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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1999 > Apr > Apr 15

Re: Regression Hypnosis: Should Ufology Take A

From: Greg Sandow <gsandow@prodigy.net>
Date: Thu, 15 Apr 1999 01:26:26 -0400
Fwd Date: Thu, 15 Apr 1999 18:16:35 -0400
Subject: Re: Regression Hypnosis: Should Ufology Take A

>From: Jenny Randles <nufon@currantbun.com>
>To: UFO UpDates - updates@globalserve.net
>Subject: Regression Hypnosis: Should Ufology Take A Stand?
>Date: Wed, 14 Apr 1999 16:17:28 +0100

>As a newcomer to the net, please excuse me if I do not follow
>proper etiquette. I am still learning.

I'm sure I'm not alone in welcoming Jenny Randles both to the
net, and to this list. I'm glad to see her here.

Having said that, I'm going to buck the trend, and suggest a
more positive view of hypnosis.

>I appreciate how this seems to work like a magic key unlocking
>the secrets of a case and making a light in the sky into a
>fantastic alien contact.

This strikes me as a somewhat simplified statement of a rather
complex issue.

We can criticize Budd Hopkins and some other abduction
researchers -- I've already done that, in my essay "The
Abduction Conundrum," which appears in the current issue of The
Anomalist -- for not stating the problems with hypnosis in their
books. In The Threat, though, Dave Jacobs devotes quite a bit of
space to the problems of hypnotic confabulation. And it's
precisely because of the dangers of confabulation that neither
Budd nor Dave think that hypnosis works "like a magic key" in
"unlocking the secrets" of any single case.

If, in other words, you hypnotize any single abductee, you have
no way of judging whether any story that emerges is true. But
what if more than one abductee tells the same story? That's what
serious abduction research is looking for -- stories that appear
to confirm each other. This of course raises questions of
investigators leading abductees -- or abductees repeating
stories they've read or heard -- but let's at least get the
principle straight. Nobody whom I'd consider a serious abduction
investigator is going to start where Jenny Randles starts us
here, with the notion that hypnosis is a magic key. Budd Hopkins
and Dave Jacobs say they won't accept any part of an abduction
scenario that isn't independently confirmed by more than one
abductee. Their position, in other words, isn't that hypnosis
gives us completely truthful stories. Rather, they picture a
situation in which all sorts of random information floats upward
from hypnosis sessions. Out of the vague cloud of uncheckable
data, a few details eventually solidify, details that seem more
reliable because more than one abductee mentions them.

Given the many other problems with abduction research -- and the
many other charges made about hypnosis -- this may strike some
critics as an unconvincing distinction. But I think it's
important to begin the discussion with an accurate picture, and
not with the radically simplified picture (something of a straw
man, really) that Jenny Randles sets up here.

And while I'm drawing fine distinctions, I might note that few
if any abduction cases go directly from a light in the sky to
hypnosis. Almost every abductee -- at least in the circles I
move in -- has conscious memories of abduction-like experiences.
Budd and Dave don't go around hypnotising people who've had
nothing more than a simple UFO sighting. It's a little troubling
to read something that outlines a sober, rigorous policy on an
important issue, but which begins with statements whose
implications aren't wholly accurate.

>There are many sound reasons for having doubts about the value
>of hypnosis as a tool for uncovering the facts. Many of the
>pioneers of the field recognised this and issued warnings that
>were rarely heeded.

Yes, and current psychology research strongly states that
hypnosis doesn't enhance memory. Worse yet, researchers say that
hypnotized subjects convince themselves, incorrectly, that their
memories are accurate.

But how accurate is this research? This is a question that we've
debated here before, and which I've discusssed at some length in
my essay "The Abduction Conundrum," published in the current
issue of The Anomalist. Briefly, the problem -- as stated by
psychologists with contrary views -- is this. All this research
is conducted by experimental psychologists in laboratory
settings. All it definitively proves is that hypnotized subjects
don't remember meaningless data any better than subjects who
aren't hypnotized.

