In helping crime victims and witnesses recover both their emotional balance and memories, forensic hypnosis provides law enforcement with vital information and leads allowing them to bring resolution to their unsolved cases.
In Marion County, Oregon, in an aggravated assault case, the victim came to see us for severe anxiety and PTSD following the attack. Bleeding from the nose and mouth, her jaw fractured, the victim had no recollection of the attack, who had assaulted her, or even wandering her neighborhood streets in a state of shock until she was found by a neighbor. Her memory of being brought to the hospital itself was vague and foggy.
Our primary goal was to stabilize the victim’s emotional state. The secondary goal was to retrieve her memories of the attack to assist law enforcement with their ongoing investigation.
In a state of hypnosis, the victim was able to remember the time of the attack, the details of the room where the assault took place and seeing her husband’s car in the driveway during the timeframe of the attack. The information collected enabled law enforcement to pursue this specific lead and the husband, who already had a history of physical abuse in the marriage, was later found guilty of the assault.
The victim had blocked the memory of her assailant out of her mind, in part due to the traumatic nature of the assault and also because of a fear of what would happen to her if her husband was found guilty and sent to jail. Stress, fear and trauma can affect the normal functioning of our memory in a number of ways. In some cases, the traumatic event in itself can be repressed partially or entirely from the conscious memory. In other cases, while memories of the traumatic event remain intact, post-traumatic stress disorder can lead to subsequent troubles in the person’s capacity to focus, process, comprehend and retain information following the trauma.
When not properly addressed, memories of the traumatic event can start replaying in the mind in the form of intrusive and uncontrollable thoughts. The feeling, commonly referred to as broken record, is common in post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression.
In addition to helping crime victims and witnesses recover the missing pieces of their memories, hypnosis enables us to address the secondary effects left behind by trauma and empower survivors to recover their emotional balance, strength and peace of mind.
This week, the forensic interview of a key witness in a murder case, held in my office, allowed criminal defense to recover vital leads and missing information pertaining to their investigation, as we witnessed once again, the impeccable functioning of the human brain in the subconscious state. For over a decade, the witness had been unable to remember this critical information.
Within minutes, in the state of hypnosis, the witness was reliving the events of that day, as they had unfolded, many years ago. Shivering as he remembered how chilly the temperature was, the witness began recounting the sounds, scents, sights and every minute detail of that day, as clearly as if it were taking place at the very moment. As the family of the witness was going about their activities, we heard what they were wearing, what they were doing, and where they were positioned as the day progressed.
Then came the gunshots, one after the other, deafening explosions tearing through space. The adults instantly shielding the children, and our witness on the phone with 911 within seconds, repeating every word, every detail of the conversation, while he followed the perpetrators, heart racing, as they jumped into their getaway vehicle.
We were able to obtain precise information on various identifying details, from the perpetrators’ heights and builds, to the color of their skin, the styles, looks and shades of their clothing and what they carried with them as they fled the scene.
We heard the screeching turn of the getaway vehicle as it sped through the curve, in front of our witness, slowed down to regain control, and accelerated again down the straightaway. Moving through our questioning, the witnessed described the vehicle in great details, its color, style and model, its condition, emblems, wheels and other peculiarities.
“Did you get a chance to see the license plate?” I asked.
“I did,” the witness responded.
At this moment, I made the choice to switch the interview from verbal response to ideo-motor response. Considered by experts to be more reliable than verbal response, IMR enables to bypass conscious interference. We all know when we try too hard to remember something, we usually accomplish the very opposite. IMR allows us to keep the witness in a state of deep relaxation, while enabling the information to surface effortlessly.
Ideo-Motor Response (IMR) refers to the process whereby thoughts or mental images are brought forth through seemingly automatic or reflexive muscular reactions, often of a minuscule degree, outside of the conscious awareness of the subject. The term comes from “ideo” for idea or mental representation, and “motor” for muscular action. Similarly to the ideo-dynamic responses (or reflexes) we experience when we salivate at the idea or sight of food, IMR is a psychophysiological process.
