Hypnosis, Memory and Behavior in Criminal Investigation

By Slovenko, Ralph | American Journal of Psychotherapy, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

Hypnosis, Memory and Behavior in Criminal Investigation


Slovenko, Ralph, American Journal of Psychotherapy


KEVIN M. MCCONKEY AND PETER WU SHEEHAN: Hypnosis, Memory and Behavior in Criminal Investigation. Guilford Press, New York and London, 1995, 239 pp., $35.00, ISBN 1-57230-008-6.

In this book Kevin M. McConkey and Peter W Sheehan, both of universities in Australia, and renowned as two of the world's foremost authorities on hypnosis, illustrate the complexities involved and provide thoughtful and well-reasoned guidelines for the forensic use of hypnosis. They present detailed and thoughtful accounts of individual cases.

The topics elucidated by the case studies include the impact of hypnosis on legal procedures, qualifications of the hypnotist, admissibility of hypnotic evidence, consistency of memory reports, possibility of deception, role of motivation and emotion in recall, and rights of participants.

Although the cases are from Australia and New Zealand, they are of interest worldwide, for they exemplify the prevailing issues that confront all practitioners of forensic hypnosis. As Dr. Peter Bloom, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, says in a foreword to the book, the cases read like mystery novels.

Beginning about 1930, there has been a gradual emergence of the use of hypnosis in medicine, particularly in psychiatry, and in the investigation of crime. It became popular with the treatment of soldiers who suffered psychic trauma during World War II. Once the province of carnival showmen, hypnosis became a therapeutic and also an investigative technique. In the investigation of crime, law-enforcement personnel became known as "svengali squads." Los Angeles alone had some 20 senior officers trained as hypnotists, plus several staff psychologists on call.

Then, around the early 1980s, many state supreme courts reacted and many took a very skeptical view of the process. The late Dr. Bernard Diamond was the leader in forensic psychiatry who argued for a complete ban on hypnotizing witnesses. He argued that after hypnosis, the subject cannot differentiate between a true recollection and a fantasy, and that the adversary is deprived of an effective right of cross-examination. …

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