By MIKE AUGUSTINE, MS, CIH, CH
So, you want to be a forensic hypnotist? It sounds cool; the stuff movies and TV shows are made of, right?
This is a brief overview of what is involved in the field of forensic hypnosis. It gives a cursory view of what is involved.
Often, to describe what something is, we must explain what it is not. Forensic hypnosis is not a power that one possesses to use some “golden lasso” to get a serial killer to confess. Typically, a forensic hypnosis session involves a willing witness or victim. “Willing,” meaning the person volunteering is motivated to tell the truth. In investigations we find people that want to help, but at times they can have motives contrary to finding the truth.
When searching for truth, investigators are sometimes confronted with untrustworthy or blank memories. Investigators and detectives around the world have closed cases or placed them in the cold case file for want of information. Many times, the case remains dormant while time passes and no new leads are found. A new lead may come about, but often it is vague and hard to confirm. When a forensic hypnotist is asked for assistance his or her goal is to refresh memory if possible. Any information gained from a forensic hypnosis session must be corroborated by an independent investigation. Strict rules exist involving the ethical standards of forensic hypnosis. The professional forensic hypnotist should not misrepresent his/her credentials, training or experience.
When conducting the pre-hypnosis interview and the forensic hypnosis session, the welfare of the witness or victim comes first. No matter how crucial the information to be elicited may seem, the person’s welfare is the primary focus. If the hypno-investigator feels that the session may be harmful to the witness, the session may need to be postponed or cancelled entirely. Rapport and trust are crucial to the relationship of the hypno-investigator and the person undergoing hypnosis. This may begin with talking about hobbies, likes and dislikes of the subject. This can be important in assisting the hypno-investigator as to how to conduct the session and give him/her insight into the personality of the witness or victim. When speaking of confidentiality of witnesses Martin Reiser, EdD, a Father of Investigative Hypnosis states: “Information learned from an investigative hypnosis session has the same status as other investigative material. Generally, this information should be kept in confidence with the usual legal and professional exceptions.”
All forensic hypnosis sessions should be recorded. Marx Howell, retired Texas Department of Public Safety Inspector and premier authority on Investigative Hypnosis says the session should be recorded from “hello to goodbye.” Whether it is audio, video, or both, the session should be fully documented. It is a common practice to have both. Many hypno-investigators have two video cameras operating during a session, in case of malfunction.
Howell is adamant that all equipment should be tested and tested again to ensure everything is operable. Another point Howell stresses is that everyone in the room should be identified by name, position, agency and purpose for being present during the interview. Often, composite artists, lead case investigators and advocates for the victim may be present during the interview. However, this is at the discretion of the lead investigator and the hypno-investigator at the time of the interview.
- Hibbard, M.A., Worring, M.A. (1996) Forensic Hypnosis: The Practical Application of Hypnosis in Criminal Investigations. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas Publishing, 1996. (p. 3-5)
- Reiser, M. Ed.D., (1980). Handbook of Investigative Hypnosis. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 79-53215 (p. 60-61)
Author, Mike Augustine is a Chief Investigator for his county’s district attorney’s office. He has 20+ years of law enforcement experience, fifteen of those have been in investigations.