I addressed our witness: “In a moment, I am going to ask you a series of questions. If the answer is yes, I’d like you to raise the index finger of your right hand as so (I demonstrated by lifting his index finger), until I press it back down. If the answer is no / N-O (I spell out the letters to avoid potential confusion with “know”), I’d like you to raise your pinkie finger on the same hand as so (demonstrating), until I bring it down. Do you understand”? The witness nodded.
I began with a couple of test questions to ensure the witness had correctly understood me: “At this moment, you are located at our center in Lake Oswego. Is that correct?” The witness’ right index finger went up, indicating a yes. “Did you commute to our center here via helicopter?” His pinkie finger went up, indicating a no. We had an understanding.
I continued: “License plates are usually composed of letters and numbers. Looking at the first digit on the plate, is it a number?” Our witness’ index finger rose instantly. “Is it number 1?” The witness’ pinkie finger rose up.
I proceeded by elimination until we had identified the plate’s first digit. We moved to the second digit, and got it. Then to the third, and got it.
Things got interesting when we began with the fourth digit. “Is it a number?” I asked. The pinkie finger rose to indicate a “No.” “Is it a letter?” The same pinkie finger rose again, indicating another “No.”
I paused, startled. The witness’ face remained completely unexpressive, peaceful, relaxed, not indicating any reaction whatsoever. I repeated the questions: “Is it a number?” No. “Is it a letter?” No.
I switched back to verbal and asked the witness: “What is the 4th symbol on the plate?” He answered: “The tree” giving us an Oregon license plate and the solid demonstration of excellent depth. The witness was communicating verbatim the succession of details his eyes noticed on the plate at that moment in time. Anyone in the conscious state would have smiled, laughed or smirked at my line of questioning and momentary puzzlement. However, it is well known that while in the subconscious level of the mind, we respond solely and directly to each question asked. If you ask someone in a deep state of hypnosis if they know what time it is, they will tell you no (or yes, if they just happened to hear the chiming of a clock). If you ask them if they could look at their watch to tell you, they will simply respond yes (if they have a watch), or no (if they don’t). They will not look at their watch. They will merely respond that indeed they could. Once the logical, thinking, planning, reasoning, analytical, conscious part of the mind is bypassed, you are dealing with the subconscious part of the mind, which corresponds in many ways to the mind of a two year-old. The subconscious mind responds simply and directly to questions without analyzing them.
Note, the use of ideo-motor response can only be done with subjects in a deep state of hypnosis.
So why do we consistently and reliably have superior memory retrieval in the state of hypnosis? According to neuroscientists, the deep, attentive, physical, mental and emotional relaxation experienced during hypnosis, as we slow our brain wave cycles, produces significant increases in endorphin levels (our body’s natural opiate system), dopamine and norepinephrine levels (enhancing focus and attention), producing higher levels of mental clarity, better brain functioning and superior memory capabilities. Cortisol (the steroid hormone produced by the brain under stress, tension, fear and anxiety, and which tends to alter our focus and concentration abilities) drops down significantly. Electroencephalogram (EEG) and Functional MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) studies of the brain before, during and after hypnosis demonstrate the physiological, chemical and hormonal changes naturally occurring during hypnosis.
The hypnotic state is also characterized by profound physical, mental and emotional relaxation. As our muscles, tissues, cells and nerves relax, blood vessels loosen. Our blood is able to flow more fluidly and effortlessly through our entire body, carrying vital oxygen to our brain and essential nutrients to our vital organs.
This creates an ideal state for synthetic thought and creativity, functions of the right brain hemisphere, placing us in an optimal condition to learn new information, remember facts and data, memorize languages, analyze complex situations, all of which in a state of profound, restorative calm. According to Senior Special Agent John Kilnapp of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, hypnosis may be the only way to recover the details of a traumatic event crime victims blocked out of their mind.
In addition to helping crime victims and witnesses recover critical information, sometimes missing from their conscious memories for multiple years, hypnosis allows us to address the secondary effects left behind by trauma and enable survivors to finally recover their emotional balance and peace of mind.