Recently, a who is jesus made it clear to me that he found the use of hypnosis at the very least questionable and at the very worst “dark.” He asked me to refrain from using it in my psychotherapy work with my contract patients in the agency he founded. For lack of time, I assured him that I would honor his wishes, but quickly pointed out to him that the use of hypnosis (whether it was formal trance or Verbal First Aid, which is the use of words to facilitate healing in acute situations, such as accidents or shock) was no different than the use of a knife. In the hands of a good surgeon, it could be a life-saver. In the hands of a madman, it would be dark indeed.
Afterwards, it became clear to me that his understanding of hypnosis and mine were quite different. And any good debate must begin with a clarification of terms. Too many reasonable discussions deteriorate into pointless argument because no one fully defines himself.
What do we mean then by trance and hypnosis? More specifically, what do Christians who fear hypnosis mean by it and what do ethical clinicians mean by it? For our purposes today, we will leave the madmen out of it.
The Christian Definitions or Concerns:
It is very important to address this because what Christians fear about hypnosis is something rather fearful: deliberation manipulation, external mind control, or spell-casting that leaves a person open to spiritual corruption. They form their impressions of the technique from what they have read in popular media (including the early reports on “Mesmerism,” which was presented as a demonic seduction of young women by irresistible and wretched old men), watched on TV, or seen in lounge acts where hypnosis is reduced to having some poor sot play air guitar or bite happily into an onion.
It is not hard to see what makes them uneasy. And, what is worse is that there are people in the world who use hypnotic trance unethically. They may not be madmen, but they should not be calling themselves healers or professionals by any means.
In fact, the worst of these “trance inducers” have nothing to do with lounge acts or private practices. There are at least two times a day when most people are in the deepest, most vulnerable and suggestible trances they are ever in: When they are driving in their cars and when they are at home watching television. And the messages they receive in those states-usually corporate advertising-are what they are unconsciously absorbing.
2. Spiritual Bankruptcy
In Christianity’s beginnings, as in early Judaism, sickness (or insanity) was seen as a function of sin or possession. And the ONLY thing that could cure sin was God and our faith in Him. Anything that interfered with that relationship and dependence on God was prohibited. In those days, that interference usually took the shape of idolatry and pagan religions.
When seen as “mesmerism” or as a loss of control to an unknown entity (e.g., the intentions or spirituality of the hypnotherapist), hypnosis leaves the individual vulnerable to literally who-knows-what-malevolent suggestion, criminal manipulation, and demons.
As Father Russell Radoicich, an Orthodox priest from Butte, Montana, wrote, “Christianity has always called people to live in full awareness, in reality, with nothing having mastery over us except God.” When hypnosis is defined as making one person subject to another (spiritually or mentally), is it any wonder that it is seen as questionable if not downright dangerous?
Hypnosis seen this way-as a quick fix with little depth-can also be considered a crutch or a deterrent to spiritual growth, which is why Father Russell reminds us that “the spiritual work must be done or there is no true rehabilitation. People may lose weight or stop smoking, but the deeper matter has not been addressed.”