Hypnosis and Alternative Worldviews

I finally managed to find time to read Hypnosis: The Application of Ideomotor Techniques, which my wonderful wife bought me for Christmas. (It’s been a busy year.) This is the second edition of his groundbreaking book Clinical Hypnotherapy, written with the great Leslie LeCron. It’s a medical textbook. Yes, I read medical textbooks for fun. I’m weird.

While it was a really good, informative book and I recommend it, there was one thing about it which kind of surprised me. Dr. Cheek was a respected and successful surgeon, obstetrician, gynecologist, and healer. But his approach to hypnotherapy includes many considerations regarding what a charitable person would call “alternative worldviews” and what a less charitable, more skeptical person might call “woo.” (If you’re not familiar with “woo:” What is Woo?) These include telepathy, prenatal psychology, past-life regression, and spiritual possession.

Dr. Cheek provides multiple examples of cases involving each of these, especially pre- and perinatal psychology (the theory that unborn or newly born children are aware of what is happening around them, notably their mother’s emotional reaction to being pregnant and having a child.) While of course he is selecting case studies of cases where his theories met with success, this isn’t the first time (or the second, or the tenth) that I’ve heard hypnotherapists describe success with clients using these approaches to hypnotherapy. In his book, Dr. Cheek professes to believe in the objective reality, at some level, of these things, but readily admits that many of them could be symbolic or otherwise psychosomatic manifestations of things which have only subjective reality.

I was struck by this as it is in essence the reverse of my own beliefs. I find things like magnetic mesmerism (which Dr. Cheek is a big fan of,) prenatal psychology, and telepathy unlikely from an objective standpoint. I have a broad education in the sciences and if I can’t replicate an experimental finding consistently, I am dubious about the claimed effect. On the other hand, if people choose to frame their objective experiences – and I have seem some weird stuff, don’t get me wrong – in terms of alternate worldviews, it is not only uncharitable to dispute them in a therapeutic context, it’s downright foolish. If the client wants to hand you a tool to help make their lives more comfortable, why on Earth would you throw it away with a sneer? The proper response is to gratefully accept it and use that framing to encourage the client to accept beneficial suggestions.

On things like past-life regression, I tend to go with the approach one of my professors suggested, which is that if you’re not enthusiastic about it, don’t bring it up. But if the client is interested, and you have the training and understanding necessary to use that framing to help them, then do it. It’s not up to you to tell them how to make their life better, it’s up to you to help them make their life better. So long as you can do so ethically and without harm, you should do it.