Friday, September 6, 2013

You're Getting Sleepy... and Misled: Regression Hypnosis in Ufology

Regression hypnosis has long been used during investigation of alleged alien abduction. Some have made up their minds that the activity provides reasonable evidence. For them, there is no amount of expert opinion or scientific research contradicting their belief that can motivate sincere review of the circumstances. Even the words of warning from former hypnosis subjects, lengthily explaining firsthand how its ill effects and misuses can be harmful, fail to inspire objective evaluation of the use of hypnosis as a mythical truth serum.

Much has been learned of memory functions, potential dangers of regression hypnosis and related issues since researchers first began hypnotizing self-described experiencers in hopes of uncovering hidden memories. However, many investigators continue subscribing to the now decades old concepts while the professional research community has long since updated its understandings. If you are sincerely interested in reviewing facts surrounding regression hypnosis, including taking into consideration some opinions of qualified experts and documentation of relevant circumstances, please continue reading.

British UFO Research Association

The fact of the matter is the professional research community has never established hypnosis as an effective investigative tool or a reliable memory retrieval technique. The American Psychotherapy and Medical Hypnosis Association released statements clarifying its members should not inaccurately represent the stance of the American Medical Association on such matters. 

"The American Medical Association (AMA) is concerned that many individuals using hypnosis may be making the inaccurate statement that hypnosis is approved by the AMA as a legitimate therapy for medical or psychological purposes," the APMHA explained. "The AMA has a current position that this statement is inaccurate."

The AMA clearly does not recognize or define hypnosis as approved for use for medical or psychological purposes. That would of course include subjecting traumatized individuals to the exploration of the possibility they are regularly abused by perpetrators from other planets, to say the least.

The British UFO Research Association was formed in 1962
It should be further understood that significant portions of the UFO community itself came to accept and agree with policies as established by the AMA. The British UFO Research Association (BUFORA) enacted a moratorium in 1988 on the use of hypnosis, and the policy continues to remain in place.

Across the water in America, researchers of alleged alien abduction nonetheless continued and increased their uses of hypnosis. Purposes could reasonably be interpreted to include it was identified as the easiest way to create evidence for what were otherwise largely unsupported claims and theories. In other words, researchers could not prove their assumptions through professionally recognized credible means, so they resorted to hypnosis and what writer/researcher Sharon Hill coined sham inquiry: nonscientific activities conducted and misrepresented as scientific investigation.

The BUFORA moratorium on hypnosis is referenced and relevant issues are explored in the Heather Dixon article, Alien Abduction, Hypnosis and Memory. The piece contains an interview with Judy Jaafar, a BUFORA investigator and researcher with some 20 years experience at the time of the interview. Ms. Jaafar is also a clinical hypnotherapist and psychotherapist who clearly and competently explained reasons hypnosis should not be used during the investigation of alleged alien abduction.

It is a very powerful tool and can be dangerous when used irresponsibly,” Jaffar stated, “and no matter what fantasy a witness might come up with during hypnosis, it has to be remembered that under a hypnotic trance state, your capacity for imagination and fantasy is probably doubled or trebled.”

Jaafar further explained potential dangers to witnesses, or hypnosis subjects, adding, “So whatever experience they describe, during hypnosis as far as the abduction scenario is concerned, and when a recording or transcript is taken, this has now become a real event for them, irrespective of whether it actually happened or not. It is now real - and that really bothered me because I felt that we were dealing with someone’s mental health - for the rest of their lives. Because they’ve been hypnotised, they really believe that they must be telling the absolute truth because they have this peculiar notion that hypnosis is like a truth drug, but it certainly isn’t!”

