Monday, December 16, 2019


Hypnosis seems to be one of those subjects that everyone knows about but few understand. The term itself conjures up images of everything from stage entertainment, to curing the urge to smoke, and even government control and manipulation of the masses. Many articles have appeared in the popular press, from Time magazine and Newsweek, to self-help publications. A couple of posts ago, someone left a comment asking me about the Church's position on hypnosis. The question intrigued me very much. Although I had a hazy idea about it, I never researched the topic in-depth until now. I have often written how I learn much from my readers, especially since questions like this one get me to learn more about topics I probably would not have looked into but for the query.

According to The New American Desk Encyclopedia, hypnosis is "an artificially induced mental state characterized by an individual’s loss of critical powers and his consequent openness of suggestion." (See Third Edition (NY: Signet, 1993), p. 600). The term itself comes from Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep, and was coined by physician James Braid, an early investigator and promoter of "mesmerism," as hypnosis was originally called. That name comes to us from German doctor Franz Mesmer (d. 1815) in the 18th century to label what he believed to be an invisible natural force possessed by all things, and could be used to heal people.In the early days, hypnotism or mesmerism was also referred to as "magnetism" or "animal magnetism;" not to be confused with magnetic forces properly speaking. (See Hypnosis has changed considerably since then.

In this post I will explore the answers to three pertinent questions: What, exactly, is hypnosis in modern times? What are the benefits and dangers of using hypnotism? What is the official teaching of the Church on the issue of hypnotism?

Defining the Topic
As late as the 1970s, there was no agreed upon definition of hypnosis or hypnotherapy. Ask any two practitioners what constitutes being "in a hypnotic state," and you'll likely get two very different responses. Just like chiropractors, some hypnotherapists are very much mainline medicine in their approach, while others bring in a perspective that is decidedly New Age Movement. Back in 1977, psychologist and associate editor of Psychology Today, Daniel Goleman, who has a PhD in clinical psychology from Harvard University, wrote, "After 200 years of use, we still cannot say with certainty what hypnosis is nor exactly how it works. But somehow it does." (See Daniel Goleman, “Hypnosis Comes of Age,” Psychology Today, February, 1977, p. 60).

According to the Handbook of States of Consciousness (1986), pg. 136, hypnosis is the inducement of a "trance" which is initiated by a set of procedures called "induction techniques." When this altered state has been achieved, then various therapeutic maneuvers in the form of suggestions or other psychological interventions are performed and are called the practice of "hypnotherapy." This altered state is characterized by increased suggestibility and enhanced imagery and imagination, including the availability of visual memories from the past. There is also a lowering of the planning function and a reduction in reality testing. 

The following is a good summation of the development of hypnosis in the United States (and most of the world):

From the early years of the 20th until the 1950s, hypnosis was more or less confined to the laboratory and the classroom. Joseph Jastrow (1863-1944) ran a long-running course at the University of Wisconsin on the medical uses of hypnosis. Although he is often overshadowed by the success of his student, Clark Leonard Hull, Jastrow is an important figure in the rise of popular psychology. After his retirement from the academic circuit, he published many books and hosted radio shows on psychological topics (as well as designing optical illusions). His work helped to make genuine psychological and hypnotic concepts available to a lay audience. At that time, most people, if they’d thought about it at all, would have thought about hypnosis as the sort of mythical mind-control beloved of popular novelists and Hollywood movie-makers.

It wasn't until the 1960s that hypnosis came into vogue with those who are in the New Age Movement and occult practitioners--not to mention the general populace of the world. All kinds of near miraculous claims were being made about hypnosis. You could instantly stop smoking, lose weight, end phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorders, improve self-esteem, use hypnosis in place of surgery, meet your "spirit guides," and recall "past lives."

What is legitimate and medically proven use of hypnosis? What is quackery or dangerous? Those questions will be investigated next.

