Dear Catholic Exchange:
What does the Catholic Church say about hypnotism? It is used for entertainment and therapeutically does the Church respond to both types?
Thank you in advance for your response.
Dear Mrs. Ruskamp,
Peace in Christ!
Three points must be considered when evaluating the morality of hypnosis: the freedom of the one hypnotized, the morals of the hypnotist, and the purpose for its use. Furthermore, there are general issues concerning hypnotism that affect the three points noted above:
Every human person, created in the image of God, has the natural right to be recognized as a free and responsible being. All owe to each other this duty of respect. The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person. This right must be recognized and protected by civil authority within the limits of the common good and public order (Catechism of the Catholic Church (Catechism), 1738).
As expressed in the above quotation, the freedom of the individual is intrinsically linked to the image of God. Abuses of this freedom are moral evils. Thus, the evils of drunkenness, drug highs, etc., are based on this premise. Likewise, when one willfully or unknowingly is subject to a lessening or complete loss of freedom due to hypnosis, it becomes an occasion of sin.
The moral and ethical character of the hypnotist directly affects the dangers of scandal and abuse. Professional counselors must maintain a code of ethics that respects their clients' freedom. Hypnotists who do not adhere to a Christian anthropology pose a great risk of violating the freedom and dignity of those they hypnotize. Critical elements of a Christian anthropology include not only a belief in free will, but the practice of protecting it. Those who do not adhere to the ethical standards of their profession also pose a risk of scandal and abuse. Those who claim to be hypnotists with no link to a helping profession, but use the phenomenon for social entertainment or furthering of self, pose a great risk of scandal. This last risk is grave due to the public display of jest at the expense of respect due the person, who is created in the image and likeness of God.
Based on these principles and the opinions of the Holy See in the later part of the 19th century, moral theology affirms that “one may submit to hypnotic treatment for a grave reason, if suitable precautions against its abuse are taken and if there is no superstition or scandal” (H. Davis, SJ, Manual of Moral and Pastoral Theology, p. 19). Grave reasons would include the need for hypnosis to treat psychological illness or neurosis. Grave reason does not include public displays of jest or humor at the expense of those hypnotized. Necessary precautions include having a reliable witness present who would ensure no wrongful abuse of the one hypnotized while their freedom is diminished. At the very least, the moral and ethical standards of the hypnotist must be well established.
Another consideration is strength of will; those who have a weaker will are more susceptible to complete loss of freedom, abuse, and side effects. It is well known that most teenagers do not have the strength of will that mature adults have. Further, it is well established that strength of will differs from individual to individual.
The Pontifical Council For Culture and the Pontifical Council For Interreligious Dialogue produced in 2003 Jesus Christ, The Bearer Of The Water Of Life: A Christian reflection on the “New Age.” The context of the following paragraph, which mentions hypnosis, is that New Age includes the idea of a oneness as opposed to individuals. Hypnosis is included in a list of techniques used with the intent of transcending a person’s individuality and entering a state of oneness. This document is a “reflection” which indicates that it is putting forth theological opinion. However, while the method and intention of the New Age use of hypnosis might be different than that of hypnosis used for amusement, the Pontifical Councils' caveat regarding vulnerability should not be dismissed:
“The point of New Age techniques is to reproduce mystical states at will, as if it were a matter of laboratory material. Rebirth, biofeedback, sensory isolation, holotropic breathing, hypnosis, mantras, fasting, sleep deprivation and transcendental meditation are attempts to control these states and to experience them continuously”. These practices all create an atmosphere of psychic weakness (and vulnerability). “We are authentic when we 'take charge of' ourselves, when our choice and reactions flow spontaneously from our deepest needs, when our behaviour and expressed feelings reflect our personal wholeness” (no. 4, footnotes omitted).
United in the Faith,
Catholics United for the Faith
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