The psychotherapist continued, “You take someone back for example to ‘missing time’ where they have no conscious memory of any event, so therefore the analytical, logical, judgmental process cannot be brought to bear on the situation. Immediately the witness has to delve into their unconscious mind... which is a wonderful, dreamlike fantasy factory. It is so important in our lives, we need to be able to do this otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it. It sorts out all of your emotions, it is not like a filing cabinet, it is not an archive - it is an emotional repository to access every day of our lives; to keep our mental health balance. And this is what you are sending your witness into, totally unprepared, they don’t know what they are looking for except that they feel they have been abducted by aliens otherwise they wouldn’t be with a ufologist in the first place. This is very obvious and they have already made up their mind that this is what must have occurred and you go into your unconscious with that conscious thought in your head and it is very likely that you will come up with a scenario where that is exactly what happened, because that is what you are expecting. Your mind will accommodate you beautifully and it goes into psycho-drama mode filling in the spaces, confabulating, giving you meaning where there was no meaning before. But the meaning is a purely emotional, psychological meaning. The meaning has no need necessarily to have any objective content at all.”

Dr. Elizabeth Loftus

Dr. Elizabeth Loftus
Ms. Dixon referenced the work of Dr. Elizabeth Loftus. A renowned and leading expert on memory function, Dr. Loftus is an experimental psychologist with some four decades of outstanding research to her credit. She is the recipient of six honorary doctorates in addition to numerous awards, including the American Psychological Foundation prestigious 2013 Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement in the Science of Psychology. Dr. Loftus was granted the honor due to her extraordinary contributions to the understanding of memory.

Her work documented and conclusively demonstrated how methods of questioning witnesses affected their memories. She conducted literally hundreds of experiments detailing how post-event information can become incorporated into memories and thereby distort recollections. Moreover, she demonstrated that entire memories can be manufactured of events which never actually took place. Such false memories, Dr. Loftus discovered, can most certainly affect later thoughts, intentions and behaviors.

Part of the ongoing challenge experienced by many paranormal researchers is the misunderstanding that a memory remains indefinitely intact. It does not. Experts such as Jaafar and Loftus inform us that memories of past events, actual or otherwise, are embellished, change over time and are constructed depending on complicated factors such as personal conditioning. Memory is not a solid, tangible concept or function, but a complex and ever changing mental landscape, subject to virtually infinite terms and conditions.

Dr. Loftus explained in a previous work that a set of unproven assumptions lie at the heart of suppressed memory cases. Such assumptions include incorrect beliefs that forgotten experiences can only be recalled through the use of special techniques, and that these techniques produce reliable results. In fact, Loftus wrote, there is no cogent scientific support for such beliefs and, furthermore, there is “ample reason to believe that extraordinarily suggestive prolonged searches for hidden memories can be harmful.”

The bottom line? The 40-year research of Loftus indicated, as reported by the American Psychological Association, “Just because a memory of an event is expressed with confidence, just because it contains vivid detail, just because it is expressed with emotion, doesn’t mean the event really happened.”

Solid investigation and credible research are still required to establish a fact. Virtually no matter what someone says, under hypnosis or otherwise, verification remains in order.

Creation of a Phenomenon

BUFORA may have been among the earlier segments of the UFO community to urge consideration that ceasing the use of hypnosis was in the best interests of the witnesses and finding the truth, but it was not the only segment. Jeremy Vaeni and Jeff Ritzmann much more recently did a series of podcasts and articles on the misuses of regression hypnosis, particularly as it related to the Emma Woods case and as handled by David Jacobs. Carol Rainey subsequently wrote an article, The Priests of High Strangeness: Co-Creation of the “Alien Abduction Phenomenon”. The unfolding chain of events could well be considered among the most relevant shake ups and doses of actuality to hit the alien abduction genre in a long, long time. Moreover, it was initiated not by card carrying skeptics, but individuals with histories of being quite willing to entertain the feasibility of reported high strangeness.

Vaeni, Ritzmann and Woods presented conclusive documentation of what were - at absolute best - extreme lapses in judgment on behalf of Jacobs. Hurtful and damaging circumstances to Woods included dozens of hypnosis sessions conducted via telephone by an untrained hypnotist, Jacobs, resulting in perceptions she was being repeatedly raped and stalked by ET-human hybrids carrying out conspiracies of grand proportion. Among the more damaging – and documented – occurrences included Jacobs, who is a historian (not a medical doctor or mental health professional), speaking to Woods while she was under hypnosis about circumstances related to her suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder.