Medical Use of Hypnosis
There are proven and efficacious uses of hypnosis in modern medicine. The modern and most accepted definition of medical hypnosis used by the prestigious Mayo Clinic is "a trance-like state in which you have heightened focus and concentration. Hypnosis is usually done with the help of a therapist using verbal repetition and mental images. When you're under hypnosis, you usually feel calm and relaxed, and are more open to suggestions. Hypnosis can be used to help you gain control over undesired behaviors or to help you cope better with anxiety or pain. It's important to know that although you're more open to suggestion during hypnosis, you don't lose control over your behavior." 

Some of the uses of medical hypnosis are enumerated by the Mayo Clinic as:

  • Pain control. Hypnosis may help with pain due to burns, cancer, childbirth, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, temporomandibular joint problems, dental procedures and headaches
  • Hot flashes. Hypnosis may relieve symptoms of hot flashes associated with menopause
  • Behavior change. Hypnosis has been used with some success in the treatment of insomnia, bed-wetting, smoking, and overeating
  • Cancer treatment side effects. Hypnosis has been used to ease side effects related to chemotherapy or radiation treatment
  • Mental health conditions. Hypnosis may help treat symptoms of anxiety, phobias and post-traumatic stress


Notice the cautionary verbiage, may help and used with some success. It is not some miraculous panacea. There is also no danger of someone being made to think he's a chicken or the other stage tricks used by popular sleight-of-hand "stage magicians." 

Finally, there are risks and dangers. The Mayo Clinic reports:

 Adverse reactions to hypnosis are rare, but may include:
  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Anxiety or distress
  • Creation of false memories
Be cautious when hypnosis is proposed as a method to work through stressful events from earlier in life. This practice may cause strong emotions and can risk the creation of false memories. (Ibid; Emphasis mine). 

There are several serious dangers with the creation of false memories. Someone who is hypnotized to remember their attacker in a crime may identify an innocent person.  For this reason courts will generally not accept hypnotic testimony at trial, just as lie detectors are also eschewed by criminal procedure. However, it may stigmatize the accused, and (wrongly) convince the victim someone is the culprit when they are innocent.

Another huge danger is that false memories can give credence to the idea of "past lives" and the false doctrine of reincarnation.  So-called "past lives" brought out under hypnosis are fraught with difficulties. According to hypnosis expert James E. Parejko in an article published in the Journal of the American Institute of Hypnosis (Jan. 1975), he listed four factors of subconscious intervention during hypnosis: (a) Expectations of the hypnotist, (b)  diminished critical thoughts in the mind that accompany deep trance states, (c) a triggering idea by the hypnotist, and (d) the ability of the mind to hallucinate.

A case in point of inherent unreliability was that of Bridey Murphy. Through hypnosis, a woman allegedly regressed to 18th century Ireland. She suddenly spoke Gaelic, described the coastline where she lived, discussed the customs and spoke like a life-long Irish native. Upon further investigation, "Bridey Murphy" (the name of the person she allegedly was in this "past life") never existed but was a figment of the woman's imagination. She was raised by her grandmother who spoke Gaelic and kept history books on Ireland which she related to her granddaughter. The hypnotic subject had forgotten the language and history as she got older, but it was brought back under hypnosis with the mind giving life to the memories by manufacturing a name.

In the famous cases of Dr. Ian Stevenson, who investigated children claiming to have "spontaneously recalled" a past life, the doctor himself admits of bias in his study due to cultural conditioning. He wrote, "...the principal sites of abundant reported cases are: northern India; Sri Lanka; Burma; Thailand; Vietnam; western Asia, especially south central Turkey, Lebanon, and Syria; and northwest North America, among the natives of that region. The peoples of these areas (of the groups among whom the cases occur) believe in reincarnation." (See Stevenson, Ian, "The Explanatory Value of the Idea of Reincarnation," Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease Sept. 1977, 308).  He further admits, "Neither any single case nor all the investigated cases together offer anything like a proof of reincarnation." (Ibid, 325).

Could "past life" regression/memories be the result of demonic influence or possession? The teaching of the Church will guide us.

