Is Virtual Hypnosis Dangerous?
There seems to be a movement afoot to label “virtual hypnosis” (doing hypnosis via Skype, Zoom, etc.) a risky or dangerous endeavor that needs certain training before one can “safely” work with a client online. At first glance, this might even seem plausible, as many courses are sold under the guise of how to do hypnosis safely. But largely, these are selling points based upon the ignorance of the course buyer rather than real risks.
Some have even gone as far as saying hypnosis services should not be offered in any format other than face-to-face meetings. But in the field of telemedicine; online counseling, social work, and psychological services have been embraced by every professional organization representing these caregivers.
Almost every professional association representing professional hypnotists has agreed that hypnosis is largely a safe endeavor with few risks or side effects. There are some common-sense instructions we give clients, like “Don’t listen to recordings while driving a car,” or “Don’t operate a circular saw while engaging in a Skypenosis session with me,” but even if these common-sense instructions are disregarded, clients are not likely to do things that just don’t make sense or are dangerous.
Hypnosis is a Benign Process
Psychology journals describe hypnosis as “largely a benign process” (Maldonado & Spiegel, 2015) and even the Mayo Clinic has stated that it is “considered a safe, complementary and alternative medical treatment.” The medical community understands there is inherently little risk in hypnosis and that any risk that does exist is infinitesimally small and can usually be handled with any basic screening process or simple instructions such as, “Relax, leaning back in the chair, not letting your head slam onto the table.”
Professional associations have spent decades overcoming the myth that hypnosis is unsafe, dangerous, or high risk. Our malpractice insurance rates are dirt cheap compared to other professions, and insurance rates reflect risk. Selling hypnotherapy malpractice policies is highly profitable because there are simply very few claims (and the claims that do exist are often unrelated to the hypnosis itself, such as slip and falls, ethical violations, or frivolous claims). In my practice, both in my clinic office and in numerous virtual hypnosis sessions, I have never encountered any significant problem or negative side effect of hypnosis. I have done thousands of real-life sessions.
There are literally millions of people who have listened to my guided hypnosis recordings (one of my YouTube videos alone has more than a million views) without even the benefit of real-time interaction and never have I had a call, email or inquiry related to ill effects of my work. And, realize the sheer magnitude of how many people have benefitted from virtual hypnosis – I am just one of many hypnotists who have provided online sessions, recordings or other forms of virtual hypnosis.
Why is that I have had zero high-risk scenarios or damage complaints due to a session? Because what academic journals, hospitals, professional associations, and our own experiences show us is that hypnosis has few if any, real risks.
The Real Risk to the Hypnosis Profession
The real risk the hypnosis profession faces right now is a call to return to the dark ages where we sell hypnosis training with fear, by telling people they must learn how to do it “safely.” Our risk lies in returning to a day when the consumer fears hypnosis because they have been warned of fantastical risks, ones which are really non-existent hypothetical fears.
The real risk is rewinding the clock to a period when it was impossible to get malpractice insurance; by now going to those same companies we told hypnosis was safe, and telling them it might not be unless they mandate certain training! Do any of the professional associations think higher premiums, frequent application rejections and fewer people insured is a good thing? It is using a sledgehammer to crack an egg.
Our greatest risk is in training a new generation of hypnotists to believe that the gift they have has to be used cautiously and that clients must sign waivers of damage and be warned before we can help them achieve peace or benefit from hypnosis. It seems pretty counter-intuitive to me.
Hypothetical fears might include, “What if the client has a heart attack in the middle of the session?” “What if the client drops his head on the table and has a concussion?” “What happens if there are intense emotions or even abreaction (largely a fictional creation of Freud and perpetuated by Janov as a valid therapeutic technique) during a session?” “How will you safely respond to these situations?”, it is warned.
Again, at first glance, these questions may seem plausible when asked in a training class where students are ignorant because they do not yet have a base of real-world experience. But in reality, having a heart attack or stroke in the middle of a session is highly unlikely (and there is reason to believe hypnosis would reduce the likelihood) but even if it were to occur it would first be unrelated to the session and more importantly we would do the same thing anyone else would do if we observed someone with serious health problems – we would dial 911 and request an ambulance.
The myriad of hypotheticals that could be used to restrict hypnotists from working with people online, in recordings, and even over the phone is endless. But, like house alarms systems or life-insurance policies that are sold based on fear, the likelihood of having a break-in are truly remote, as is even dying within the terms of a life insurance policy (which is how life insurance companies make their money).
This is not to say that practitioners of hypnosis should not pay attention or get training in the difference between delivering care online and offline. This article does not proport to say we should never give clients informed consent about the unlikely risks that could possibly exist or that we as professionals have a plan in place to deal with absurd contingencies. But in the era of 2019, where online delivery of services is a reality for everything from erectile disorders to buying groceries, I certainly do not think specialized required training or additional training should be required. Rather, because of the inevitability of virtual hypnosis services being more frequently than face-to-face sessions, these issues should be an included consideration in any basic hypnosis training rather than an “add-on” program requiring special fees or tuition.
Training in virtual hypnosis is hypnosis. It is safe, just like real-world hypnosis. And then there are theoretical considerations. Ryan Remencus commented in our Facebook group, “So, if I’m not cutting a person open, I’m not putting meds in their mouths or veins, and I’m not touching them…couldn’t an argument be made that ALL IN-PERSON hypnosis is actually VIRTUAL?” This is brilliant. Why create a dichotomy of this is real hypnosis, and this is virtual hypnosis? Some clients come to see me in my office and I follow-up online. Some only see me online. Some never see me and listen to my recordings. But as Remencus points out, it is actually all virtual hypnosis and really only occurring in their experience anyway regardless of our proximity. Good hypnosis training is good hypnosis training and encourages as many applications of hypnosis as possible, it does not seek to restrict this type of practice or that type of practice to a class of people with “special training.”
Let’s Share the Gift of Hypnosis in Real-Life and Virtually!
Let’s move forward as a profession and continue to share the gift of hypnosis without fear. It is something that is largely without side effects, without serious risks; truly a lifesaving process that the internet has opened to even more people. Far more people have experienced hypnosis online, through recordings, or in virtual sessions than have ever experienced it in the “safety” of a professional’s office. Before the advent of the internet, people conducted hypnosis over the phone, and the decades of people who have experienced some form of virtual hypnosis far exceeds any number of people who have walked into an actual hypnosis clinic office.
The bottom line is this: You can’t claim out of one side of the mouth hypnosis is safe, and out of the other side of the mouth claim it is unsafe when trying to sell courses or gatekeeping insurance policies. Hypnosis is a safe, effective, and useful tool for helping people live better lives. That includes both offline and online or recorded approaches to helping others with hypnosis.