Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Hypnotherapist Discusses Hill Case and Hypnosis

The Hills
I recently had the much appreciated opportunity to guest on Podcast UFO hosted by Martin Willis. During the live show, a hypnotherapist and social worker, Donna Killeen, called to share her views on the lack of reliability in hypnosis as a memory enhancer as was being discussed. She also shared about her interactions with Dr. Benjamin Simon of the Betty and Barney Hill case, and how it led her to be quite doubtful of the reported alien abduction

Such sources as USAF Capt. Ben Swett, who interacted with the Hills and Dr. Simon, and the doctor himself (see file #21) stated that Simon did not subscribe to alien abduction as an explanation. Nonetheless, the issue continues to be obscured in some circles. 

Donna Killeen and I connected by email soon after the show. I was grateful for her call to Podcast UFO, and I feel she brings relevant contributions to the table. I requested she field a few questions for a blog post, and she agreed. Below are the items and her responses.

Donna Killeen

I understand you reside in Massachusetts, and that you are a Certified Hypnotherapist and Licensed Social Worker with a Masters in Counseling. Is that correct?
I am a resident of Massachusetts. I have been a Licensed Social Worker in Massachusetts since the early 1980's. I earned a Masters Degree in Counseling in 1984 from Suffolk University, Boston. I am a CHt (certified hypnotherapist).

You once had an opportunity to discuss the Hill case with Boston psychiatrist Dr. Benjamin Simon, who worked with the now legendary couple during their hypnosis sessions. What did you learn in your discussions with Dr. Simon?
In 1975-1976 I had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Benjamin Simon by telephone. I had contacted his office in Boston in an effort to assist my brother who claimed to have been "abducted by aliens" and was experiencing a great deal of anxiety as a result. I hoped that Dr. Simon might be able to evaluate and treat my brother or make a referral. 
Dr. Simon listened patiently to my story. He then told me that although he had been portrayed in books and in the media as having believed that Betty and Barney Hill had been abducted, Dr. Simon NEVER believed this to be the case. He stated that he did not believe in flying saucers or aliens. He did not believe the Hills were lying or hoaxing either. He suggested that there was stress in the Hill situation. He felt, after treating them, that they suffered from anxiety as the result of being in an interracial marriage in the late 50's and early 60's in a predominantly white part of the country. He identified Barney as having a great deal of anxiety and indicated that Barney may have exhibited persecutorial thoughts. He believed the dreams that each experienced had been shared over time between themselves, though the Hills denied it. He identified this as a condition called Folie à deux whereby a delusion or hallucination is transmitted from one individual to another. Since he was quite sincere in his stance that aliens did not exist... He strongly and compassionately suggested that I seek psychiatric assistance for my brother.

I interpret from our interactions, Donna, that your opinion of the Hill case changed significantly after you had the opportunity to talk directly with Dr. Simon, as compared to relying primarily on information circulated within the UFO community. Is that correct, and would you please elaborate on that a bit?
I had followed the Hill case with much interest since it was reported in the 1960's in Look Magazine. I was extremely impressed that a prestigious psychiatrist was apparently supporting the story. It was a crucial part of the Hill case! After speaking directly with Dr. Simon, I felt duped by the UFO community and media. There was misrepresentation of Dr. Simon's conclusions in the Hill case. These false conclusions were widely continued on in movies, books, etc. I was very disappointed and discounted the case as a result of hearing the truth from the practitioner.

Please describe your professional opinion on the use of hypnosis as a memory retrieval technique.
My thoughts/opinion about hypnosis as a tool for memory include the following.
A. The process of hypnosis is often regarded as a truth serum type therapy. It is NOT.
B. While hypnosis can bring about a state of relaxation and focus to possibly aid in memory, hypnosis is not a particularly reliable method of memory retrieval.
C. Everything stated with hypnosis is not necessarily factual. Corroborating evidence is needed to establish facts.
D. Subjects can distort and misinterpret "memories" and confabulation can occur.
E. Subjects in the state of trance can be in a highly suggestible state creating a situation where an unskilled therapist might lead the subject potentially creating "false memories".

If there is anything else you would like to add or address, please feel encouraged to do so.
In summary, it appears the UFO community has misrepresented the hypnosis process as some magical truth exposer. Regression hypnosis is at the core of the alien abduction phenomenon. All aspects of the process should be considered, i.e., confabulation, misinterpretation, etc. The Holy Grail, the Hill case, has omitted an important detail. The prestigious M.D., hypnotherapist did not believe the story was an alien abduction case! And that's a fact!