The Teaching of the Church
To be certain, there are problems of a spiritual nature with hypnosis. First, there are many New Agers who hypnotize (or self-hypnotize) to induce an altered state of consciousness to meet (or arrange for their patients to meet) their "spirit guides." This is no different from a shaman; pagan witch-doctors who use drug induced trances for the same purpose. This can definitely open a doorway for demonic involvement. There are people who go into a trance to be clairvoyant, i.e., the ability to gain information about an object, person, location, or physical event through extrasensory perception (ESP); this is also an invitation to the forces of Satan. The patient of hypnosis also becomes easily influenced by the hypnotist, so they will be more amenable to doing/thinking as he or she does. If the hypnotist is an occultist or anti-Christian, this can be a danger to the Faith.

There have been reports of hypnotists taking sexual advantage of their patients. That could be true--or a false memory. A popular belief is that a hypnotized subject cannot be made to do something against her will or to commit an evil act. But this is simply not true.A hypnotist can even lead a person into committing murder by creating an extreme fear that someone is attempting to kill him. The patient would discern it as an act of self-defense. Through hypnotic deception, it is possible to cause one to do something against his will by disguising the act into one which would be within his choice.

What does the Church teach? Is hypnosis wrong per se? Can it have a legitimate use? Can Traditionalist Catholics make use of it? Since there has been no pope since 1958, we have no Magisterial pronouncements on modern hypnosis past the 1950s. However, we have been left with some important guiding principles to employ.

A) The Decisions of the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office
The first decree of the Holy Office was in response to bishops who asked about the new practice of "mesmerism" or "magnetism." It was issued on June 23, 1840 under Pope Gregory XVI. The second decree repeated the first and was more expansive. That decree was issued on July 28, 1847 under Pope Pius IX in response to a query from the Archbishop of Montreal, and the pertinent part reads as follows:

The art of magnetism [hypnotism] is practiced in the said diocese. Is it a crime when someone claims to know what happened in distant places, or what is altogether interior and hidden in the mind? When it is used to discover thieves or criminals? When it is used to put asleep those who must undergo amputation of limbs, in order to make them insensible to pain?

Response of the Holy Office: Excluding all error, and excluding fortune-telling and the invocation of demons, whether explicit or implicit, the use of magnetism, namely the mere act of  using physical means otherwise permissible, is not prohibited on moral grounds, provided it does not lead to an end that is illicit or improper in any manner. But the application of purely physical principles and means for truly supernatural matters and effects, in order to explain them physically, is nothing but an entirely forbidden and heretical deception.

On July 30, 1856, the Sacred Supreme Congregation of the Holy Office sent a letter of instruction ("general decree") to all bishops on the issue of hypnotism with the approval of Pope Pius IX. The letter was prompted by the actions of some who were trying to contact the dead and divine the future in an hypnotic state. The pertinent part reads:
It has been discovered that a new type of superstition is being introduced by magnetic phenomena with which many contemporaries concern themselves, not to deepen knowledge of the physical sciences, which is quite just, but to deceive and lead men astray; for they think they can detect hidden, remote, and future things by the art of magnetism, or by deception, especially with the help of young women who are totally dependent on the magnetizer. 
...some, neglecting the legitimate scientific research for a study of the curious, with great danger to souls and to the detriment of civil society, gloried in having found a certain principle divining and predicting the future. Hence, with the help of the artifices of somnambulism and what is called clairvoyance, these young women, carried away by gestures not always modest, chatter about seeing invisible things. They have the rashness to preach on Religion itself, to summon the souls of the dead and receive their replies: to perceive unknown and distant things; and to work other similar superstitious matters, so that a great profit will surely come to themselves and their masters from divining the future. In all these practices, wherever they use deceit or illusion, a completely forbidden and heretical deception is present, a scandal against upright morals, since physical means are directed to effects that are not natural. 

As theologian Gormley teaches about the decrees of 1840 and 1847, the following conclusions may be drawn:

  1. superstition in the use of animal magnetism [hypnosis] is condemned
  2. the condemnation is restricted to uses which are condemned today [1961] by medical science
  3. animal magnetism [hypnosis] itself is not condemned
  4. like the medical profession of the time [1840s], Rome did not know the nature of hypnosis

Theologian Gormley further comments:
The question of the morality of hypnosis was definitely a new problem when the Holy Office was questioned in 1840; but its answer is not new. It simply stated the constant and universal teaching of the Church on superstition.

