Harvey called me hoping that he could use hypnosis to help him with his divorce. He thought his wife had been cheating on him. In 2011 he thought that she had slipped him drugs at a party, and while he was unconscious had been cheating on him.
So what does that have to do with hypnosis?
Harvey was hoping that hypnosis could help him retrieve a memory of being drugged by his wife. He wanted to use that memory to gain advantage in his divorce. I suggested he ask his lawyer about using hypnosis in this way. Harvey had asked her, but she really didn’t know enough to have an opinion. Harvey’s story is a good example the kind of unreasonable expectations that some people have about what hypnosis can do, and particularly its value in a legal proceeding.
I explained to Harvey that memories retrieved in hypnosis are not admissible as evidence in a legal proceeding. That is because it’s too easy to implant a false memory in someone who’s in hypnosis. For example, if the hypnotherapist asked the hypnotized person, “What kind of shoes were you wearing?” It’s likely the hypnotized person would come up with an answer. However, at the time of the incident they may not have been wearing shoes! So, the question itself would implant a false memory.
The value of forensic hypnosis in memory retrieval is to recover information that could lead to solid evidence. For example, in a hit-and-run incident the witness might be able to retrieve a license plate number under hypnosis, even though they had no conscious memory of it. That could lead the police to the other vehicle. They could then collect physical evidence that would tie it to the hit-and-run incident. The memory of the license plate number would not be admissible as evidence in court.
I then pointed out to Harvey that even if he remembered getting a drink from his wife after which he lost consciousness and awakened with side effects common to sedative drugs, that it would not help him. His wife may not have put drugs in the drink. If the drink was drugged, someone else may have had a an opportunity to put the drugs in the drink without his wife’s knowing. And, there was no physical evidence that he had been drugged. Without the physical evidence from a blood test, his memory would be considered hearsay, and inadmissible.
I suggested to Harvey that if he wanted to get evidence of his wife’s cheating that he needed to hire a private investigator who could document and photograph her affairs.
Harvey dropped the notion of trying to get back his memory from the party in 2011. He thanked me for explaining it so thoroughly and so clearly.
It is common for people to have unreasonable expectations of what can be done with hypnosis. It can be used to retrieve memories, but those memories have limited value for legal proceedings. Harvey’s divorce lawyer did not know about the limitations of using hypnosis in the legal arena. I was happy to help him understand that his expectations for hypnosis were unreasonable.