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False "Recovered" Memories: The Hypnosis Controversy

recovered memories

by Scott Haltzman, M.D.

About a decade ago, I got word from my insurer that if I did hypnosis in the office, my malpractice premiums would be 50-percent higher! I was mystified, and dug deeper to find the reason. I soon found out what the insurer’s concerns were.

Mental-health practitioners who were eager to get to the unconscious roots of their patients’ problems had been inducing hypnotic states and provoking the client (often through suggestions on the part of the clinician) to recall events that had never actually happened, including cannibalism and satanic abuse. These patients (or their family members) sued, and many millions of dollars were paid out to victims of the so-called false memory syndrome.

After that, therapists learned that the use of hypnosis for these reasons should be undertaken with the utmost of caution, and insurance companies warned clinicians against it.

newsletter-graphicIn fact, in 1985, the American Medical Association Council on Scientific Affairs (now called the Council on Science and Public Health) declared that recollections obtained during hypnosis can involve made-up realities and false memories that “not only fail to be more accurate, but actually appear to be less reliable than nonhypnotic recall.”

If you have a therapist who wants to induce hypnosis to uncover memories, seek a second opinion before agreeing to it!


Board-certified psychiatrist
SCOTT HALTZMAN, M.D., is the author of The Secrets of Happily Married Men, a professor at Brown University and medical director of NRI Community Services, a behavioral-health provider in Woonsocket, Rhode Island.

Last updated and/or approved: April 2010. Original article appeared in summer 2007 former print magazine. Bio current as of summer 2007. This article is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.

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