But what's being measured? The usefulness of hypnosis, or the
ability of people to remember things they don't care about,
under _any_ circumstances? What has _not_ been studied is
whether hypnosis might help people recover memories of genuine
traumatic events. (On this, and on hypnosis generally, see
Stuart Appelle's paper on the abduction evidence in the last --
maybe the last ever, alas -- issue of the Journal of UFO
Studies.) There are in fact papers in psychology journals that
appear to show hypnosis recovering important memories in
real-life situations. (See my essay in The Anomalist for

>Firstly, I underwent regression myself - to both a UFO event
>and other events that could be checked factually (as the UFO
>sighting - no big deal by itself - could not). Under hypnosis I
>saw images and described them but at least half the checkable
>facts (like day of week and reason for being in a certain town)
>were proven wrong.

This isn't remarkable. Anyone who's read the literature on
hypnosis in psychology journals would have predicted that would
happen. But there's a further question that needs to be asked.
If some details were wrong, were others right? Under some
circumstances, those right details could be more important than
the wrong ones. For examples, see the papers I mentioned above.
Yes, details recovered under hypnosis need to be checked. But
there appear to be cases, some quite dramatic, where some
details that emerged did in fact prove both accurate, and
crucially important.

>As a result any testimony on a completely unverifiable
>story like a UFO contact will provide at least some
>evidence that is false - and perhaps a lot of it. Yet we as a
>community are treating it all as reality.

This, surely, is an overstatement, for the reasons I've already
stated in detail. The crucial word is "all." Responsible
abduction investigators don't accept "all" alleged evidence that
emerges from hypnosis. They aren't "treating it all as reality."

>Secondly, witnesses told me more than once they felt worse after
>undergoing regression than they did before. It did not clarify
>their memory but created new, conflicting images about which
>they could not make fair judgements. It also triggered many
>nightmares they did not have before. One classic abductee (Alan
>Godfrey - November l980 - Todmorden, Yorkshire) is in the list
>of top CE 4s compiled by Eddie Bullard. But he told me that he
>could not vouch for his testimony under hypnosis. This is a
>confusing mix of abduction imagery and stuff about Biblical
>figures and black dogs. There is no doubt where some of this
>came from if you probe into Alan's past. The point is that he -
>as a witness - could not be sure that this was a real memory or
>just a fantasy based on books he had read between the sighting
>and the hypnosis. I doubt he is alone but I also doubt few
>UFOlogists create a climate with witnesses in which they feel
>they can express any such reservations. A lot of people are
>swept along by a tide of belief.

I have many problems with this paragraph. First, the statements
are somewhat vague and hugely general. "I doubt he is alone....I
also doubt few UFOologists create...A lot of people are swept
along...." Who, exactly are we talking about? What proportion of
ufologists? How many people? Which people?

Second, the evidence we're offered here is nothing more than a
collection of anecdotes. ("Witnesses have told me more than
once....") I can offer anecdotes of my own, about abductees who
were hugely helped by hypnosis, who said they felt far better
afterward than they had before. So now it's my anecdotes against
Jenny's. Not a very useful situation for serious research.

But since I do have anecdotes, let me go into a little more
detail. I've heard abductees say many times that they're not
sure their hypnotically-retrieved information is correct. That
hasn't made them unhappy, though. They're able to live with the
ambiguity. At the recent New York abduction conference, John
Velez said quite firmly that he was reserving judgement on what
he came up with under hypnosis, but the hypnosis had been very
helpful, because it let him release great amounts of buried
emotion about what he feels are his abductions (some of which he
remembers consciously).

My anecdotes against Jenny's. I'm sure both sets of anecdotes
are true. And also useless, without much more data.

>Thirdly, there are too many people with no medical
>qualifications doing regression - sometimes on children. In one
>UK case a witness I know had an epileptic seizure during
>regression to a childhood sighting. Nobody present had medical
>backgrounds. Luckily the witness was okay, but the point was
>surely made that in our zeal to get exciting stories the proper
>importance of witness welfare is being neglected.

And how do we know hypnosis caused the seizure? Maybe there's
more here that Jenny isn't telling us, but all I read in her
statement are still more anecdotes.

I don't doubt that there are dangers when hypnosis is used to
explore any material as emotional as abductions (whether the
abductions are real or imaginary). But we need far more
information before we can make useful judgements. Have Budd
Hopkins or Raymond Fowler or Dave Jacobs or John Carpenter or
John Mack or Yvonne Smith had ghastly reactions to their
hypnosis sessions, of the kind Jenny describes here? How about
therapists who use hypnosis to uncover memories -- many of them
spurious -- of sexual abuse, or satanic ritual abuse? Do their
case histories show horrible reactions to hypnosis?

