Florida Principal Under Fire After Performing Hypnosis on Two Students Who Later Committed Suicide

Florida High school principal George Kenney is under fire for using hypnosis on students — two of which later committed suicide. Kenney had been told by school officials not to use hypnosis on students, but parents have rallied to his side in the controversy.


Kenney is known as a principal who was willing to use his training in hypnosis to help students focus or, in one case, help a basketball player with his free throws. Supporters are saying that the suicides were simple tragic coincidences.

In one case in April, Kenney hypnotized a 16-year-old student Wesley McKinley to help him better focus on a test. The next day, the boy committed suicide. The parents, however, had given their permission for the hypnosis. He was, however, accused of initially lying about the use of hypnosis on another student who later committed suicide. Yet, in that earlier case, the mother of student Brittany Palumbo was present for the session.

There has been an outpouring of support for Kenney by the students and parents alike.

Kenney is the author of four books about using hypnosis in defeating test anxiety and mastering baseball and basketball skills.

The case could present interesting factual and legal causation problems if it results in civil litigation. The suggestion that hypnosis triggers suicide is likely to be opposed by many hypnotists and their organizations. Then there is the consent of the parents to these sessions.

Kenney, however, could be in more difficult problems with the school system which reportedly told him not to do such sessions with students.

15 thoughts on “Florida Principal Under Fire After Performing Hypnosis on Two Students Who Later Committed Suicide

  1. Reminds me of a history teacher I had in high school. After 15 minutes of droning on, most of the class was in a mindless trance.

  2. I don’t care what type of training the man has, hypnotism is not appropriate in a school setting.

  3. AY,

    Except for entertainment, hypnosis should be the province of ongoing therapy. It doesn’t work by the suggestions implanted in just one session and in fact the suggestions implanted may have unforeseen negative consequences. Principals are Administrators whose concern should be the effectiveness of their school in performing its educational role.

  4. AY,

    I’d be very concerned and upset if a principal had hypnotized my child without my permission–which I would never give.

    *****

    Mike S.,

    “Principals are Administrators whose concern should be the effectiveness of their school in performing its educational role.”

    You got that right!

  5. Hypnosis does not need to occur in the context of psychotherapy (I’m a clinical psychologist) and it often has been used to enhance athletic performance and as an adjunct to reducing test anxiety, etc. OTOH, it looks like it was not in the scope of whatever professional certification he has and requires supervision by a “medical professional” in Florida. Hypnosis should be done in the context of an assessment and it’s not clear what Kenney did to address this. Given his role as principal, it seems inappropriate for him to be getting involved with students in this way. he really should be fired.

  6. “Hypnosis does not need to occur in the context of psychotherapy (I’m a clinical psychologist)”

    Rich,

    Sorry if I implied that. I’m an institute trained psychotherapist with no training in hypnosis, therefore of course would never use it. It is the province of Clinical Psychologists and appropriately trained Psychiatrists. My point merely was that it shouldn’t be used as a one time, quick fix intervention and especially not by someone in this context.

  7. Mike Spindell,

    Given your comments on hypnotism and unintended consequences of planting thoughts in someone’s mind, I was wondering if you’d seen the film “Inception” and what you thought about it. It’s a little off topic, but your comments got me curious since the unintended consequences of planting a thought in someone’s mind is such a big part of that film’s plot.

  8. Adding to what Rich said above: Hypnosis should be done ethically and not as some kind of lark by the semi-trained and the untrained. If one is going to do hypnosis, there should be informed consent and signed releases. I doubt seriously either was done in this case.

    This principal was way out of line and I agree with Rich and others who feel he should be canned. I would think the school district would fire him as part of damage control, if nothing else. When something like this happens, it is important to act swiftly.

  9. “I was wondering if you’d seen the film “Inception” and what you thought about it.”

    Gene,

    I did see it and really liked it. It was great Sci Fi, Dicaprio is a terrific actor, the direction, editing and script were superb. As to the premise, while not possible under today’s knowledge of the workings of the brain, I have no doubt it could be possible in the future. If we know peoples thinking can be subliminally influenced already, who knows what possibilities for deviltry will exist? I also am afraid that genetic research can lead to
    horrific consequences. the problem is that there are also potentially wonderful benefits for humanity and the barn door can’t be shut.

  10. “Hypnosis should be done in the context of an assessment and it’s not clear what Kenney did to address this.”

    Rich,

    To reinforce your point, we know from hindsight that the kids were psychologically unstable, had a good assessment been done prior to the hypnosis, the Principal might never have done it. That he hypnotized them without such an assessment shows he acted irresponsibly, even if the outcome wasn’t so tragic, he is unfit for his job.

  11. “(Hypnosis) is the province of Clinical Psychologists and appropriately trained Psychiatrists.”

    Um, hypnosis is the province of being human. It’s a naturally occurring state and school teachers everywhere already do (bad) hypnosis all day every day, so whether it’s appropriate in a school setting or not is a moot point. Trance is also a learning state, a good thing in a school if you know how (like this guy apparently did). Most of the hypnosis trainers I know hypnotize the class prior to starting so they learn easily.

    The guy had training and consent according to the article. He was told not to use it by the bureaucrats (typical) which is the only thing he really did “wrong”. Amusingly, I know an EMT who used to get in trouble for using hypnosis for anesthesia instead of morphine. He still does it since it’s generally more effective, he just writes it down as “reassured and relaxed the victim” in his reports. What you gonna do, outlaw talking? ^_^

    Saying this as a consulting hypnotherapist licensed and certified with the National Guild of Hypnotists. “The suggestion that hypnosis triggers suicide”; looking forward to people reading this and telling me how evil my profession is some more. Always fun. /sarcasm

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