Florida Teen Deaths – Hypnosis by School Principal

We are all naturally sympathetic to the families of three young people, who have suffered one of the worst losses any person ever has to face – the death of a child.

Their grief and loss deserve our compassion.  In addition to their bereavement, they also have the additional burden of wondering if their children were placed at unnecessary risk, in a setting which is intended for their protection and care – their school.

The laws governing the conduct of teachers are very strict, and rightly so.  The rules are quite clear on this – any extra-curricular activity which takes place on school premises, or under school’s authority, needs to have specific parental permission and also the approval of the school Board.

The existing rules for the protection of children do not need to be changed – the problem lies in the fact that in this case, they were not enforced.  There is no evidence that hypnosis contributed to the deaths of either of the two young people who committed suicide – but to grieving parents, doubt as to causes and precipitating factors is a terrible burden to bear.  After every suicide, relatives are likely to ask themselves over and over – was there anything that could have been done differently, that would have changed the outcome?  Where there has been clear disregard for the boundaries set in place for children’s protection, then parents have an additional burden to bear in this respect.

If two young people were known to a member of school staff to be highly distressed and/or suicidal, the provisions of existing regulations are that their parents should be informed and a referral made to professional services equipped to deal with this situation, such as a medical or psychiatric practitioner.  This is clearly within the guidelines of every serious professional hypnotherapy association and training organisation, not to provide services beyond one’s scope of practice.

It appears from press reports that the school principal in this case may have been a hypnosis enthusiast who studied some hypnotherapy materials and had taken a short training course in hypnotherapy.  It is not clear if he had undertaken any further training or was a current member of any serious hypnotherapy certification body.  It appears that his intentions were to help students and indeed he appears to have been popular in his school role.  It is therefore all the more unfortunate that the lack of boundaries in this case has led to conduct breaching both educational and hypnotherapy professional ethics and adding unnecessary burdens to parents.  It is not known to me at present, to what extent either of the young peoples’ troubles were known to their parents or under the care of a relevant professional, but a crucial question in these instances, of acute concern to the parents, is whether in providing inappropriate care, an opportunity was missed for appropriate care and possibly a different outcome.  Hypnotherapists do not undertake sole care of suicidal individuals, which is beyond their scope of practice.

It is therefore appropriate, in my opinion, for the school’s Board to acknowledge that the breach of rules has caused additional burdens to parents already grieving, and to agree a compensation for this.

In the case of the death of the third teenager, by an accident while driving, the question has been raised as to whether the young driver attempted self-hypnosis while driving.  If he did, and there is now no way of knowing whether he did or not, this is a clear breach of every understanding regarding self-hypnosis, which is issued as a standard warning by practitioners, and appears as a standard warning on self-hypnosis recordings.   One should not self-hypnotise while driving, any more than one should text, look behind you to talk to people in the back seat, or read a book.

Again, there is no need for a change in the rules.  The rules are clear, not only from hypnotherapy practice but also from the general law – when driving, do not engage in any attention-distracting activity, be it self-hypnosis or anything else.  If this unfortunate young man lost his life through a misjudgment of this kind, it is sadly one of many lives lost due to such momentary misjudgments, a human error.

The rules for the practice of hypnosis on minors are already clear and the present unfortunate situation results from the repeated breaching of these rules.  To reiterate

1.  A member of school staff needs parental and Board approval for any extra-curricular activity with a pupil.

2.  A hypnotherapy practitioner needs parental permission in order to have a hypnotherapy session with a minor, as with any service provider providing services to a minor.  This is clearly instructed within the ethical guidelines of serious hypnotherapy professional associations, and is also a matter of general law.

3.  Hypnotherapists / hypnotists must not undertake hypnotherapy / hypnotism with clients whose symptoms are beyond their scope of practice, and in such cases are obliged to refer to an appropriate practitioner.  These are fundamental requirements according to the Scope of Practice and Code of Ethics of serious hypnotherapy professional organisations.

It is unfortunate that due to a breach of clear existing guidelines, a tragic situation for three families has become a source of misinformation and confusion on hypnosis.

We hope that ACHE members and other professional hypnotherapists can be an influence in sending out clear and correct information about hypnotherapy and hypnotherapy practice instead.

With my best wishes

Dr. John Butler
American Council of Hypnotist Examiners


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