Saturday, December 19, 2009

Review - Hypnotism for Beginners

Unusually for an avid reader of books, I spend a great deal of time reading. This not only educates me on many interesting subjects but many non-fiction books will also entice me with the further reading sections (just before the index if you need directions), allowing me to learn more on a subject or to explain what I have  not (yet) understood. Being of this mind-set I find that often I rashly buy books without looking at prior reviews, or checking the authors take on the subject. 

There have been many times when I have rushed to on payday just before I leave the house and find myself buying in haste, a book that is complete tripe. My latest, frivolous and bird-brained purchase was the book 'Hypnosis For Beginners', an entertaining but ultimately chilling glimpse into the mentality of a master hypnotist which I will now dissect for your pleasure.

I had an idea that a book like this would tell me about how hypnosis can effect the brain and how a hypnotherapist will talk in a slow controlled voice to gain access to the unconscious mind. Being ignorant of the subject I wanted to know how it worked, but what I got was more painful and of dubious morality.

In the opening chapters we are told of how hypnosis "works" - this is supposedly the 'science' of placing a subject's brain into a different state to induce a behavioural change. This sounded plausible to me as I started reading, reasoning to myself that "perhaps in a more relaxed state it will be easier to place someone into a trance". My faith in the book was then dashed to pieces as the author revealed this 'science'. The only way I can express the sheer idiocy is by the art of quotation:

The Theta State
"The frequency range in theta is about 4 to 7 cps(cycle per second). Theta is part of the subconscious range and hypnosis can sometimes take place here. All of our emotional experiences seem to be recorded in theta. Theta is that special range that opens the door of consciousness beyond hypnosis into the world of psychic phenomena. Theta is the range where psychic experiences are most likely to occur."
My fears builds as I read this paragraph, I cannot help but imagine the the poor Hypnotist being psychically thrown around the room by a malevolent client, until I read back and realise that hypnosis can only "sometimes take place here".  At this point in the self-help guide we still have no idea how this psychic phenomena supposedly works and the book hasn't even given us any evidence that it even exists.
My sceptical lobe tickles my senses and I immediately rush to the end of the book to find the further reading section to seek reputable references on the topic.  I glance to the last few pages of this 'book', but I can find no such further reading section or even a bibliography. Even after I had read through this book I could find not a scrap of evidence put forward by the author to justify his extraordinary claim. Maybe his other book, 'Psychic Development For Beginners' contains this extraordinary evidence. Incidentally this other book can teach it's readers "how to psychically heal a pet or another human!"

Soldiering on I still have no clue on what the effects of hypnotism are, how it is induced or what really produces this state! Apart from some vague ramblings about helping others to quit smoking and lose weight (by giving them a stern talking to from the sounds of it) - I still see no evidence that this will produce any kind of effect. I suppose I could tolerate people basing a night of social entertainment around this book, after all many people will do the same with Tarot cards.

The title of the next section is: 'Going Into Business'!  This strikes me as odd, the book hasn't taught me anything that would qualify me, or even shown me where to get the qualifications to justify charging real money for my newly learned, er, soon to be newly learned skills as a hypnotherapist. I may have been getting ahead of myself, surely the author has placed this section as a warning to people to get proper accreditation before claiming to be a therapist, real or imaginary. Alas I find that Occam's Razor has won out again and the most obvious explanation was the correct one. We are told of what expenses are likely to occur and if you are a thrifty person, how to do the whole thing out of your house. Again, I must defer to the expert in these matters, via the magic of quotation:

"When I retired in 1992, I was charging $50 per session (a session lasts from 30 minutes to an hour). I do not g beyond an hour because I find that too much time in one session becomes counter-  the client. The charge include everything: pre- and post-hypnosis consultation, the hypnosis session, a tape recording of one of the sessions (usually session 5) ... and the self-hypnosis handouts."
Okay this is becoming a little odd, I have just purchased a book of hypnosis for beginners, but all that has been so far revealed is that psychic phenomena occurs in theta (where hypnotism occasionally is found). This has apparently made me sufficiently knowledgeable and qualified to set up a business selling my hypnotic service and I am then told how to bill my suckers... I mean patients. In desperation I cry out; "William W. Hewitt, what happens if the subject realises that I am peddling nonsense that I do not fully understand?" Fear not my friends, the author has anticipated this question already:

"I strongly recommend that you request payment in advance for each session. Once you give the session you cannot take it back if the client doesn't pay or writes a bad check."

My art is all about the benjamins.
My art is all about the Benjamin's.
Let me get to the practical side of this book so I may begin learning this colossal skill set. I will not bore you with the details on how to get someone into a trance, I will (temporarily) assume that this part of the book is all present and correct so I can swiftly move onto the more interesting parts, pushing forward to the chapters that deal with regression.

Regression (for the few of you not in the know) is the art of using hypnosis  to take the subject back to a point in their life where memories are repressed or forgotten, then try to resurface the lost and obscured memories. The author clearly has no doubt that these are completely accurate, so he just subjects the reader to a couple of case studies. He's clearly unaware that "current knowledge does not allow the definite conclusion that a memory is real or false without other corroborating evidence", as the American Psychological Association neatly put it.

The first case study is of a man who is suffering from back pain, William Hewitt to the rescue!

Case 1
"A thirty-five-year-old man came to me with chronic back pain. He had had this pain for as long as he could recall, and it was with him all of the time. Fortunately, he had an innate high tolerance for pain, but it still was a source of discomfort and irritability for him. He had no history of injury and illness. He had been to a number of physicians who all told him the same thin: "There is no physical cause for your pain." They implied that he was imagining it, but he felt pain; it was real.
 I regressed the man back to the time when he first experienced the pain. He was sixteen years old and was preparing to try out for the high school basketball team. The pain was so severe that he was unable to try out. His days as an athlete were finished.
 Continued investigation under hypnotic regression revealed that he had been the basketball star star in a small mid-western school. He was a local hero.  Everyone knew him. Girls vied for his attention. Then his fathers employment caused the family to move to Chicago. He enrolled in a huge high school full of top quality athletes. Competition was fierce. His high school class alone had more students than the entire twelve grades of his previous school. Being a basketball hero in the small school carried no weight in this new school."
Fantastic, in place of instruction we have the story of one of Mr. Hewitt's patients. We discover how (with no evidence apart from half asleep droning) this man was the hero of a small town and presumably had a ninja's tolerance for pain. I like ninjas as much as the next guy, perhaps a bit more, but this is completely useless. What really gets my blood and boils my goat, is the implication that his physicians were negligent in their jobs and baffled by this case. Chronic back pain is well documented and for the most part has no physical cause, what are the Doctor's meant to do - make one up! In any case we all know what doctors and scientists like to do in the privacy of their own homes:

After Lunch he went back to his hobby of drowning kittens.

In conclusion, this is meant to be a text that professes to educate novice hypnotists but in reality is just a half-baked collection of anecdotes, questionable science topped off by a chapter that congratulates the reader on becoming a hypnotist, and giving helpful tips on how to fleece the maximum amount of money from their paying Customers. This book is a disgrace.
- Alex Dennerly

Note - This book review was Alex's very first blog post, and is taken from our older Stockport Skeptics blog. As very few people have read it, we've decided to re-post it on this blog.

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