A tragic case has been settled in Florida regarding the deaths of three high school students who were said to have been “hypnotised” by a former school official.
Because of this settlement, the case did not go to trial but it SHOULD have considering that there is no evidence that “hypnosis” had anything to do with this. However, there are some problems with what happened and the school would likely not have wanted this case to continue and incur the associated legal fees to bring in expert witnesses.
An attorney representing the three families said that parents didn’t want money, just accountability, saying that George Kenney, the former Principle, “altered the underdeveloped brains of teenagers, and they all ended up dead because of it.”
The latter is almost certainly a false claim. Since it didn’t go to court, there was no proof needed.
Kenney was not licensed to use hypnosis nor did he ask permission from the parents. It’s reported that Kenney was charged with two misdemeanors in 2012 for practicing therapeutic hypnosis without a license. That is a legitimate issue. Kenney never admitted wrongdoing even though the Executive Director of the District warned Kenney “at least three times not to practice hypnosis unless it was a demonstration in a psychology class and he had written parent permission from each student.”
All three students, however, had other circumstances that appeared to have come into play with regards to their deaths. One crashed his car after a dental procedure. Two others committed suicide. The media report states these two were anxious or seriously stressed over specific personal issues. Sadly, suicide rates are about 11 out of 100,000 in adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24. It is not rare.
There is not enough information given to the public (which is understandable) to comprehensively judge the kids’ causes of death or the background circumstances that may have led to it.
A logical reading of what happened is that Kenney was trying to help the hundreds of kids in the school deal with their personal troubles in a productive way. He ended up a scapegoat for three sets of devastated parents trying to make sense of their tragedies. Yet, it is arguable that Kenney should have applied this technique to his students without training or permission. If they had mental health issues, he was not qualified to deal with that.
As someone who has personally undergone a session with a hypnotherapist as well as using guided meditation techniques with my own children, I will state that it can be useful in achieving a sense of control over anxiety, nausea and pain, and can help to clear out troubling thoughts that impair concentration. So, it can be a tool for some that is supported by scientific data. It is not “mind control”. Because of the misunderstanding of how it works, the power of hypnosis is exaggerated and often blamed for strange behavior and events. It does not work the way it is portrayed in popular culture. The media will latch onto stories of victims who claim to have been under a Svengali-like spell but hypnosis is not some magical state to take over a person. It’s incredible that this story went the way it did.
We’ve had several stories where hypnosis was suggested as playing a part in robberies:
Kids in a public situation can be susceptible to suggestion as can adults in a private and seemingly safe situation. All of the cases reported in the media that we’ve seen have left out some critical thinking about hypnosis and important other details that played a role.
A goal of this site is to highlight the problems of news stories like this so that people might realize that the claims are backed by unsupported allegations and pseudoscience. You are not getting the whole story but that is the one that is propagated to the public who then continues to buy into a false idea. That’s not an efficient way for an informed society to operate.
Tip: Brian Dunning of Skeptoid Media