David Jacobs
"I'm going to count from five to one, and just remember now, my diagnosis is that this is Multiple Personality Disorder, and you should take medication for it," Jacobs was quoted suggesting on recordings of the hypnosis sessions. "I have seen lots of cases of MPD, and this absolutely fits the MPD profile. And my professional diagnosis therefore is Multiple Personality Disorder."

We are somehow apparently expected to accept that such instructions and suggestions, administered under hypnosis, were rationalized by Jacobs to be part of investigating alien abduction. It was also later suggested that such statements somehow have something to do with Jacobs obtaining oral histories.

Additional extremely questionable methodology undertaken by Jacobs included informing Woods at length and while hypnotized of what other abductees were reporting. Jacobs would then question the woman about her experiences. It should be noted and emphasized that this is specifically the type of activities researchers such as Loftus, as well as many others, conclusively demonstrated alter the statements of the witness. The website of Emma Woods should be explored for details, copies of taped hypnosis sessions with Jacobs and similar documentation.   

Rainey documented and published circumstances indicating that both Jacobs and now deceased researcher Budd Hopkins, whose work gained wide popularity in UFO circles, should have their amateur hypnosis practices called into much greater question than was often the case. In addition to publishing written content, Rainey established a YouTube channel, videos from which are displayed in The UFO Trail sidebar. Rainey demonstrated that Hopkins and his colleagues were sloppy in their investigative procedures, including intentionally presenting evidence in misleading manners while falsely claiming to follow strict guidelines.   

For their efforts, the four – Vaeni, Ritzmann, Woods and Rainey – were largely alienated and at times viciously personally attacked. They were banned from participating and defending themselves and their work on various email lists, online discussion forums and related websites. Meanwhile, organizations such as the Mutual UFO Network continued to provide venues for both Jacobs and the promotion of hypnosis as an investigative tool while leading the public to believe it represented scientific research practices.

It is worthy of consideration that Vaeni, Ritzmann and Woods are each self-described experiencers of high strangeness. As in the case of BUFORA personnel, they are not individuals who regularly partake in stubborn and incessant debunking of UFO-related reports. Quite the contrary.

Similarly, the work of Rainey is not that of a person attempting to unreasonably disprove one thing or another. It is much more evident that she is urging the use of careful and thoughtful methods of data collection and analysis. Actually, it is clear that Rainey has not suggested in her work that there is necessarily nothing of interest within reports of high strangeness, but that quality investigation is the path to identifying what facts may or may not exist. I interpret a large part of her point is that researchers reap what they sow; professional research protocol - or sham inquiry - bears corresponding results.

Although a less discriminating and prematurely convinced portion of the UFO community lashed out at the group, others recognized the significance of the work presented. While some chose to think Vaeni and company were unreasonably attacking the credibility of beloved ufology icons, others acknowledged and appreciated they were presenting documentation that self-described experiencers were being exploited for reasons including the manufacture of supposed evidence.

Rainey indicated she was contacted by multiple well known UFO investigators who recognized the significance of what she presented and, although they were not willing to publicly express their support, they thanked her for exposing the truth about circumstances taking place within research of alleged alien abduction. Such behind the scenes support has been encountered and observed on other occasions by The UFO Trail. High profile members of the UFO community at times support lines of research and hold perspectives they choose not to voice publicly. Reasons include fear of alienation from peers and decreasing their popularity among a public often unwilling to tolerate investigators not actively promoting belief in an alien presence. 

Kevin Randle, however, was willing to speak out. In a series of blog posts published February 7February 18 and February 26 of 2011, he confirmed the validity of Rainey's information challenging Hopkins' assessments of an alleged 1963 UFO crash at Santa Rosa, New Mexico. Hopkins was funded by ufology philanthropist Robert Bigelow to conduct an investigation that Rainey - and subsequently Randle - conclusively demonstrated to be, at best, poorly executed and, at worst, intentionally misleading. Moreover, Randle noted how Hopkins' response to Rainey's work contained smear tactics while lacking objective facts.

