Can hypnosis REALLY be used as a weapon? Experts reveal if there are any dangers to the psychological technique after Netflix releases a thriller about a killer hypnotherapist
Netflix‘s creepy new thriller ‘Hypnotic’ features a villainous hypnotherapist who uses the power of suggestion to control his patients, but experts agree the premise that hypnosis could be weaponized to kill people is ‘far-fetched’ and ‘ridiculous.’
The film stars Kate Siegel as Jenn Tompson, a depressed software engineer who starts seeing renowned hypnotherapist Dr. Collin Meade, played by Jason O’Mara. By the time she realizes his nefarious intentions, she is completely under his spell.
‘Hypnotic’ is about the dangers of hypnotherapy, but professional hypnotists say the off-the-wall plot muddles hypnosis and mind-control.
‘If hypnosis was as powerful as the movie has you believe, every bad guy would be using hypnosis and we would all be broke and happy,’ Kathy Lindert, a certified hypnotist from North Carolina, told DailyMail.com. ‘If you do not want to be hypnotized, you will not be hypnotized.’
For real? Netflix’s creepy new thriller ‘Hypnotic’ features a villainous hypnotherapist who uses the power of suggestion to control and even kill his patients
Not possible: ‘Hypnotic’ is about the dangers of hypnotherapy, but professional hypnotists say the off-the-wall plot muddles hypnosis and mind-control
Hypnosis is defined as a ‘state of consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness characterized by an enhanced capacity for response to suggestion,’ according to the American Psychological Association (APA).
The practice has been used to treat pain, depression, anxiety, phobias, and habit disorders, among other things. It’s also regularly enlisted to help people stop smoking, drinking, or other addictions.
For someone who is trying to quit smoking, a hypnotherapist may suggest that cigarettes are gross, Lindert explained, but it doesn’t always work because the power of suggestion is merely that.
‘You have to understand that each person has their own belief system and that cannot be overridden,’ she said. ‘If they do not want it to be done, it will not work.’
During Dr. Meade’s first hypnosis session with Jenn in the movie, he assures her that she will be in control the entire time. The light in the room flashes as he guides her into a meditative state, telling her to imagine herself in a forest.
The scene, while a bit exaggerated, may be the most realistic part of the film.
Reality check: In the film, Dr. Collin Meade (Jason O’Mara) plants lethal suggestions in his victims’ minds. However, Kathy Lindert, a certified hypnotist, told DailyMail.com that ‘every bad guy would be using hypnosis’ if it was as powerful as the movie claims
Fact: During Dr. Meade’s first hypnosis session with the movie’s heroine Jenn (Kate Siegel), he assures her that she will be in control the entire time. Experts agree that is true for all patients
Visualization: Dr. Meade has Jenn imagine a forest, which is common in hypnotherapy. Keya Murthy, a certified clinical hypnotherapist and spiritual life coach, told DailyMail.com that ‘imagery can be and is used by many hypnotherapists’
Keya Murthy, M.S., a certified clinical hypnotherapist and spiritual life coach at the Ventura Healing Center in California, told DailyMail.com that ‘imagery can be and is used by many hypnotherapists.’
However, she added that the flashing light and the metronome that is featured later on in the film are ‘old paradigms,’ saying: ‘Hypnotherapy does not have to be so dramatic as in the movie.’
WHAT IS HYPNOSIS?
Hypnosis is a trance-like state in which a person has a heightened focus and concentration.
It is usually done with the help of a therapist using verbal repetition and mental images. When people are under hypnosis, they usually feel calm and relaxed, and are more open to suggestions.
Hypnosis conducted by a trained therapist or health care professional is considered a safe, complementary, and alternative medical treatment. However, hypnosis may not be appropriate in people with severe mental illness.
Adverse reactions to hypnosis are rare, but may include:
- Anxiety or distress
- Creation of false memories
Source: Mayo Clinic
Lindert agreed that many hypnotists use places such as the beach and the mountains during sessions because they are ‘associated with relaxation, calm, and peace.’
When Jenn wakes up from hypnosis, she doesn’t remember anything from their session, which felt like it went by in minutes.
Lindert noted that ‘not one person has blacked out’ in the 17 years she has been a hypnotist. While patients may have a skewed perception of time, they typically hear everything that is said.
