I love the field research process (it’s the reporter in me that refuses to die) and LAST WORDS led me to some stranger places than even I’d anticipated. The caves, I thought I was ready for. I had not anticipated undergoing hypnosis, however. But the more I read about memory, the more interested in it I became.
There are a few case studies that inspired the hypnosis elements in LAST WORDS, in particular an investigation where a woman who’d been abducted was adamant that she couldn’t recall anything about the vehicle she’d been in, despite numerous rounds of questioning and numerous approaches. Then, in hypnosis, she not only came up with a clear memory but drew a picture of the vehicle that allowed it to be identified. A famous case is the Chowchilla kidnappings in 1976, when 26 children and their bus driver were kidnapped. Later, the bus driver recalled almost all of the license plate of the suspect vehicle – but only under hypnosis, and then he remembered the numbers in reverse because he’d seen them in a mirror. That case ought to give skeptics pause. (The hypnotist in this case, Dr. William Kroger, is a fascinating story himself).
At times, police departments in New York, Los Angeles, and Boston had dedicated hypnosis units. Those times are mostly gone. The debate over whether hypnosis can be used effectively to recreate a lost memory and the legal risks of using hypnosis in the courtroom or for investigation has greatly reduced its use in law enforcement circles. I spoke to one veteran prosecutor who was candid about his belief in the validity of hypnosis as a tool in major crime cases but said he is reluctant to use it because he feels doing so is teeing up a reversal upon appeal. His written arguments both for and against the admission of hypnosis evidence in criminal cases were great fodder for LAST WORDS, but there’s no substitute for experience, so I sought out a hypnotist to give things a whirl.
I told Rima Montoya, of Bloomington, IN, that I had two concerns: I was skeptical that it would really work, and, if it did work, I was afraid she’d pull the wrong subconscious wire and it would mess up the book.
The experience only helped the book, and as for my skepticism, that vanished pretty fast when I heard a voice counting upward to 10 and my only memory was “hang on, a minute ago we were going down from 10.” That minute had actually been an hour.
Initially, I wanted to conceive of a memory test – to give an account of a remembered event under hypnosis and then see how it matched up with reality. The problem there was in coming up with an event I had recorded, one that had an indisputable reality, as opposed to just conflicting memories. When I went looking for a video record, I couldn’t find anything more interesting than interviews and panel discussions, though. I searched for courtroom transcript of a time I testified in a criminal case during my PI days but couldn’t locate it. Even that felt a little too tame. The type of event I was most interested in was one where there would have been a good amount of adrenaline – let’s see what I remember about the time I had to tranquilize that leopard (no, really, that incident was my first idea…read THE RIDGE for further explanation). But I didn’t have a recorded version of such an event, so it wouldn’t have been an accurate test. I can’t personally vouch for hypnosis as a tool in memory recovery, but what I can vouch for is hypnosis as a tool for insomnia. I’d been taking Ambien for a full decade when I asked Rima to focus the hypnosis sessions on sleep. I promptly began sleeping quickly and deeply, drug-free, after the first of three sessions, which was absolutely astounding to me. Now…it didn’t last. Three weeks, maybe a month, and then my old habits crept back in. But those weeks of easy sleeping were pretty remarkable, and I got some great background for the book out of the experience. I suspect if I returned to the approach it would work again, and perhaps for a longer period. But you can sleep when you’re dead, as they say…
My deepest gratitude to Rima, as she changed the book, endured a plethora of ridiculous questions with grace and patience, and helped me sleep! I would enthusiastically endorse hypnosis for any fellow insomniacs. Worst case, I think you’d emerge with the equivalent of a mental massage, and that ain’t bad.
I have two audio clips with Rima – the first a short interview about her approach, and the second a reading from LAST WORDS, her own take on the hypnosis induction scene I wrote. I’ve included the text so you can see what the words are and how she reads them. Very, very different, and, as she explains in the interview, very carefully designed. The clips are audio and not video because that’s how I want them experienced, as if from behind closed eyes, nothing but the voice out there.
You may close your eyes, if you wish…