More Qualified Professionals

Thanks to Ms. Killeen for her willingness to share her perspectives. It is appreciated. 

The extents the UFO community is ignoring and misrepresenting the qualified opinions on hypnosis-related issues is a virtual phenomenon in itself. It is certainly painfully obvious and dated. 

Hopkins conducts hypnosis with
an alleged alien abductee
Clinical hypnotherapist and psychotherapist Judy Jaafar warned of the likelihood of confabulation during hypnotic regression and the potential for emotionally detrimental effects. Her statements were in support of the ban on the activity enacted in 1988 by the British UFO Research Association. Jaafar more recently commented at this blog, "I believe that David Jacobs and Budd Hopkins have done untold harm to thousands of Americans."

Qualified professionals such as psychologist Dr. Julia Shaw demonstrated the ways questions are asked substantially effects research subjects and their responses. All it takes to generate richly detailed false memories of significant events that never happened, Shaw explained, are three hours in a friendly interview environment, the introduction of a few wrong details, and the use of poor memory retrieval techniques. 

To try to be clear, I am directly suggesting, to those who argue hypnosis-induced narrations are valid because of similarities gleaned from one hypnosis subject to the next, a more likely explanation is that the hypnotist - and their specific use of language and interview techniques - is the shared common denominator, not the alleged experience. It could also be effectively argued that abduction lore is now so well known throughout the community that details commonly showing up in witness narrations are more apt to indicate preferences in writers and convention speakers than events occurring in objective reality. Moreover, it is obvious that when the hypnotist is tainting the well and intentionally leading the subject, the methods are extremely suspect, probably unethical, and the results are both unreliable as sources of information and potentially harmful to the hypnosis subject.

I could certainly go on with further citations of qualified professionals who have conclusively demonstrated that witness testimonies, with and without alleged memory enhancing techniques, cannot be accepted without reasonable question. The citations really don't matter, though, absent a sincere willingness to listen and weigh the information. After all, as far back as 1979, psychologist, hypnosis expert and CIA consultant Dr. Martin Orne reported that "actual memories cannot be distinguished from confabulations either by the subject or by the hypnotist without full and independent corroboration."

It's long past time for the community to start listening to the qualified professionals, else accept its rightful place as not a maverick of science, but an opposer.


  1. The reference to Dr. Orne brought to mind several legal cases that have cited his research. In particular, New Jersey had allowed limited use of hypnotically-induced evidence based upon certain "safeguards" that Orne recommended. Orne later repudiated those guidelines because he had come to believe that there was no reliable way to distinguish psuedomemories from waking recall. In State v. Moore New Jersey reversed itself, citing Orne and other studies to hold that hypnotically refreshed testimony was inadmissible .

    The case presents an interesting review of the law and science, and is worth reading in that regard - as it the Canadian Supreme Court 's decision in R. v. Trochym.


  2. As I was drifting into sleep a couple nights ago I heard George Noory saying these hypnotic sessions of the Hills proved their abduction was real ( that they ‘independently’ verified each others account as it were ).

    What’s really curious to me now is that I don’t remember this case being discussed in the sixties and I was very interested in the subject of UFOs. ( An Air Force pilot actually passed on Ruppelt’s “ Report …” (’56) and another by Keyhoe to me about 1961).

    In college about ’68 I remember a psych ( my major) Prof mentioning hypnosis.
    He gave an example of someone at the scene of a robbery who was able to recall the licence plate number of a ‘getaway car’ that helped ‘solve the crime’. He gave another example to illustrate details of our surroundings that ‘we’ are aware of but not consciously thinking about - as if someone could walk down a street and later recall the headline on a newspaper or a candy wrapper … but there was no mention of the Hill case or licence plate number for a UFO- I would have certainly brought it up if I’d heard of it.

    I anxiously waited for the Condon report and believed the results - nothing there.

    I remember reading much much later that there was a TV show about the Hill’s abduction in 75/76 ( wasn’t near a TV most of 75-80 ).

    And this is where the “abduction stories” story seems to begin - like Ms Killeen’s brother.
    This would be most interesting and informative for everyone if it could be found how this ’story’ developed - what trigger this ? For me, the ’story’ isn’t about Jacobs, Hopkins, and Streiber, but why so many people ( who have had nothing to do with them or hypnosis ) had this ‘in common uncommon experience’ (delusion or mass hallucination,or what?). Did this all jump from the “Outer Limits” ? Reinforced by “Close Encounters…”?

