Should Hypnosis Be Used To Recover Memories? Does Hypnosis IncreaseThe Chances Of False Memory Syndrome?

Ok… In a nutshell… No, hypnosis should not be used to recover memories and yes, hypnosis does increase the chances of false memory syndrome.

With those two statements stated, I better explain myself, hadn’t I?

I wrote about some reasons regression in hypnotherapy is not necessarily the best option quite recently here. It is a good prelude to what I am writing today.

Hypnosis is at the centre of this debate, and a hearty one it is too, mainly because it is one of the most researched and most popular techniques used for recovering memories.

In fact, in 1995, Poole, Lindsay, Memon and Bull conducted a survey that demonstrated that roughly a third of all psychologists in the US used hypnosis to help their patients to recall memories of sexual abuse.

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that there are many problems of false recall associated with hypnosis, yet many of the hypnotherapists I encounter today still think hypnosis should be used to recover memories. In fact, at the recent NCH extravaganza, when Irving Kirsch was speaking, he asked the audience of hypnotherapists to raise their hands if they used regression techniques, my students reported that they all kept their hands down despite most in the room having them raised.

Hypnotherapists need to know that using hypnosis to recover memories can actually lead to the patient creating new material and adding it to the existing memories they have. There is a huge body of scientific and medical information available that shows the very nature of memory being so malleable means that hypnosis usage could result in the creation and implanting of false memories. Studies by both Lynn and McConkey in 1998 and Lynn and Nash in 1994 demonstrate this clearly.

In my previously mentioned blog on regression, I mentioned the reconstructive nature of memory and do refer to the Lynn and McConkey study of 1998 for more information on this. It is very much the consensus among cognitive scientists that this is the case.

You see, not only is memory unreliable, but people have such belief in the reliability of their memories to such an extent that we are capable of creating false memories, even if a therapist is greatly skilled at not leading the patient in any way, shape or form. Further studies that confirm this have been conducted by Laurence and Perry in 1983 and Barnier and Sheehan in 1998.

False memories can easily be created without hypnosis, of course they can. Yet many therapists continue to believe that hypnosis somehow brandishes the absolute truth when it comes to memory recall, and the truth is actually a tad more sinister.

In 1994 Erdelyi reviewed 34 studies, and Steblay and Bothwell reviewed 24 studies and throughout they showed that hypnosis does increase the actual volume of recall… With that volume of recall comes much more incorrect as well as correct information and data! The studies revealed however, that hypnotic recall is no more accurate than nonhypnotic recall… But, when recalled hypnotically, people tended to be more confident in the reliability of the memory! Uh-oh!

The Steblay and Bothwell study showed that hypnosis produces a lot more errors in memory recall and more volume of memories that had false information in them. There are lots more studies that support this.

Even researchers and individuals that openly state hypnosis is good for aiding recall have been unable to prove it! Some of these proponents have suggested that emotional arousal is required, yet a study in 997 by Lynn et al, showed that hypnosis does not improve recall of emotionally arousing events and what’s more… Being highly emotional does not affect hypnotic recall either!

Out of everything that I have read and examined, probably the most damning evidence for using hypnosis to recall memories comes from the research conducted by Nash, Drake, Wiley, Khalsa and Lynn in 1986. In this study, they attempted to match up (prove) memories of participants who had been age-regressed using hypnosis.

The participants were regressed using hypnosis (there was a control group too) and taken to the age of 3 to a scene where they were with their mothers. The participants described items and objects that were present. The actual mothers were then asked to verify what was in the scene. The hypnotised participants in the study were less able than those in the control group (the nonhypnotised people asked to do the same thing) to accurately match the reports of their parents. In fact, the control group were far more accurate!

A similar study conducted in 1997 by Sivec, Lynn and Malinowski regressed the participants to 5 years old with very similar results!

This is why the vast majority of countries today no longer allow hypnosis to be used in testimony in courts of law. In fact, in some states in the US, if you have used hypnosis to retrieve the memory, because of the evidence I have mentioned, the use of hypnosis makes the tetimony null and void!

Evidence suggests that when the hypnotherapist believes strongly in the efficacy of hypnosis for memory recall, then the patient has much more confidence in the reliability of the memory! This is a problem people!

I cannot help it, I know I am using loads exclamation marks today, but when you see the mounting body of evidence against this stuff, it beggars belief that some people still think to the contrary. You know what, I know that today I will get emails from people saying that in their experience as a hypnotherapist, they find hypnosis to be very useful at retrieving memories and regressing is a good thing and the best way to resolve inner conflict etc ,etc.

To those of you thinking about emailing me with those kinds of messages today… If you examine the evidence. I mean properly look at it, you’d be irresponsible not to alter your stance to some degree.

Have a wonderful weekend folks… I am not working… I am going to lie-in, go running, enjoy my garden, bake bread with my wife and welcome in the changing season.