Further, on the general decree of 1856, he writes:
It is noteworthy that this letter explicitly calls the scientific use of magnetism just; its condemnation is reserved to the superstitious use of the trance. 
(See Medical Hypnosis, Catholic University of America Press, [1961], pgs. 89-100).

B) The Teaching of Pope Pius XII
In his Allocution "Anesthesia: Three Moral Questions" of 1957, His Holiness Pope Pius XII discusses hypnotism as an anesthetic [used in conjunction with medicine by physicians] and had this to say:

But consciousness can also be reduced by artificial means. There is no essential difference, from the moral standpoint, whether the result is obtained by administration of narcotics or by hypnosis--which can be called a psychic analgesic. But hypnosis, even considered in itself, is subject to certain rules...

The subject which engages us here is hypnosis practiced by a doctor to serve a clinical purpose, while he observes the precautions which science and medical ethics demand equally from the doctor who uses it and from the patient who submits to it. The moral judgement which we are going to state on the suppression of consciousness applies to this specific use of hypnosis. But We do not wish what We say of hypnosis in the service of medicine to be extended without qualification to hypnosis in general. In fact, hypnosis, insofar as it is an object of scientific research, cannot be studied by any casual individual, but only by a serious scholar, and within the limits valid for all scientific activity. It is not a subject for a group of laymen or ecclesiastics to dabble in, as they might in some other interesting topic, merely for experience or even as a simple hobby.
(See AAS 49 [1957], 140-141).

Two points of the pontiff are discerned: (a) the clinical use of hypnosis as an anesthetic is morally permissible when practiced by a doctor, and only a doctor or "serious scholar" may use it for scientific research; (b) the doctor or serious scholar is to observe the precautions of both science and the moral limits for all scientific research. (See theologian Gormley, Ibid, pgs. 114-116).

If hypnosis were evil per se, the Holy Father would have forbidden all use, which he did not do.

Practical Considerations
In my opinion, based on all of the foregoing, there are five practical considerations that must be seriously contemplated before undergoing hypnotherapy:

1. There must be serious reason(s) to undergo hypnosis. Such reasons would include the need to lose weight because of serious health risks (morbidly obese), as a help for anesthetics for those with great anxiety over an operation, etc.

2. The religious, ethical, and philosophical orientation of the hypnotherapist must be checked. It must not be someone who is involved in the New Age, Wicca, the occult, or who believes in reincarnation and other pagan ideas. The hypnotherapist should be (ideally) a Traditionalist, or at least someone accepting and never opposed to the One True Faith. Someone the patient trusts should always be present during the procedure.  

3. The emotional history and condition of the patient is important. Someone with a history of serious mental disturbance should not undergo hypnosis, and those with chronic neurosis should avoid it unless absolutely necessary. An altered state of consciousness could have more harmful than positive effects on such persons.

4. The degree of technical expertise and past experience of the therapist. He must be a serious scholar of the discipline and have an impeccable reputation.

5. You should seek counsel from a Traditionalist cleric, receive Confession beforehand, and disavow all evil intentions. Hypnosis must be restricted to the natural realm. It would be a good idea to receive Holy Communion beforehand, and wear a St. Benedict medal during the process itself. You must have no intention of doing anything supernatural. 

Hypnotherapy can be beneficial for serious and limited reasons, and always using the right precautions. Those who dabble in hypnosis (whether with a hypnotherapist or using self-induced hypnotic techniques) open the doorway to the demonic. 

Theologian Gormley cites theologian Lynch in his work, whom he says represents the basic contention of the approved theologians on the subject of hypnosis in 1961, just before the Robber Council Vatican II:

If competent and conscientious physicians can assure us that hypnosis is medically sound, the moral problem will not be especially complicated. The precautions dictated by good medicine will also satisfy the demands of good morals.