Continuing Lack of Objective Investigation 

Qualified experts such as microbiologist Dr. Tyler Kokjohn and psychologist Dr. Scott Lilienfeld volunteered opinions and consultation services on matters related to the investigation techniques typically employed. Dr. Kokjohn continues to educate the public about the many credible ways researchers of alien abduction could collect data and scientifically test their hypotheses if they were so inclined. Such methods include but are not limited to forensics and DNA testing which could reveal a great deal of information long after the alleged fact, or reported encounter.

Bloggers Gary Hayden and Douglas Mesner, among others, wrote extensively and competently on the matters. The UFO Trail was inspired to publish material as well, including The Bizarre World of Doctor David Jacobs: An Interview and Review. Parts One, Two and Three contained an interview with Jacobs followed by review published by and obtained from qualified experts. Sociologist Ted Goertzel, for example, demonstrated that not only had individuals been willing to provide peer review which Jacobs had long claimed was withheld by a scientific community unreasonably ignoring his work, but that in actuality Jacobs scrupulously avoided participating in any such peer review.

Dolores Cannon
Meanwhile, some 50 years after the Hills were first subjected to hypnosis, some 25 years after BUFORA suspended the practice, and some 20 years after Hopkins gained popularity touting unsubstantiated stories obtained through hypnosis, American hypnotists continue to promote unsupported claims and stand by their hypnosis-based assertions. Dolores Cannon claims absolutely extraordinary circumstances, details of which could be relatively easily tested any number of ways if she cared to do so. Her assertions include alien intervention and resulting changes in humans at molecular levels that, among other things, eliminate disease. She practices something she calls “Quantum Healing Hypnosis Therapy,” an activity she states causes “strange and often inexplicable results.” Not to be limited or restricted by what was termed on her website "disciplinary stigma," Cannon purports to help clients access extraordinary information through hypnosis.

Barbara Lamb conducts hypnosis in Southern California where she claims to have developed personal relationships with a few ET-human hybrids, circumstances that, according to her emails and presentations, were discovered via hypnosis sessions with the individuals. It would seem that more people might consider the probability that the techniques employed produce the perceptions experienced, as opposed to the likelihood Lamb happened to have numerous unknowing hybrids converge upon her for services. One way or the other, and as in the cases of Cannon and Jacobs, any number of cost effective medical examinations could shed more light on Lamb's assertions, yet she continues to execute no such research. She presents alleged claims obtained under hypnosis from anonymous people, offering no documented evidence of what would be among the most extraordinary circumstances ever recorded.

Addressing such issues, Ritzmann recently wrote at Paranormal Waypoint:

For decades the employ of hypnotic regression was the go-to tool of abduction research. Books were written solely upon the hypnotic recall garnered by researchers through the use of hypnotic regression. When I first began talking about the potential dangers and blatant inaccuracies of hypnosis more than a decade ago, I got severe pushback. But none so vehemently as when Jeremy and I did the Paratopia episodes involving Dr. Scott Lilienfeld, Emma Woods, and Deb Kauble, which squarely showed the facts in practical application about hypnosis as a tool for recovering memory – that it’s useless, flawed, and being misused by uneducated and untrained researchers who are not aware of the limitations, nor it’s inaccurate nature. In short, if it was hypnotically recalled it was highly suspect. Prone to confabulation, leading questions, pleasing the therapist, cultural contamination and the fallibility of memory…and a host of others – not to mention the experience itself being on the edge of perception and inexplicably weird (outlier data).

The pushback from the proponents of hypnotic recall was substantial and swift – because it completely negated hypnotically recovered 'research' (and I use the term loosely) already done. Books had been written, hypotheses laid out in print and lecture, and whole ideologies and belief system foundations were built upon this now known faulty recall, obtained with a tool that was never accurate to begin with. This was research paradigm changing data and information about a long practiced and potentially dangerous procedure. Data that might have given the ability to hone down to the core of the actual experience by only taking into consideration direct recall experiences. I might add, that even though the points were made and proven on Paratopia, and direct evidence of inappropriate behavior and downright dangerous practices exposed – hypnotic retrieval is still in widespread use.