    At the moment it seems if one has had this ‘experience’ then immediately there’s the likely prognosis of mental illness ( which is dreadful and produces anxiety all around) or it happened, which is no less another high anxiety situation ! (and then there’s the liars and story tellers, including ‘reporters’ ….). But even as a neurosis there’s a call for help …

    So I wonder, how many contacted Dr. Simon ? And what’s the ‘story’ of those who didn’t get in the spotlight ,like her brother, those outside the ‘fame factor’ ?

    How do we help, or ‘get help’ when faced with this ‘event’ ?

    1. As you imply, mouse, there isn't a 'one size fits all' explanation, and a certain percentage of reports are certainly attributable to mental health issues and confusion. As for others, only qualified, systematic and professional research will tell. As Nigel Watson so aptly put it (and I quote in the sidebar), "There is no all embracing answer to why people keep reporting UFO sightings and alien abductions. The reasons vary according to the witness and their sociological and cultural background."

  3. It is interesting how Simon seems to have said different things to the Hills than to other people who asked him about the case. I wonder why that is?

    I wonder whether Simon told the Hills what he really thought, but was worried that he could lose his career if he said that to others, and that explains it?

    Of course, if Simon was part of some MKUltra type project that used the Hills, as has been suggested as a possibility, then perhaps that explains it as well?

    I personally do not think that Simon's personal views and statements about the case have any bearing on what happened to them. He was using hypnosis for memory retrieval, a long time ago, and during the MKUltra era. Plus he was a psychiatrist, during an age when psychiatry had some very dodgy theories and practices. I would not put much stock in the views of a psychiatrist of that era using hypnosis for memory retrieval.

    Simon was also a white male authority figure treating a black man and a woman during that time. I doubt whether psychiatry at that time had a lot of understanding of the worlds of black people and women as we do today. I don't place much stock in his comments about Barney Hill and persecution issues. Maybe he did, I don't know. But I think it is entirely possible it was just the uninformed ideas of a white male authority figure, who may not have had a clue about what he was talking about.

    It sounds as though Simon thought that he could decide whether the Hill's hypnotic memories were true or false. However, we now know that is impossible. So whatever Simon, or anyone else thinks about their hypnotic memories, no one can tell for sure what was real or not. It is just conjecture at the end of the day.

    I think if people have "UFO" or "abduction" type experiences, they need to be investigated by actual investigators. Not just psychiatrists examining the people, but investigators out in the real world examining the physical traces, and the other aspects of the case.

    Sometimes there is more than one person involved in an anomalous experience, as was the case with the Hills. It is easy for a psychiatrist to brush it off as a folie a deux, especially if that fits the psychiatrist's world view. But what if it is not? What if the people involved are not folie types at all, and know that they saw and experienced? It is easy to say, but in reality, unexplained things happen to people, that are not just a personal issue of the people involved, and that needs to be properly investigated.

    I think it is clear that something happened to the Hills. From memory, they had an unaccounted for time gap, heard strange sounds and found coin sized marks on the trunk of their car that were magnetic, their dog was spooked, Barney's shoes were scuffed, Betty's dress was torn, and there was a strange powder on Betty's dress. Those are physical things that don't normally happen, and are unexplained. So, something happened to them, regardless of what they remembered under hypnosis, and regardless of what Simon's personal thoughts and statements were.

    1. Hey, Emma,

      The relevance of Simon's stance on the Hill case, at least in part, is that it is frequently misrepresented within the UFO community. One example:


      In actuality, Simon was reportedly attempting to treat trauma, as compared to conducting some type of UFO investigation or implement hypnosis as a memory retrieval technique to be accepted without question. He also seems to have clearly stated his lack of accepting literal alien abduction as an explanation for the case both publicly and in the presence of Betty Hill (see file #21):


      So, while his professional opinion does not necessarily negate any number of possibilities, it is relevant that it continues to be misrepresented. Just more in a long line of misrepresentations of hypnosis in the UFO community, IMO.

      Thanks for your comments and interest. They are appreciated.

    2. Thank you for posting the links, Jack. I did read Robert Sheaffer's post, and it was interesting.

      Having said that, it seems to me that Kathleen Marden genuinely thinks the alleged letter from Simon to Klass was a forgery. She does not come across as someone trying to misrepresent Simon's views, but as trying to assert something that she thinks is the truth. It sounds as though Betty Hill also genuinely thought the letter was a forgery.

