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Image borrowed with thanks from www.docstrange.co.uk

The Stage Hypnotist

(Do not read this if you don’t want to know the secret of stage hypnosis. You will never see it in the same way again!)

TV has given us an image of the spiral eyed zombie held at the mercy of the great hypnotist who wields supreme hypnotic power to command the subject to any act he should choose. Whilst this obviously makes for a great Hammer House of Horror storyline, some people may be disappointed to learn that it is in fact, pure fiction. The hypnotist does not hold any power over another. The hypnotist merely facilitates a process, with which the client willingly participates. The client moves into hypnosis with the aid and encouragement of the hypnotist. It is a recognised truth therefore that "All hypnosis is self-hypnosis", and that the hypnotist is a facilitator, not a magician! 

So……”What of the stage hypnotist then? Don’t they make people do things they don’t want to do?”

You’d be forgiven for wondering why an elderly man might decide he is the baddest gangster rapper in town, or why someone might want to be amorous with a mop on stage, or why indeed somebody would continuously offer to buy drinks for 250 people?! You might also ask...."How is it then that these people sleep when the hypnotist asks them to?" The answer is amazingly simple. Because he asks them to! In other words. The instruction is "When I say "Sleep", you will let your head drop and to all intents and purposes look asleep". Since they are willing participants, they follow the instructions. 

Like an illusionist, the stage hypnotist makes things appear to be a certain way whilst in fact they are not what they seem……..and people are his/her willing props. The assumption that these people could not possibly want to do the things they do on stage ensures that the hypnotists’ powers appear to be complete. What is not commonly understood is that the participants are willing volunteers who are committed to co-operating and participating. The simple fact is that a stage hypnosis show provides the perfect setting for an outrageous 15 minutes of fame. Closet exhibitionists and general “good sports” are given permission to behave outrageously in public in a manner not offered by any other situation, right down to the post performance interview where they can claim they knew nothing about what they were doing! These claims stretch the truth a little…but it is true that they will be surprised by their experience.

There is a little more to the story than just an opportunity for fun, fame, and denial of all knowledge. Usually, candidates are screened for suitability and willingness prior to selection. Stage hypnotists do not select people who are out to prove that no-one can hypnotise them, because they’d be right! Hypnosis requires willing participation. Before the show, the stage hypnotist will ensure that there is conscious agreement on the part of the participants that they are willing to carry out the tasks set.  Any disagreement will simply render suggestions as useless, so it is essential that this is in place. When agreement is obtained, there is no conscious objection, and it is then possible to use hypnosis and suggestion in much the same way that it is used in therapy…..to suggest to the subconscious that any blocks (in this case inhibitions) to participation may be temporarily removed. This is made easy by the fact that the participant WANTS to participate and is therefore obliging in accepting suggestion. Other suggestions will ensure that participants are nicely temporarily predisposed to really let their hair down and get into their role as fully as possible. Suggestion can be surprisingly powerful, but it is the degree of willingness on the part of the participant to fully engage with their part which will dictate the depth of their experience. In the hypnotised state it is much easier to bypass the critical part of the mind and it’s the experience of this which leaves the participants’ looking genuinely surprised in their post performance interviews. They will surprise even themselves with the completeness of their immersion in the act.

If you are in any doubt as to the truth of this, watch again! You will note that when people are “playing” angry parts …..the anger is not real anger, it is play anger. When you watch with this understanding, you will see people “playing” their parts. You will see the willing suspension of disbelief, but not the complete suspension of reality which appears to be the case. You will also notice that some people will not engage as fully as others in certain tasks whilst doing so much more fully in others. Usually, this will be because there is some level of disagreement (for reasons best known only to themselves) with what they are being asked to do.

Most stage hypnosis is good clean fun. Many stage hypnotists will also be therapists. The UK’s most famous Stage Hypnotist, Paul McKenna, actually spends the majority of his time in therapeutic practice, providing hypnotherapy and NLP training. He is an expert in the field, and undoubtedly understands ALL of the implications of his work. Unfortunately, there are a minority of stage hypnotists whose work is morally questionable, and this generates bad press for hypnosis from time to time. Sadly, hypnotherapy is often tarred with the same brush and because of this many hypnotherapists feel that using hypnosis for entertainment is questionable altogether. This is for each individual to decide, but what should be made clear is that the therapeutic setting is a far cry from the stage show. A properly trained hypnotherapist is fully aware of the power of suggestion and practiced in its proper application to achieve lasting beneficial change and healing.