Magazine article Developments in Mental Health Law

An Update on State Regulation of Hypnosis

Magazine article Developments in Mental Health Law

An Update on State Regulation of Hypnosis

Article excerpt


[section] 18.2-315. Hypnotism and mesmerism.--If any person shall hypnotize or mesmerize or attempt to hypnotize or mesmerize any person, he shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor. But this section shall not apply to hypnotism or mesmerism performed at the request of the patient by a licensed physician, licensed clinical psychologist, or dentist, or at the request of a licensed physician, in the practice of his profession.

In 1980 this Virginia statute was repealed because it excluded the use of hypnosis as an investigative tool for law enforcement officials. Although legislative attempts in 1982 and 1983 to reinstate restrictions were unsuccessful, reports of harm to the public recently led to a study by the Council on Health Regulatory Boards.

On May 4, 1987, the Council's Scope and Standards of Practice Committee held a public hearing on whether the practice of hypnosis and hypnotherapy should be regulated in the state of Virginia. The study was requested by Delegate Howard E. Copeland in September, 1986, out of a concern about possible injuries caused by unqualified people rendering services as hypnotists or hypnotherapists. In the same month, the Board of Psychology recommended that the use of hypnosis be studied to determine the degree and manner of possible regulation. The Board of Medicine concurred with this recommendation.

The hearing of the Council on Health Regulatory Boards

Eighteen people, including Copeland, spoke at the informational hearing on hypnosis conducted by the Council. Psychiatrists, physicians, clinical psychologists, professional counselors, and lay persons gave testimony. Surprisingly, no law enforcement officials attending the public meeting spoke to defend the use of hypnotically enhanced testimony in criminal cases, although two professional people who have hypnotized witnesses for the law did testify. In addressing the scientific history of hypnosis and explaining how it works, the majority of those testifying called for regulation of the practice and restriction of its use to those with advanced training and degrees. They described the medical uses and management of hypnosis, the probabilities of a variety of harmful side effects, and the problems with hypnosis used for forensic purposes. Written comments were also submitted to the Council, some of which stressed that a degree in medicine, for example, did not truly qualify one to perform hypnotherapy; it requires specialized training in the subject itself.

There was a consensus at the hearing that hypnosis is a powerful tool that can be used to influence the human mind. The hypnotic susceptibility of individuals has been tested, showing that it is measurable, normally distributed, stable and partly genetically determined. In other words, hypnotic behavior can be observed and described; however, there is some disagreement among scientific reseachers about why these psychological and physiological changes occur.

Ali of the speakers stressed that the induction process of hypnotizing someone is easy to learn, but it is the management and care of that person under hypnosis that is difficult. "There is also growing evidence that people who are higher on hypnotic ability are at greater risk for the development of certain psychological and psychophysiological disorders (cg. phobias, posttraumatic stress disorders, bulimia, multiple personality and psychophysiological disorders)." (1)

Hypnosis has many uses in health care, ranging from anesthesia and analgesia with surgery and burn patients, to memory recall and changes in perception and mood of psychological patients which may be suggested by their doctors for therapeutic effects. A number of psychiatrists and psychologists present at the hearing stressed that hypnosis is an adjunct treatment, and safer when multiple treatment options can be used if necessary.

Lack of standards

Although the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis requires a twenty-hour training course, and there are several other societies for those with professional training in psychology or medicine, there are neither standards nor licensing procedures accepted nationwide. …

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