UFOlogy seems content to settle. Not to overhaul, nor to reassess as we learn more about the world around us, and ourselves.”

The Harm

The actions of David Jacobs show us the harm that can take place when unqualified individuals decide themselves entitled to dig around the unconscious mind seeking otherwise largely nonexistent evidence. The circumstances also demonstrate that not only is the methodology questionable, but the motives of those who practice it should be reasonably evaluated prior to giving them permission to go on a mental alien hunt.

Robert Bigelow
Disturbing circumstances befell Leah Haley and some 139 other people when they sought assistance and support from MUFON and its then director of abduction research, John Carpenter. In a chain of events that continue to present more questions than answers and became known as the Carpenter Affair, Carpenter spent years during the 1990's hypnotizing the individuals while secretly receiving financial compensation from Robert Bigelow. In return, Carpenter, a Missouri social worker, provided Bigelow and his associates with case file information of the 140 who sought his support. Exploited and betrayed clients of Carpenter felt humiliated and enraged when they learned of the circumstances.

"That whole group just got away with it,” Haley previously told The UFO Trail with disappointment. She has now come to the conclusion that information obtained via hypnosis cannot always be trusted for accuracy, and neither can those who administer it.

Experts Jaafar and Loftus tell us of the harm that can come from attempting to create and interpret images retrieved from the unconscious mind, as well as additional potentially detrimental circumstances typically taking place during regression hypnosis. Such harm is concerning, but perhaps most concerning of all is that we obviously cannot count on organizations or individuals who support regression hypnosis to provide objective and accurate assessments of the circumstances and potential dangers. This is in spite of their claims of doing so. It is clear that selective omission of relevant information, religious-like faith in the procedure and even intentional deception and exploitation should be anticipated among those who practice and promote the use of regression hypnosis during the investigation of alleged alien abduction.


  1. Jack--another excellent piece! Great work!


    1. Thank you very much, Lance! I'm glad you find the blog interesting.

    2. Hi Jack,

      Re. - Debbie Jordan-Kabble (Ritzmann's reference in your article)...It was interesting to watch Kabble's latest presentation which was made last week at the 2nd annual 'Experiencers Speak' in Portland ME. She had nothing but kind words for Budd Hopkins and did not refute hypnosis in her case.

      Something you might be interested in - right up that alley of searching for mysterious hybrids to test is what Kathleen Marden claimed, during her presentation. She said experiencers and hybrids have telepathy and other special abilities. The way Marden presented it seemed as if she was suggesting she had contact with hybrids. When you have the time you might want to listen to her presentation, if only to catch that part. My thinking is you could email her and see if she'd put you in contact with someone who thinks they're a hybrid and is willing to be genetically tested.

      The latest 'Experiencers Speak' is on Chris Augustin's youtube channel. Just put in his name in the youtube search and his channel will come up.

      ~ Susan

  2. If you all haven't read Debbie Nathan's Sybil Exposed, I recommend it. It's sort of related.

  3. Thanks, Jack. It is great that there are at least some people in Ufology who are prepared to look at evidence that contradicts the prevailing view on hypnosis. Hopefully one day we will have the tools to investigate experiences properly.

  4. Hello Jack. Just came upon your blog whilst searching for something else. I believe that David Jacobs and Budd Hopkins have done untold harm to thousands of Americans.

    Some years ago I met Budd at a UK conference and a select few,including Nick Pope and myself had retired to the bar. I had been appalled at the things Budd had been saying in his lecture,so decided to ask him,in a polite and friendly manner,about his hypnosis qualifications,his basic understanding of the subject and what protocols he used to ensure the safety of his "clients". He flustered,then blustered then told me that he deliberately introduced red herrings into his questioning,things that were not part of the "official" abduction scenario,and if the client agreed to this spurious element then he knew they were lying. It was breathtaking in its foolishness,by patently leading the witness into describing something they thought Hopkins wanted to hear. He had no conception of the strength of compliance of someone under hypnosis - that's why it works so well as a psychological therapy (not an investigative tool). When I challenged him on this,and other things, he jumped up and stormed out of the room. Nick was furious with me for upsetting the master of abduction research. I was equally furious that people like Hopkins and Jacobs were getting away with this in pursuit not of the truth but some other agenda. I have no wish to speak ill of the dead, but to be honest I'm glad he is no longer practising such chicanery. Sadly he spawned many acolytes. Bufora has been called in several times for damage limitation after regression hypnosis and I was even asked by one woman if I could hypnotise her to forget what she came up with in a previous session by an unqualified researcher. One family were in constant fear as they had been told the aliens would be back,and the next time it would be for their children too! Disgraceful.

