Bob Shell: Hypnosis-Good or Evil?

Illustration of man having been hypnotized
Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2022

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2022


Hypnosis-Good or Evil?


In spite of the fact that hypnosis, originally called Mesmerism, was discovered by Anton Mesmer around 200 years ago, we still don’t know much about it or what it actually does. My father was interested in hypnosis, and had books about it that I read in my teens, but I don’t believe he ever actually tried to hypnotize anyone.

At my junior high school we once had a touring hypnotist present a program in which he did all the standard corny tricks, like making one girl go rigid and putting her across two chairs, head on one, heels on the other. He told one girl that her arm was attached to a helium balloon, and, sure enough, her arm went up over her head. He told her that the balloon would still be lifting her arm after he woke her up, and she just sat there, arm high, until he said, “you can lower your arm now.”. She started, and was amazed because she hadn’t realized her arm was up there until he told her to bring it down. 

We used to have a lot of assemblies like that, where traveling showmen would put on demonstrations. Another was “Bob Brown’s Science Circus,” that came around once a year.

Anyway, that show was my first experience with real hypnosis. I was suitably amazed and impressed, even though most of his tricks were silly.

I pretty much forgot about the subject until college, when I took a psychology course and the textbook had a section on hypnosis. I decided to give it a whirl. As it turned out, my roommate was an excellent subject and went into a trance easily. We played with it for a while, but I began to feel uncomfortable because I saw how easily it could be misused.

You’ve probably heard the statement that no one can make you do anything under hypnosis that you wouldn’t do otherwise. I’m here to tell you that that’s Grade A number one gold-plated bullshit! There was a famous court case in England against a doctor who was hypnotizing women and sending them out to commit robberies for him. None of those women would have done anything like that normally. But under his hypnotic command they would do anything he told them to. 

There are things about hypnosis that simply cannot be explained by conventional theory. One is the invisibility trick, in which someone is hypnotized and told that another person in the room isn’t there. When they are awakened from the trance they simply will not see that person. Not only will they not see that person, they can see through them and correctly identify objects held behind the person. You may say, “Nonsense!”. So would I until I saw this phenomenon demonstrated.

In one demonstration the hypnotist held a watch behind the “invisible” person and randomly twiddled the stem to put the hands in different positions. He then asked the subject what time the watch showed, and the subject identified it correctly every time.

Can anyone be hypnotized? I believe so, although some people are more resistant and the setting would have to be just right. There are drugs that facilitate hypnosis, but I believe that they are dangerous and could harm the subject. Similarly, I believe that hypnotizing a person too often may be harmful. 

The late Dolores Cannon hypnotized hundreds of people and wrote about her results in a series of books. She found hidden personalities under the surface personalities of her subjects. Much has been written about hypnotic regression to uncover traumatic events in a person’s past. Used carefully this can be very beneficial. But I’ve never undergone hypnosis myself, even though I’m pretty sure there was a major traumatic event in my childhood, because at this point in my life I’m just not sure it would do me any good to know what happened way back then. After all, at 72 I’m pretty set in my ways!


 About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author, former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine and veteran contributor to this blog. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read additional articles by Bob Shell, click here:

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on Here’s the link:  

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