      Having said that, I had always heard that Simon did not believe the Hills were abducted. However, I don't know a lot about the UFO field, so if you say that Simon's views have been misrepresented by others in Ufology, I am sure you are right.

      I think the fact that Simon was treating the Hills for trauma speaks to the fact that something did happen to them. The fact that he resorted to using hypnosis to try to get to the bottom of it seems to suggest that whatever traumatized them was not easily identifiable, to them or to him. I think that says that something out of the ordinary happened to to them.

      Of course, that does not automatically mean that they were abducted by aliens. It could have been something else, even part of an MKUltra type project, as has been suggested. At the same time. I don't think anything can be ruled out, because no one knows what actually happened to them.

      If the Hills were part of an MKUltra type project, then I suppose it could have been useful for Simon to publicly portray the Hills as a pair of mentally wobbly, folie a deux types, while perhaps saying different things to them in private. Who knows.

      On the other hand, I don't think the stigma, and the potential affect on Simon's career can be ruled out as an explanation for why Kathleen Marden and Betty Hill seemed to genuinely believe the letter to be a forgery, and not fitting with their own understanding of Simon's statements to the Hills.

  4. I used to believe the Hills were abducted. But then, I was very young when I first learned about them. Over time (and as I've matured emotionally, psychologically and through life experiences) I no longer believe in their alien abduction. However, from everything I've read that describes their behavior after the Montreal trip, it seems they might have been suffering from some post-trip stress that could have been triggered by something that happened during their trip; something that on the surface seemed totally trivial and didn't stand out at all in their recollections. Even so, it could have engendered some deep seated unease or emotional discomfort in one or both of them. Couple this with unrelated nightmares about aliens experienced by Betty and shared with Barney, and it's not too difficult to see how this could have evolved into an alien abduction scenario confabulated under hypnosis. I don't believe the Hills were at all to blame for what has subsequently been done with their experience by Ufologists out to make a buck off the gullible. I also don't believe the Hills were liars or intentional hoaxers. Rather, I think they were going through some emotionally tough times caused by something other than an encounter with aliens.

  5. I had an experience with my former partner where we saw a large UFO, things went murky over the next 45 mins, we then woke up the next morning in bed at 10am. I was awoken by my ex girlfriend saying "look at this" as she proceeded to show me a large lump on the side of her nose. If you put a finger up the nostril you could feel a metallic object of some kind. That is really all there is to say, apart from this horrible smell that was in my nostrils for a couple of days. Oh and also terrible nose bleeds. I also had some synchronistic and psychic type of experiences over the coming months, far more than ever before. We also appeared to have a psychic connection, more so than we had before.

    In that factual (as best as I can recall) narrative there is about 10 hours of missing time, I have no idea how much of that was sleep. I'm not saying all cases of abduction are the same but...

    Enter: the wider cultural narrative.
    Enter: hypnosis.

    We fill in the blanks to fit our cultural expectations and folklore.

    Most people in mainstream ufology are guilty of:

    a) an almost total lack of objective research regarding this


    b) furthering the cultural and folkloric narrative, either by accident or design.

    How does anybody know what happened in those missing hours? The fact is they don't, and no so called "expert" has any more idea than the next person. I can't even say I was abducted for certain, but the experts will tell you otherwise.

    It's time to draw a line in this nonsense that passes for abduction research (which more or less stemmed from a handful of individuals) and start approaching this in a far more objective way. We all deserve better.

  6. Perhaps the best way to get witness testimony is to interview them using proper police interrogation techniques. they have been developed over the past century and usually experienced users are able to get good results.

    Anytime UFO investigators use hypnosis I doubt everything that comes from the investigations. I especially doubt the Hill case.

    Most people should know that as the interviews and hypnosis sessions went on, their collective story changed in nearly every aspect, from where they first saw the "craft" to what they experienced inside of it.

    This article is a good antidote for those who are "addicted" to using hypnosis as a method of retrieving memories. What is most often "retrieved" are the expectations that the investigator has for the case. People under hypnosis usually want to give them what they want, not necessarily what they experienced.

    1. "Proper" police interrogation techniques are designed to obtain confessions to crimes, not valid qualitative data on complexly nuanced witness experiences. Standard interrogation practices can easily lead to detailed false confessions by innocent people. The literature here is complex and I no longer follow it, but Gisli Gudjonsson's work is probably a good starting point. Not using hypnosis, while hopefully obvious, is not a guarantee of validity of anything. Personally I would like to see experiencers approached and interviewed in depth as subject matter experts as part of initial steps in any investigation.