  1. Hypnosis is a manipulative means used by one person paralyzes the judgment of another person. There are many avenues to this goal. It is always morally wrong to paralyze the judgement of another person. This paralysis produces in its victim a psychological void which prompts him to blindly accept the judgment of his captor, and an bond is created between these two persons which is very difficult to break. Any situation in which hypnosis is attempted is to be avoided as one of extreme jeopardy and moral hazard.

    1. @religiousartist
      I agree that hypnosis should be used only for very serious reasons and under the guidelines indicated. However, all use is not condemned and you cite no authority for your assertion for a bond that makes a hypnosis patient “blindly accept” what the hypnotherapist says.


  2. I agree with you Religious artist. It is disturbing to know that Bishop Louis Vezelis O.F.M. out of Rochester NY (Franciscan Sedevacantists) employed the art of hypnotism on his clergy.

    1. @anon12:47
      Please cite your proof for this allegation against Bp. Vezelis. I’ve never heard of this supposed use of hypnosis, and without strong proof you would be guilty of calumny.


    2. Introibo,
      I have read that Neuro-Linguistic programming is often used by lawyers in the Courtroom to convince others. Is this similar to Hypnotisim? Thanks.

    3. Joann,
      Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is not hypnotherapy. Instead, it operates through the conscious use of language to bring about changes in someone's thoughts and behavior.

      It is described as “NLP tries to detect and modify unconscious biases or limitations of an individual's map of the world.” Lawyers try to use it at trial, but with what degree of success is unknown. Two points:
      1. Most lawyers do not use it
      2. It’s efficacy is dubious

      Most lawyers DO USE natural language processing, which shares the same acronym. That is just a persuasive way to speak.

      God Bless,


  3. Introibo,

    I saw where Anonymous 12:47 mentioned the accusation against Bp. Louis Vezelis. I once heard that same accusation come from "Bp." or at the time "Fr." Neal Webster brought up in an interview with one of the Dimond brothers when discussing the history of Archbishop Thuc. Whether it's true or not is all dependent on whether or not Webster was telling it. I don't see why he would make it up but it was strange hearing him bring it up and I'm positive I heard him talk about it. Unfortunately, I cannot find a link to that interview but I'm positive that's what I heard him say. I will say I've met both of them personally and "Bp." Webster is a Feenyite while Bp. Vezelis believed he possessed ordinary jurisdiction by divine right over a certain portion of the United States and if you went to any other known traditional bishops not in association with him such as McKenna, SSPV, CMRI, Dolan/Sanborn, Neville, or any others that he did not consider you a real Catholic. The priests and bishops with him always highly praised him and acted like everything he said was the be all end all of arguments yet when Fr. Francis Miller left them (not sure about all the details on that) that they considered him "outside" the Catholic Church. It's a sad situation because they did have a lot of good things about them but they did have a couple of seriously strange things about them as I mentioned above. I don't know if this helps or makes it worse but as JoAnn always says "my two cents."


    1. Lee,
      What you say about both bps. Vezelis and Webster is 100% accurate. Feeneyites are not Catholic, as you well know. Bp Vezelis was strange with his idea of having Ordinary jurisdiction over half the United States; where he got this false and bizarre nonsense I cannot say.

      Unfortunately, there are many in the Traditionalist movement who have a “cult of personality.” This is factual and you rightly point it out. Is it the product of “hypnosis”?

      This accusation by anonymous 12:47 is what I contest without strong evidence. Jim Jones was a cult leader whose followers thought he could do no wrong. That didn’t make them “hypnotized.”

      Lee, thank you so much for commenting! Your comments always add much to this blog!

      God Bless,


    2. Lee,
      I believe you sent another comment. If so, please resend. It may have accidentally been deleted


  4. I know this because when the elements of yourself in the noosphere dialogue with the elements of evolution of the hypnotizer, you are mesmerized into a cosmic self that dwells within an inter dimensional nirvana and embraces diversity and an empowerment towards that new future when the sun don´t ever shines.

    It is sad to see how the noblest of human features is lost when we think our reason is superior to that of God. Our clarity of mind bursts into a confusing mumbo jumbo that sounds great but lacks content. If you accept your foolishness you became smart.

    For Greater Glory of God
    Long Life Christ the King and Our Lady of Guadalupe.