‘Clients can go deep enough to tune out the hypnotherapist’s voice, but it doesn’t happen that often,’ Katherine Zimmerman, a certified clinical hypnotherapist from San Diego, California, told DailyMail.com.
She explained that when this does happen, a simple reminder of what was said will bring the memory back.
‘If a hypnotherapist were to suggest a client have amnesia, it would most likely leave them feeling very uncomfortable, as if they wanted to look over their shoulder for something missing,’ Zimmerman added.
According to Murthy, a patient who is suffering from PTSD and is hyper-suggestible may go ‘very deep into the subconscious and not remember much, or anything at all.’
‘More than hypnotherapy, Dr. Meade was conducting brainwash sessions, like the military or terrorist organizations,’ she explained.
The film is filled with a number of improbable scenes in which the hypnotherapist casts a spell on his victims by calling them from an unknown number and saying a phrase that triggers the suggestions he’s planted in their heads.
When he calls Jenn in the middle of the movie and says, ‘Jennifer, carry the fire,’ she is immediately under his control. She wakes up from the trance to find that she tried to kill her former fiancé by feeding him sesame oil, which he is deathly allergic to.
Don’t pick up: The movie is filled with a number of improbable scenes in which Dr. Meade casts a spell on his victims by calling them from an unknown number and saying a phrase that triggers the suggestions he’s planted in their heads
Yikes: An early victim who suffers from claustrophobia dies of a heart attack after he convinces her she is being crushed between an elevator’s walls
Far out: Another character, Jenn’s friend Gina, crashes her car because she thinks a large spider is crawling on her
The experts agreed that hypnotists do not have the power to make someone do something that goes against their beliefs, especially murdering a loved one.
‘Clients do not do anything that goes against their morals, beliefs, or ethics as a result of being in hypnosis. They are in complete control,’ Zimmerman stressed.
‘The subconscious mind can and will accept or reject suggestions that are in conflict with their beliefs and values.’
Murthy noted that that the human conscience is what makes ‘100 percent control impossible,’ no matter how nefarious a hypnotist’s intentions are.
To explain how limited a hypnotist’s control really is, Lindert referenced hypnosis shows, saying the people on stage are ‘usually in a light trance’ that is ‘easily broken.’
‘That is why the hypnotist is constantly re-hypnotizing the people so that they stay in that state,’ she explained. ‘At any time, they can get out of that state, just with a thought.’
Terrifying: After Dr. Meade calls Jenn, she wakes up from the trance to find that she tried to kill her former fiancé by feeding him sesame oil, which he is deathly allergic to
Not real: Katherine Zimmerman, a certified clinical hypnotherapist, stressed that hypnosis patients would never do ‘anything that goes against their morals, beliefs, or ethics’
FYI: Murthy explained that human conscience is what makes ‘100 percent control impossible.’ A hypnotherapist could never convince someone to harm a loved one
Dr. Meade also kills two women in the film by making them think their biggest fears are coming true. An early victim who suffers from claustrophobia dies of a heart attack after he convinces her she is being crushed between an elevator’s walls.
Another character, Jenn’s friend Gina, crashes her car because she thinks a large spider is crawling on her.
‘In the movie, Dr. Meade is preying on those that have great fears. However, for a person to say a “phrase” and for that person to then experience that fear so greatly is not realistic,’ Lindert said, noting that the ‘brain is always looking for ways to protect you.’
‘In hypnosis, you don’t lose all control or even get to the point of hallucinating with just a phrase, your mind will look for ways to save you, to stop you from the scary thoughts,’ she added.
‘I don’t care how many times you hypnotize a person, to have that person actually see and feel that spider on them to the point of crashing, is so unrealistic, that it is laughable,’ she added.
While the movie may be off-base about the power of hypnotherapy, Lindert said she has heard of a few hypnotherapists who have taken advantage of people during hypnosis.
‘The clients all had strange memories of what was happening, and then they started to remember “things” that happened,’ she said. ‘Your mind is always recording things, so when something is not “right” you will get those feelings and when you really sit and think about what those “feelings” are, the mind will show you.
‘Unfortunately, in all professions, you have a few bad people that will take advantage of others and will try to take advantage of or steal from others.’