Adam Eason

Thank you Angela, peanut butter always works well :-)

And I continue to be amazed that I get 45 comments for a facebook status update about peanut butter!!

Richard Ingate

Hi Adam, I really think your blog is getting more and more compelling to read. What a fascinating subject to discuss. Can we go to the point of saying all memory is created whether or not there is any correlation with external checks? The implications for therapy would be wonderful. If it is all created it can all be recreated. I remember reading years ago about Erickson’s February Man. If I remember rightly he was using created memories to add resources.

Best wishes,

Adam Eason

Hi Richard, thanks again for your kind comments and your contribution.

The theory you mention regarding all memories being constructed is controversial to say the least…. I don’t know enough of the finer mechanics of memory outside of hypnosis and basic neurology, so don’t feel qualified to comment too heartily. Sounds fascinating though.

Good hearing from you, Adam.

Elaine Thompson

How can you and the researchers be SO sure that the parents memories are correct? I know you are heading in a straight line with this, but……. Unless you have video footage of an event, all you can ever get are the realities of different people, and they will all be different and none of them may be the absolute truth.
Even personal positioning in a room can make observations different.

And what about the fact that the observer affects the outcome? Don’t you think that these researchers will be looking for proof of their beliefs and therefore find it?
Elaine :o)

Adam Eason

Elaine, thanks for your contributions… My blog would be sterile if you guys did not question things from time to time.

Firstly, with regards to the observer affecting the outcome… The last one hundred years of psychological research methods has seen this raised several times. Therefore, the research is conducted as ‘triple blind.’

A blind trial is whereby the research participant does not know what the research is about.
A double blind trial is whereby participant and those conducting the and administering the research do not know what it is about.
A triple blind trial is whereby the participant, research conductor and the people processing the results do not know.
Triple blind trials totally remove the concerns you have with this.

I would say by the way, that there is not much of this blog entry that is actually my opinion. Pretty much everything I have written here is supported by evidence. Not just a single, random, one-ff study. Several studies supporting the same theory.

I agree entirely that we treat each case on its merits.I am not attempting to convinve the entire world to change its ways. Just sharing evidence and my opinion in relation to that evidence.

The fact remains that using hypnosis potentially effects the likelihood of false memories, it certainly makes people more confident in the reality of memories in hypnosis whethere true and accurate or not… and why on earth would you insist on people having to keep on going through traumatic experiences?

As I wrote in my other, earlier blog entry on the subject of regression, you also run the risk of re-traumatisation by taking people back to ‘experience’ bad memories. And we have a moral, ethical duty to inform clients of the potential for this to happen due to issues around informed consent… In doing so, the paradox is that we heighten the chances of it happening by suggesting it may happen.

Why not deal with things that have more accuracy and affect the way they think today? It is at the very least, an alternative I think people should be considering… It is being responsible and offering the duty of care your client has a right to.

I think we could both continue with this discussion in some depth, eh? :-)

take care, Adam.

Elaine Thompson

Sorry about the twice posting!…….. There is a whole lot more to say on this as each individual situation regarding memory recall will have a different angle, depending on how long ago the memory is etc.
I see your point of view, Adam, but I think that regression EVEN IF THE MEMORIES ARE ONLY GENERALITIES is a very valuable tool for releasing emotion and letting go.
The therapist has to know how to deal with any negative memories and turn them around, whether they are true or not. Isnt that what we do with reframing?
Different recall of a given situation happens without hypnosis being invloved in the best of families……everyone remembers something different!

The whole business of creating any further trauma lies in the hands of the therapist and should be dealt with using skill and professionalism, so that you make SURE your client comes out of the session ‘healed’ and complete with all ‘bad ‘ memories dealt with and let go of thoroughly., whether they were real or not. If a situation comes to mind that feels as if it happened in a certain way, then the subconcious must be allowed to deal with it.
If someone is ‘haunted’ by a memory, then surely the best thing to do is go back to the time and deal with it then and there….Whether the memory is true or false……it doesnt matter.
And who can say if something is true or false? Every rememberer may be equally mistaken in opposite directions!
I think that we should always stay open to everything and deal with each case on its own merit.
love, Elaine xx


Surely the potential problem of a client accepting false memories as fact applies to all talking therapies. Long term counselling and psychotherapy whereby the client is helped to clarify their experiences run the same risk. Even more so due to the longevity of most client /therapist intervention . Reams of evidence exist which points to damage from counsellors leading thier clients.If a client presents to a talking therapist with a belief that something sinister must have happened to cause the problem,and they really believe it, how can we prove otherwise, and should we? How would we know the truth? Where do we draw the line? Could metaphor be interpreted as a real memory after hypnosis? What a can of worms!