How much data do we actually have?

>Luckily the witness was okay, but the point was
>surely made that in our zeal to get exciting stories the proper
>importance of witness welfare is being neglected.

"Our" zeal? Who's being talked about here?

Note also the rapid generalization from one case. We have one
person who's alleged to have suffered from hypnosis, and
suddenly witness welfare "is" being neglected apparently
everywhere. (Present tense, implying a general condition.)

Let me now step back from the strong criticisms I've made, to
say that the points Jenny raises are deeply serious and
important, and that I admire her compassion for the people she
feels have suffered from abuses of hypnosis. There may also be
many details I don't know about. There really may be a "mad dash
towards using regression everywhere" in the UK, involving
excesses I don't know about. Maybe there's also such a "mad
dash" here in the US, with similar excesses. I may not have all
the information I need.

Let me, though, mention another area where hypnosis has been
widely used, with no apparent ill effects. All over America,
innocent college students are being hypnotized, and asked to
remember scenes described by the hypnotiststs as troubling and
emotional, scenes that often involve crime and violence. These
hypnotists have absolutely no medical training -- and yet they
apparently feel free to hypnotize anyone they choose, without
regard for any dangerous effect the hypnosis might have.

Who are these hypnotists? Why, they're the very experimental
psychologists I mentioned earlier, the ones whose research seems
to show that hypnosis can't enhance memory! Originally, their
research used information without emotional content -- lists of
random words, for instance, that their experimental subjects
(always students at the unversities where the research was
conducted) were shown, and asked two weeks later to remember.
This research was criticized on precisely the grounds I
mentioned above, because the information was meaningless. So the
psychologists started to use more emotionally charged data --
films, for instance, showing violent crime.

Never mind that the details in the films might not be remembered
with quite the force of details in crimes that really did occur.
The point is that these experimental subjects were purposely
shown disturbing things, and then hypnotized at a later date to
extract the emotionally troubling information. The psychologists
who conduct this research are experimental psychologists, not
clinical psychologists. They have no medical or psychiatric
qualifications. They're not therapists. They're not trained to
screen out subjects with psychological disturbances.

And yet nobody objects to their research. None of their subjects
seem to get derailed. I understand that a supposed abductee is
in a far more emotionally vulnerable position -- but we
shouldn't forget that these psychologists intentionally tried to
place their subjects in emotionally vulnerable situations. If
hypnosis is so dangerous, where are the traumas, the damage, and
the seizures resulting from all this research? (I'll grant, of
course, that abduction research is much more intimate, since
abductees talk under hypnosis about things they actually think
may have happened to them. I've seen abductee regressions, and
seen the huge emotions that can be released. Still, I think my
piont is generally valid.)

>I do feel that events since BUFORA took our stand - such as the
>rise in understanding of false memory syndrome and the lawsuit
>potential of regressing children - has done nothing but prove
>that we were right.

False memory syndrome is a huge can of worms. I'm not saying
that false memories can't be created, or that they haven't been
all but systematically created by incompetent therapists looking
for sexual abuse. This is a scandal.

But what are we to make of psychologists -- Elizabeth Loftus
being the most famous of them -- who doubt that memories ever
can be accurately recovered, and who even doubt that traumatic
memories are ever lost? It's interesting, to say the least, that
Loftus's work is cited over and over by recovered-memory
skeptics, who never mention serious, humane, responsible studies
on the other side of the question, by psychologists like Lenore
Terr and Jennifer Freyd. When you read Terr and Freyd, you learn
that there are cases of recovered memory when the memories could
be independently corroborated. You also learn that the recovered
memory skeptics tend to be experimental psychologists, and that
those on the other side tend to be clinical psychologists -- or,
in other words, that the psychologists who believe in recovered
memory tend to be the ones who actually work with human beings.

Loftus, by the way, demonstrated how false memories can be
created in a famous experiment, in which she persuaded young
children that they'd once been lost in a mall. She has no
medical or psychiatric qualifications. She didn't use hypnosis
-- but how did she know she wasn't picking troubled kids who
might be hurt by her research?

Greg Sandow

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