NPHTI Commentary and Recommendations about Recent Court Settlement in Florida

Recently the Huffington Post offered the following sensational headline: “Families Of Teens Who Died After Hypnosis By Principal Will Get $600,000” Does that get your attention?   These tragic events surely got ours in a very negative way.

According to an NBC News article (October 8, 2015 by M. Alex Johnson) entitled, “Florida Schools Settle With Parents of Teen Who Died After Hypnosis,” the school principal, Mr. Kenney, pleaded no contest to practicing therapeutic hypnosis without a license and resigned in June 2012:

A 134-page independent investigative report released by the school board in 2011 revealed that Kenney had trained at a hypnosis center in Florida and was a member of multiple national hypnotists’ group” (emphasis added).

It is our intent to to make a strong differentiation between clinical hypnosis training offered by NPHTI (and affiliated professional societies as detailed below) and so-called “hypnosis” as detailed in the recent case in Florida. We want to convey accurate information about the use of clinical hypnosis with young people (children and adolescents). Our comments below are a response to what we think has been irresponsible and inaccurate journalism (both print and internet), apparently designed to sensationalize; and obviously written with inaccurate and misleading information regarding what hypnosis is and is not.  

We have carefully reviewed the ‘facts’ as known and reported in the Herald Tribune and other sources, and encourage interested readers to carefully scrutinize those reports for themselves after reading our commentary.   Should you choose to read the various reader comments that follow the Herald Tribune article, you will find that none are written by health professionals; all are very ‘reactive’ and as such a testimonial to the risks of sensationalized reporting.

We have concluded that:

  • There is nothing in the facts reported to date that links hypnosis itself to the tragic deaths of the three teenagers in Florida. However, the hypnotic experiences provided to the teenagers by the school principal were clearly unsupervised, unethical, conducted outside of a clinical or psychotherapeutic setting, and/or illegal under Florida statute.
  • The person ‘doing’ the hypnosis, former High School Principal George Kenney is not, and was not, a licensed health care professional, and did not have any license to practice clinical hypnosis in the State of Florida. While he reportedly was “a member of multiple national hypnotists’ groups,” these must have been so-called lay hypnotist organizations. His lack of clinical credentials would have prevented him from any training in Clinical Hypnosis from our National Pediatric Hypnosis Training Institute (NPHTI), or from the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) or its regional Component Sections, or from the Society for Experimental and Clinical Hypnosis (SCEH).
  • It is a long-standing ethical principle of Clinical Hypnosis of NPHTI, ASCH, and SCEH that licensed health care practitioners who have been trained in the skills of clinical hypnosis must utilize clinical hypnosis ONLY within the context of the specific field of health care in which they are licensed. Even experts in hypnosis who have had hundreds of hours of training and many years of experience are to practice clinical hypnosis only within their specialty and their individual scope of usual clinical practice as defined by that specialty — whether that is clinical medicine, clinical psychology, clinical social work, nursing, marital and family therapy, dentistry, podiatry, chiropractic, child life, speech therapy and audiology, occupational and physical therapy, or other health care fields.
  • NPHTI participants know that enrolling in NPHTI Workshops requires an active license to practice in their field of health care, a minimum of a Masters’ degree in their field, and that their training will be in the appropriate and ethical use and application of Hypnosis. Specific training in ethics is a mandatory part of, and integrated within all aspects of, our skill-development workshops.
  • Thus, it is very important and significant to make a clear distinction between what these youngsters experienced in a private, unsupervised setting with an unlicensed layman inappropriately and illegally utilizing hypnosis, and what we as ethical, licensed health care professionals do in providing clinical hypnosis education and therapeutic guidance in a health care context.

Our response at NPHTI to this situation is thus the same as the things we say to our patients and colleagues when we are discussing and educating them about what hypnosis is and is not. As we consistently teach on the first morning of, and throughout, our 3-day Introductory Workshops — we must always focus upon the ethical and appropriate use of hypnosis with our child and adolescent patients: a) by whom, and b) under what appropriate circumstances.   For further reading, we suggest an evidence-based review of Pediatric Clinical Hypnosis (e.g., by NPHTI co-founders and co-directors Daniel P. Kohen, M.D.,FAAP, ABMH and Pamela Kaiser, Ph.D., CPNP, CNS, “Clinical Hypnosis with Children and Adolescents – What? Why? How? : Origins Applications, and Efficacy” – free full text link).


Daniel P. Kohen, M.D.,FAAP, ABMH and Pamela Kaiser, Ph.D., CPNP, CNS

Co-founders & Co-directors, NPHTI


Andrew Barnes, M.D., MPH

Webmaster and Listserve Manager, NPHTI

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