Adam Eason

Thanks for your contribution Jackie. Indeed, false memory can occur with other talk therapies, and in fact the biggest litigation cases in psychiatric history came in the 1990s with psychiatrists creating false memories in their clients.

All of you interested in this thread may also be interested in this article by Donald Dobertson, involving Milton Erickson discussing a memory:

Andrew Fogg

I have to say that I agree with Elaine.

Who is to say that the client’s false memory was created by the therapist? Unless the therapist led the client to create the false memory, it surely fitted in with the clients inner beliefs. That makes it fit into their map of reality. It may, therefore, have been a part or at least an embodiment of the clients fear and thus a metaphor for the problem the therapist needed to “treat”. The fact that the memory was false may not have made it any less real for the client. Surely that means that the therapist still needed to help the client overcome it, rather than just dismiss it, as the author of this article seems to do.

Adam Eason

Andrew, I am not surprised that you choose to agree with anyone other than me right now.

I choose to side with and position myself according to the overwhelming evidence, the research conducted by governments and US states when assessing the efficacy of hypnosis for this purpose, and the academics, and the highly experienced clinical hypnosis practitioners who all contribute to this debate.

Even Milton Erickson puts his hands up with almost no defence for assumptions made about reliability of memory in hypnosis – as per article quoted in my prvious comment.

I find many others are not moved by my argument either… In fact, you’d not believe the emails I get from other hypnotherapists telling me how ‘closed minded’ I am for suggesting for potential problems of regression. I tend to think the contrary, of course.

However, in the name of furthering the field, I like people to have an ability to see boths sides of any discussion and debate and welcome all perspectives.

I have made it clear as to why I choose not to use regression. I respect the choices made by others, as long as they are informed choices being made.

With regards to your final sentence… Nothing is being dismissed Andrew, I take offence at that. I clearly state, that memories are respected and NOT just dismissed. I have echoed that sentiment in my other article about regression (referred to in this one) and would never be so callous.

That comment aside, I really appreciate your continued contribution here.

Andrew Fogg

Adam, you do not need to take offence at my last sentence, as I was referring to the author of the article you referred to not you. That’s why I said “author” rather than Adam.

As I alluded to on your Inner Circle forum, I suspect the problem may be in my understanding of the meaning of the word “regression” in hypnosis. Maybe I’m not alone in this. For me it means any time I take a client back to some past event – real or imagined – such as when I ask a client “think back to a time…”, use Erickson’s early learning set or go into the past with timelines. If these are examples of bad “regression”, then yes I do disagree with you. If you are talking about helping people to dig up memories they don’t consciously remember, then I fully agree with you. Which is it?

As for disagreeing with everything you say. You know that’s far from the truth. However, you do know that I sometimes need a lot of convincing, especially when people appear to contradict what I thought they said previously.


As a hypnotherapist myself, although I do offer age regression hypnosis as a service, I always caution people about the possibility of false memories surfacing during the session. Since our memories are mental images of how we interpret things occurring, that doesn’t mean that it should be considered accurate fact and truth. If we believe in something enough then to us it is true and therefore, it really happened – at least in our own minds.

I personally believe that hypnosis especially the age regression type, is a tricky subject because there are so many contributing factors involved. That is also why I am a skeptic when it comes to test studies. The usually leave me with more questions than answers.

For example, were all the clients involved in a total hypnotic state during the entire hypnosis sessions? Were these tests performed in a group setting (which I am opposed to)? What types of tests were done prior to help determine if all the clients were hypnotizable or at least might be fair candidates for hypnosis? Was a learning channel profile completed on all of the clients and if so, after determining if they responded better to visual, sound or kinesthetic channels, were the sessions then tailored to each specific channel for each client? Were any of these clients under stress at the time? Were any of them suffering from any medical conditions or taking any medications that might have manipulated their test results? Were the tests performed during the day when the clients were wide-awake or in the evening when they were sleepier?

I can go on and on but these are all-important questions that could have a dramatic impact on the outcome of any hypnosis session or test. Therefore, without personally being present I can only assume and we all know what that means. Throughout my 15-year practice I have no doubts that age regression can be very helpful. However I do agree that it is equally important to be truthful when setting a clients expectations about age regression hypnosis.

BTW here is a link to a test about memory that people might find interesting.


Your post is really amazing. Thank you for the information. Some months ago I saw a youtube video which seems to me to be quite fake. It was a hypnotist hypnotizing strangers in the street. He just randomly pick a man, then hypnotized him by telling him that he’s a beggar begging for money in the street. He made him sit down with a mug in his hand. The man really sat down and was begging money like a real beggar. Then the hypnotist took a video of him then made him normal again. The man couldn’t believe what he saw the video that he was begging in the street, sitting on the floor with a mug. But to me it seems quite fake. Does hypnotizing people can really work as this?


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