, does the end justify the means? Many witchdoctors and shamans have higher cure rates than hypnotherapists. Results should not be the evidence for promoting and utilizing hypnotism.

Immediate positive results from hypnotism should especially be dismissed as evidence for validity of the practice, since many who gain initial victory over problems later suffer defeat. The pain which was “cured” may return, the sleep turns again into sleeplessness, and the temporarily improved sex life deteriorates. In spite of numerous claims and testimonials, research has not demonstrated that hypnosis is any more effective for chronic pain than a placebo. After examining the research, two researchers confess:

Despite a vast amount of excellent research on the effects of hypnosis on experimentally induced pain, there is virtually no reliable evidence from controlled clinical studies to show that it is effective for any form of chronic pain.[17]

Besides this possibility of the quick cure, short-term change with later failure, there is the possibility of symptom substitution. For example, those who are relieved of migraine headaches through hypnosis may end up with ulcers. A study conducted at the famous Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago revealed the strong possibility of symptom substitution. They found that of those migraine patients who had learned to control headaches through biofeedback, “two-thirds reported the development of new psychosomatic symptoms within five years.”[18]

If indeed hypnosis may result in occult healing, there are potential serious consequences to consider. John Weldon and Zola Levitt say, “We would expect that most if not all of those who are occultly healed are likely to suffer either psychologically or spiritually in some way.”[19] Kurt Koch, in his book Demonology: Past and Present, says that in occult forms of healing:

The original organic illness is shifted higher into the psychical realm, with the result that while the physical illness disappears, new disorders appear in the mental and emotional life of the person concerned, disorders which are in fact far more difficult to treat and cure. Magical healings are therefore not really healings at all, but merely transferences from the organic to the psychical level.[20]

Koch believes that the power behind occult healing is demonic, that such healing serves as an impediment to a person’s spiritual life, and that the damage is immense. Weldon and Levitt also point out that occult practices do provide healing but that the cure is often worse than the original illness. They say:

In conclusion, psychic healing is not a part of the natural or latent capacities of man. It is a distinctly supernatural, spiritistic power and carries grave consequences both for those who practice it and for those healed by it. Those who practice it may have no indication that spirit entities are the real source of their power, but that does not reduce their own responsibility for the spiritual and psychological destruction of those they heal. There is always a high price to pay when contacting forces alien to God.[21]

Koch says:

Although certain Christian workers believe that some types of healing mesmerism [a form of hypnotism] are dependent on neutral rather than mediumistic powers, I would say that I have personally hardly ever come across a neutral form. Many years of experience in this field have shown me that even in the case of Christian mesmerisers the basic mediumship has always come to the surface in the end.[22]

In his book Occult ABC Koch says:

We must distinguish between the hypnosis used by doctors for diagnosis and treatment and magically based hypnosis, which is clearly occult in character. But I must not neglect to add, that I reject even the kind of hypnosis used by doctors.[23]

A fact rarely mentioned by hypnotists is that whatever physical healing is accomplished with hypnosis can also be accomplished without it. The Modern Synopsis of Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry/II states, “Everything done in psychotherapy with hypnosis can also be done without hypnosis.”[24] We believe that it is not only unnecessary to use hypnosis but potentially dangerous. Even though hypnosis may currently be used by medical doctors, it originated from and is still practiced by witch doctors. Even medical hypnosis practiced by a Christian may be a disguised doorway and subtle enticement into the demonic realm. It may not be as obvious an entree to evil as occult hypnosis, and therefore it could be even more dangerous for an unsuspecting Christian who would otherwise avoid the occult.

Are people in the church being enticed to enter the twilight zone of the occult because hypnosis is now called “science” and “medicine”? Let those who call the occult “science” tell us what the difference is between medical and occultic hypnosis. And let those Christians who call it “scientific” explain why they also recommend that it be performed only by a Christian. If hypnosis is science indeed, why the added requirement of Christianity for the practitioner? There is a scarcity of adequate long-term studies of those who have been hypnotized. And there have been none which have examined the effect on the individual’s resulting faith or interest in the occult.

Before hypnotism becomes the new panacea from the pulpit, followed by a plethora of books on the subject, its claims, methods, and long-term results should be considered. Hypnosis has become “scientific” and “medical” for some Christians with little proof of its validity, longevity of its results, or understanding of its nature. Because there are so many unanswered questions about its usefulness and so many potential dangers about its usage, Christians should shun hypnosis.

[1] Donald Hebb, “Psychology Today/The State of the Science.” Psychology Today, May 1982, p. 53.

[2] Thomas Szasz. The Myth of Psychotherapy. Garden City: Anchor Press/ Doubleday, 1978, pp. 185-186.

[3] E. Fuller Torrey. The Mind Game. New York: Emerson Hall Publishers, Inc., 1972, p. 70.

[4] William Kroger. Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 2nd Ed. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1977, p. 122.

[5] Ibid., p. 123.

[6] William Kroger and William Fezler. Hypnosis and Behavior Modification: Imagery Conditioning. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1976, p. 412.

[7] Helen Benson, “Hypnosis Seen as Tool to Bond Body, Mind.” Santa Barbara News-Press, May 31, 1982, p. B-1.

[8] “A Special Talent for Self-Regulation.” Human Potential, December, 1985, p. 15.

[9] Bobgan letter, September 11, 1985, on file.

[10] Ernest Hilgard letter, September 15, 1985, on file.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Joseph Palotta. The Robot Psychiatrist. Metairie, LA: Revelation House Publishers, Inc., 1981, p. 11.

[13] Joseph Palotta. “Medical Hypnosis: Pulling Down Satan’s Strongholds.” Christian Medical Society Journal, Vol. XV, No. 2, summer 1984, p. 9.

[14] Ibid.

[15] “The Master Course in Advanced Hypnotherapy” advertisement, Hypnotism Training Institute of Los Angeles.

[16] Potentials Unlimited Self-Hypnosis Tapes catalog, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

[17] Hilgard and Hilgard (1986) quoted by Robert A. Baker. “Hypnosis and Pain Control,” New Realities, March/April 1991, p. 28.

[18] Nathan Szajnberg and Seymour Diamond. “Biofeedback, Migraine Headache and New Symptom Formation.” Headache Journal, 20:2931.

[19] John Weldon and Zola Levitt. Psychic Healing. Chicago: Moody Press, 1982, p. 195.

[20] Kurt Koch. Demonology: Past and Present. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1973, p. 121.

[21] Weldon and Levitt, op. cit., p. 110.

[22] Kurt Koch. Occult Bondage and Deliverance. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1970, p. 40.

[23] Kurt Koch. Occult ABC. Trans. by Michael Freeman. Germany: Literature Mission Aglasterhausen, Inc., 1978, p. 98.

[24] Alfred Freedman et al. Modern Synopsis of Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry/II, 2 ed. Baltimore: The Williams & Wilkins Co., 1976, p. 905.