    1. Thanks very much for commenting, Judy. I appreciate you sharing the experience.

      I also appreciate your activism and willingness to speak out on the topic. In my just-published book, 'The Greys Have Been Framed: Exploitation in the UFO Community', I cited your remarks in Heather Dixon's article posted at BUFORA and as referenced above.

      Thanks again for your work.

    2. Hello Judy,

      Putting aside your upsetting interaction with the late Budd Hopkins, it seems you're personally involved in the abduction syndrome.

      I wonder what you'd suggest to help people who're seeking to retrieve lost memories during their amnesia/missing time events?

      I'd remind you too, that Hopkins wasn't the first abduction researcher to utilize hypnosis as a tool. Going back to the 1957 Antonio Vilas Boas case, hypnosis was used to fill in portions of his events that he couldn't fully recall. Then APRO and MUFON utilized hypnosis.

      Personally I wouldn't seek it out to fill in my amnesia of some very close encounters. I don't want to know.

  5. Hi Brownie

    I no longer work in UFO research, having stepped away 5 years ago for several reasons, one being I just became sick of alleged witnesses publishing and broadcasting material accusing me and BUFORA of working for "the government" and suppressing information. I was almost always "the enemy" because I tried to find rational explanations for perceived incidents.

    A short comment field is not the place to go into why witnesses so determinedly hold on to frightening beliefs for which there is no objective evidence.

    And as unpalatable as this may be, a significant percentage of the people who report truly bizarre high strangeness encounters, alien and paranormal, have mental health issues that predate their reported experiences. Of course, to be fair, frightening experiences can generate anxiety and paranoia, and it's very important that anyone working with such cases has training and discernment to know the difference.

    To answer your question directly, about how to tackle a perception of memory loss or missing time, without the use of hypnosis, is to do nothing. Leave it where it is and get on with life. There may be nothing to remember at all.. and even if something did happen the brain will or will not release that memory if the time is right. The gatekeeper to the unconscious is there for good reason.

    If, however, the feeling that something important has happened that you cannot remember and your life is being adversely affected then you need to visit your doctor and ask for a referral to a clinical psychologist.

    I am aware that hypnosis has been used by many individuals and groups but it was not routine until after the publication of the Hill case. I used the examples of Jacobs and Hopkins because the blog author mentioned them and because they are undoubtedly the most well-known proponents of the use of regression hypnosis in alleged abduction cases.


    1. "The gatekeeper to the unconscious is there for good reason."

      I think that is really relevant to what happens to people under hypnosis, especially long term extensive hypnosis. I am aware that the enormous amount of hypnosis I went through brought aspects of my subconscious through into my conscious life, and that would never have happened without the hypnosis. It is disconcerting, and hard to put into words.

      Having said that, I do understand where Brownie is coming from. The human desire to know is strong, and I certainly wanted to know as well.

      I did see a therapist, but he was not able to help me find the answers to the mystery, because we don't understand the phenomenon enough as a society.

      I was fortunate that my therapist was open-minded and took a neutral stance. However, many therapists might assume there is no real phenomenon,and that it therefore by definition stems from mental health issues an experiencer has, which would not be good for an experiencer either.

      The answer I have come to for myself is that hypnosis should be avoided at all costs, therapists should be trusted only if they demonstrate that they are truly neutral and open-minded, and at the end of the day, we probably won't know the answers in our life time. Perhaps future generations will, as human knowledge develops. But for us, perhaps the best we can do is contribute to the development of future knowledge.