Since I began this blog, I have often attempted to keep my subject matter relevant to current events. I noticed a story earlier today that was trending about hypnosis that I thought might be good to address. Of course, no news is good news, so forgive me if the post comes across as at all defensive.
Earlier this week, a Florida school board reached a settlement with 3 families of students who had passed away shortly after they had each been hypnotized by their principal, George Kenney. Two students committed suicide after a hypnosis session with Kenny (one the day after the session), and another student died in a car crash shortly after Kenney taught him self-hypnosis. These events took place in 2011, and Kenney was put on leave before resigning in 2012. The school board reached a $600,000 settlement, $200,000 for each family.
I’ve read several news articles and done some research on hypnosis laws in Florida, and I thought I would briefly share what I have gleaned. The investigation reported that Kenney had practiced hypnosis on at least 75 students and faculty members on issues like test taking anxiety, athletic performance, and anger management, most commonly. Kenney claims that the students he hypnotized gave parental consent, including the 2 students who committed suicide (apparently even one of the students had a parent present during the session). Kenney would often do presentations for classes and groups of students on the topic of hypnosis. However, the principal’s superior claims that Kenney was ordered to stop doing hypnotherapy sessions with students. Kenney’s lawyers claim that he was recommended that he quit hypnotizing students, but that no formal or written order was issued. Kenney pleaded no contest, but was charged with two misdemeanors, including practicing therapeutic hypnosis without a license. He had to serve one year of probation and eventually, lost his teaching license.
I feel like it’s important to note that, to many, Kenney was a respected member of the community. The senior class tried to petition to have him come to their graduation, and the student body attempted to petition to have him reinstated as principal. It’s easy for us to read a small news clip from across the country and make a judgment, but this man seemed to be loved by his school.
It’s also important to note that while Kenney was charged with practicing therapeutic hypnosis without a license, there was no evidence or reason to believe that the hypnosis played a role in causing the deaths, despite what the families’ lawyer would have you believe. The families’ lawyer claimed that Kenney was manipulating young, impressionable minds (as if that’s not what school was all about; that’s how learning works), and the families held him responsible. However, Kenney claimed that he had no knowledge that the 2 students had any interest in suicide, and there’s no way of proving that self-hypnosis would have anything to do with a car wreck.
Now, don’t mistake me as speaking against the school board’s ruling. Every state has different regulations as to how hypnosis can be practiced. Florida requires that anyone who performs hypnosis in a therapeutic capacity be licensed by the state in some respective health field. Most courts might agree that being a high school principal doesn’t constitute as being a health service provider. Add on the fact that the victims in question were minors, and you have a losing case or settlement on your hands.
That’s still not enough to hold Kenney responsible for these teenager’s deaths. I’m not ruling out the possibility that hypnosis could be the catalyst for a death, weather accidental or self-inflicted. Enough study of the human mind has lead me to believe that under the right (or wrong) circumstances, anyone could be coerced into doing anything, so I don’t like to rule out the possibility completely. However, I will say that’s an incredibly difficult hypnotic suggestion to make on purpose (or much less, by accident), and I can’t imagine what motive Kenney would have had for giving such a devious suggestion.
Furthermore, I feel like it should be acknowledged that accidents and suicides are two of the most common causes of deaths for teenagers. It seems like at least 96% of people he has hypnotized haven’t died yet. On the contrary, the majority of the people he hypnotized seemed to learn a useful skill.
The school board settling was a reasonable decision, given the laws in Florida. It’s also important to be compassionate to the families who blame Kenney for the deaths of the three students. It’s not uncommon that families look for a target for their blame in the midst of their grief. I wish I could say that I was surprised that hypnosis was the target of blame, but unfortunately, it is still so unknown and misunderstood that it doesn’t surprised me to see the subject as a scapegoat. Still, it’s a natural, uncomplicated process, and a good man’s reputation is ruined for trying to share it with others. I guess you’ll just have to put up with these mini-rants until the world knows better!