  7. This is a most interesting interview and clarification as to what hypnotic regression is and is not. The holy grail of the UFO community and even outside of it is of course the Hill case. I don't think that the hypnoses results and the opinion of Dr Simon are 100% proof that nothing happened to the Hills that night in New Hampshire, but it certainly does not back it up. I have seen other results in the UFO community where myths turn into Hangar 1 episodes and alike, and now appear to be reality. Any "belief" without evidence can be greatly distorted and all you have to do is look at our societal histories, religions and cults. Thank you! Martin Willis

    1. Hi, Martin,

      Yes, regressive hypnosis as an investigative tool is extremely problematic. In the case of the Hills, I'm under the impression that a couple of key issues include:

      - Simon was never intending the mental imagery to be indicative of objective reality, but reportedly arose during treatment of trauma, and

      - Simon's reported treatment and resulting professional opinions have long been twisted to affirm unfounded conclusions.

      I'd agree those points do not in and of themselves provide conclusions, yet I do identify them as of course relevant in a sincere search for answers. Thanks for your comments, and thanks again for having me on Podcast UFO. It was a pleasure!

  8. Mr. Brewer: Have you heard of the current academic research study being conducted by a team of 5 retired professors and 5 lay researchers of the Dr. Edgar Mitchell Foundation for Research into Extraterrestrial Encounters (FREE), The Experiencer Research Study. Because of the many problems you have stated in your book about the "problems" of conducting scientific research using hypnotherapy, the FREE organization decided over two years ago to undertake our surveys, questionnaires, and interviews without the use of hypnotherapy, Lucid Dreams, Channeling and other types of memory recollections used by MUFON and other UFO researchers. FREE only used "Conscious Explicit Memory" and not memory recollection through Hypnosis and other types of memory recollection. As of December 1, 2015, FREE has received almost 3,000 responses to our surveys in the English and Spanish Language. The Executive Director of FREE is Dr. Rudy Schild, Emeritus Professor of Astrophysics at Harvard University and a close colleague of the late Dr. John Mack. The Co-Chairs of our research study are two retired professors, Dr. Jon Klimo, professor of Psychology and Dr. Bob Davis, a retired professor of Neuroscience. All of our Research Data and Methodology is available on our Website: http://experiencer.org/survey/

    Dr. Brewer: Do you believe that some individuals have had UFO related contact with non human intelligent beings? I would enjoy a chat with you to see how you would conduct research into this phenomenon. My email is: EXPERIENCER.CO@gmail.com

    Thank you.

    Rey Hernandez, JD, MCP, Ph.D. Candidate UC Berkeley
    The Dr. Edgar Mitchell
    Foundation for Research into Extraterrestrial Encounters (FREE)
    Email: EXPERIENCER.CO@gmail.com

    1. Mr. Hernandez,

      Yes, I am aware of your group. You have sent me emails requesting assistance on many occasions.

      You wrote, "Because of the many problems you have stated in your book about the 'problems' of conducting scientific research using hypnotherapy, the FREE organization decided over two years ago to undertake our surveys, questionnaires, and interviews without the use of hypnotherapy, Lucid Dreams, Channeling and other types of memory recollections used by MUFON and other UFO researchers."

      Good for you. I remain unclear how that stance works out with having colleagues in your org who heavily employ hypnosis, but it's your group and you can run it how you want.

      "Dr. Brewer: Do you believe that some individuals have had UFO related contact with non human intelligent beings?"

      First of all, I'm not a doctor. I quote qualified professionals in my research and rely on their expertise and work histories in forming my opinions.

      Second, I don't think what I "believe" has anything to do with identifying and conducting legitimate scientific or professional quality research. Beliefs are not a part of such processes, but, to address your question, given the fact that contact with intelligent non-human beings has not been established as an objective occurrence, I would at best have to suspend judgment on the issue. I'm willing to consider that select reports of high strangeness and UFOs may have answers yet to be more thoroughly understood, but I try to allow credible research to guide my conclusions more than beliefs.

      Lastly, while I can appreciate the efforts FREE may be making in its methodologies and practices of recognizing evidence, it's difficult to take those efforts seriously when the very name of the org implies a foregone conclusion, "extraterrestrial encounters." Best of luck with your efforts, but, pending significant changes of direction, it's difficult to not see FREE as more of the problem than the solution, or at the least enabling it. Hopefully that will change.