When Hypnotists Duel, Who Blinks First?

Gil Boyne of the American Council of Hypnotist Examiners writes:

I was dismayed to read your column which gave publicity and promotion to Bruce Goldberg, although I am certain you are unaware of his very unsavory past. For your information, I am supplying the enclosed newspaper stories. Please inform your media associates as to the “hidden dark side” of this person.

Look into my eyes. I’m the fellow whose picture appears alongside these words. Look deeply, very deeply. The eyes are the windows to the soul. Read my words. Read deeply, very deeply. You are falling under my spell. You are becoming my word slave. You will continue reading until the end of this paragraph.

Impressive, isn’t it? And to think, I’ve never studied hypnotism, though, as Mr. Boyne notes, I did recently write about a session with dentist-turned-hypnotist Bruce Goldberg of Woodland Hills. If you take Goldberg at his word, he not only helps patients explore past lives but future lives as well--into the 36th Century, even. Readers may recall that he had me imagining a past life as an 18th-Century ship’s mate from England and as a 21st-Century Greek businessman, who actually seemed like a very boring guy.

Mr. Boyne is the executive director of a group that has the unfortunate acronym ACHE. It’s based in Glendale and its letterhead includes a logo of an eyeball. He’s right in saying I didn’t know much about Goldberg’s background, but it wasn’t a surprise to learn that it’s controversial.


Nor was it surprising that Goldberg, when asked about Boyne, had a few unkind things to say in turn.

Dueling hypnotists. Walk 10 paces, turn and stare. Who would blink first?

Boyne sent copies of Baltimore Sun articles describing how, in an earlier phase of his current life, Goldberg was in 1988 convicted of a misdemeanor count of practicing psychology without a license in Maryland and given a six-month suspended sentence. The reports also note an allegation that Goldberg “locked a woman in his home” until she paid $120 for a one-hour visit. And, most disturbing, there was the reference to a 1985 lawsuit filed by a former patient who alleged that Goldberg “took sexual advantage against her will and caused her to suffer psychiatric injury.”

The implication is that Goldberg was run out of Maryland. His own attorney is quoted as telling the judge: “I can have him on a horse and out of town by sundown. Some Western states are more receptive to his style of practice.”

Aren’t we, though?

Goldberg was quick to offer a point-by-point response:

--The Maryland Board of Examiners of Psychologists waged an unjust vendetta against him, in part because they were unhappy with his controversial “past life regression” sessions and his knack for getting on shows like “Donahue” and “Oprah Winfrey.”

--The woman whom he charged $120 for a one-hour visit had earlier agreed to a three-hour $360 session and had misrepresented her interests in seeing him.

--The alleged sexual misconduct never occurred. The suit, Goldberg says, was filed by a former patient who had developed an obsessive attraction to him and was angry over his rejection of her advances. She ultimately dropped the suit.

--He had always dreamed of living in California anyway.

Goldberg, for his part, characterized Boyne’s letter as part of “a smear campaign” and then proceeded to do a little smearing himself. (Suffice to say that I don’t want to be named in a libel suit.) Not only may they compete for clients, Goldberg said, but they represent rival factions in the grand struggle for the soul of hypnotherapy.

Goldberg faxed me a copy of the Hypno-Gram, published by the National Guild of Hypnotists in Merrimack, N.H. The newsletter offers a survey of court and legislative battles concerning hypnosis. There seems to be a boiling pot of alphabet stew all claiming to represent the legitimate interests in the field. There’s an ASCH and AIH to go with ACHE and NGH.

Well, perhaps somebody should try to sort it all out and help readers discriminate between the shamans and the shams. But I have to beg off. Obviously, being a hypo-columnist myself, it would be inappropriate.

It occurred to me, however, that I know as little about Boyne as I did about Goldberg. When I called Monday, a secretary said he was in a meeting and would have to call me back. Alas, deadline is approaching, and he still hasn’t phoned to assure me that there are no skeletons in his closet.

So Boyne’s brief letter will have to speak for itself. The information about Goldberg, he wrote, “is in keeping with the established policy of the American Council of Hypnotist Examiners to constantly focus upon raising the standards of the profession of Hypnotherapy.” And I asked one of our crack librarians to check Times’ files. There wasn’t much on Boyne, though a free-lancer in 1986 once made a passing reference to “Gil Boyne’s respected Hypnotism Training Institute in Glendale.”

The only other mention, on Feb. 9, 1989, described Boyne’s appearance on a TV news program. Boyne attempted to hypnotize any members of the Los Angeles Clippers who might have been watching before a game against the Houston Rockets.

“Maybe it worked,” the writer noted, “since the Clippers won, 114-111.”

Any time the Clippers win, it’s spooky.

Just one more thing.

You may stop reading now.

Scott Harris’ column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.