Monday, July 18, 2005

Book Review: 'Hypnosis, Healing and the Christian'

Hypnosis has always been controversial within Christian circles. Most of the books I have read from a Christian perspective have been against hypnosis. John Court, a psychiatrist who is also a Christian who has practiced hypnosis during his thirty years as a clinician, is one of the few authors I have read in favour of hypnosis. In his book, Hypnosis Healing and the Christian, he presents a balanced defence of the use of hypnosis by Christians. He believes that, used properly and carefully, hypnosis can bring about emotional and spiritual benefits. Court argues that hypnosis is an ethically neutral technique which can be used for good or ill. Court begins his book by describing a context for understanding hypnosis. He explains that it is one of many altered states of consciousness which we all experience at various times. He then carefully explores various definitions of hypnosis and, in particular, distinguishes it from sleep (which it is not). Court surveys various attempts to define hypnosis, including those made by Christians. There has been considerable debate over whether hypnosis actually exists because many of the phenomena accompanying hypnosis can be experienced without hypnosis. However, Court believes there is such a 'state, characterized by features of suggestibility, amnesia (sometimes), and changed thought processes.' Court's third chapter focuses on help through hypnosis and answers such practical questions as whether a person will remember anything following hypnosis; discusses the question of whether hypnosis involves giving over control of one's mind to the hypnotherapist; and whether or not hypnosis is occultic and dangerous for Christians. Following this discussion, Court turns to the reasons that someone may choose hypnosis. He provides a number of interesting case studies where hypnosis is integrated into a holistic approach to healing. In addition to healing, the author explores the way in which hypnosis may function in spiritual contexts such as public worship and prayer. Certain features of these contexts demonstrate similarities to altered states of consciousness. The remaining chapters discuss hypnosis and inner healing and exorcism. The final chapter is an excellent discussion on the various views of Christians regarding hypnosis and the reasons for the disagreements. Court concludes that hypnosis 'is a powerful tool in bringing about psychological change'. He acknowledges that their are specific ethical and moral issues for Christians and that one cannot dismiss the possibility of demonic influence where people choose to relinquish their freedom of choice to those who would use hypnosis to exploit others. Interestingly, Court suggests that altered states of consciousness can be fostered in Christian worship and that manipulation can occur despite people's best intentions. However, the dangers, according to Court, are so scarce as to demonstrate the safety of hypnosis when used in an ethical and professional way. He suggests that 'evidences of people being led into confusion and false teaching by preachers are much more readily available' than examples of individuals being harmed by hypnosis. In fact, Court believes that most of the arguments brought forward by Christian writers, against hypnosis, are the result of poor biblical exegesis and proof texting. He finishes his book by suggesting that Christians
be thankful for a technique which can prove so powerful in so many situations. Of itself, it is neither good nor bad. Many have found relief from problems through its use. Many have been able to draw nearer to God, to experience a deeper awareness of spirituality and to enrich their understanding of God's mercy. It is a tragedy that so many Christian people have been warned off hypnosis, when it has such great potential to provide benefit to body, mind, and spirit.
Hypnosis Healing and the Christian is one of the most scholarly, carefully reasoned, balanced books on hypnosis from a Christian's point of view that I have read. It deals carefully with the potential dangers while promoting the practice as of benefit. It makes a change to read something from an expert in the field who is also a Christian. In the end, whether an individual chooses hypnosis as a therapeutic modality will be up to them. But this book would be worth reading before making that decision -- a decision which should be made with care.

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