Because I'm a pain management physician, patients sometimes ask me about non-medicinal alternatives to pain control. Being that I want to help them minimize their use of narcotics (due to the risk of addiction and other adverse consequences of narcotic use), I try to answer their questions as well as I can.
First, let me give you the short answer to the question I posed in the title of this article: yes. Both hypnosis and meditation could be dangerous.
Now, here's my longer answer, which I amended after having read thought-provoking comments from CP readers. Their comments led me to rewrite this post because I realized I didn't broadcast my point of view clearly. I hope this is clearer: both meditation and hypnosis could be either hurtful or helpful for certain people in certain situations, depending on several tricky factors. In the case of meditation, whether it's helpful or hurtful depends on what thoughts you meditate on! If you meditate on Scripture, how could meditation be a bad thing?
As Christians, we’re trained to quickly reject anything that sounds like Eastern religion, such as the concept of “meditation” (e.g. “transcendental meditation). But the reality is even King David meditated. He said, "I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word" (Ps. 119:15-16).” The difference lies in what David meditated on. He focused his deep thoughts on God's goodness.
To “meditate” means to think deeply upon. You can meditate on things that are wise and good and true, like Scripture and biblical truth, or you can meditate on negative thoughts that lead you into bitterness, depression, agitation, and poor health. It’s not the act of meditation per se that determines if the act is good or bad for you or right or wrong. It’s the subject matter on which you meditate that’s important.
In contrast, hypnosis could be helpful or hurtful depending the skill level and intentions of your therapist or counselor. If he or she attempts to sway your thinking or "control" your mind, you obviously need to run the other way. But if he or she is a like-minded Christian believer and is trained to "get out of the way" and simply help you to relax deeply so you get over your anxiety (or other negative, impeding emotions) and better receive God's revelation knowledge and Truth, I suppose it can be quite helpful.
Am I saying that hypnosis is advisable? Let me repeat my viewpoint another way: there are so many variables (and potential dangers) that I would not make a blanket recommendation for it. But, as a physician, I believe, on balance, it could be right in for certain cases for certain individuals. The main problem is you can't ever really know the true nature of your counselor. I'd have to know the counselor very, very well and trust him or her a whole lot to pursue it (not to mention believe that God gave me a green light to proceed).
Let me back up for a second and explain what I mean by "hypnosis." Hypnosis is a method for helping you achieve deep relaxation. It has been applied successfully (i.e. good quality research studies support its efficacy) in the areas of pain management, weight loss, smoking cessation, and the treatment of addictions, fears, phobias, conversion disorder, and other emotional conditions. The only exception is depression. Hypnosis doesn't seem to ameliorate that.
While many ideas abound as to exactly how hypnosis works, many suggest it allows you to decrease your attention on peripheral sensations and focus your attention on selected dominant ideas. My belief is if the "dominant" idea is the quest for God's truth through Scripture, it could be used for your good.
What's your belief? Do you believe God could take something from the East, and modify it to be used for your good? Keep in mind the strict definition we're talking about is hypnosis as deep relaxation, not any form of "thought insertion," which is exceedingly unethical and potentially dangerous.