One of the most common subjects a hypnotherapist is inevitably asked about is what the difference is between what is done in a hypnotherapy session and what is done in a stage show. To make someone who doesn’t really understand the process of hypnotherapy more comfortable, I often use words like guided imagery, mental exorcise, or guided meditation to normalize the process and quickly make the client more comfortable. Because the first exposure that most people have to hypnosis is what is seen at the county fair, at a school event, or in the movies, many would like to know how it is that hypnosis can have a somewhat spellbinding or even controlling affect on people.
Of course, I enjoy a broader definition of hypnosis than to what most people are accustomed. I truly believe that all learning can be thought of as a somewhat hypnotic process. Just as there are various means of learning and levels of understanding and retaining, there are various types and levels of hypnosis. It is important to understand that your brain is very trainable, and everyone can learn to go into a deep and suggestible state of hypnosis. However, there are some who can go deeper into trance faster than the average person. These naturals can also respond to suggestions in more profound ways than most people.
All a good stage hypnotist needs is to be good at recognizing the naturals.
I have seen some stage hypnosis shows where the hypnotist was not fun to listen to at all. In fact, a brutally honest truth is that many comedy hypnotists were failing comedians who learned hypnosis to make up for it. Although, what is interesting is you could have a stage hypnotist who is neither a good hypnotist nor a competent entertainer and still have a wonderful time watching the show. That’s because a stage hypnosis show isn’t about the hypnotist, it’s about the volunteers, and as long as the hypnotist and their assistants can recognize who is deeply suggestible and who is not, it will be a good show.
First, you start with suggestibility tests.
After the hypnotist has gone through his introduction about how fun of an evening it’s going to be, the first suggestibility test he utilizes is simply asking for volunteers. People who race to fill the chairs the quickest are typically the most eager to please, show-off, or just respond to suggestions. Then the hypnotist will give a few suggestibility tests. For example, he may have the subjects lock their arms out in front of them with palms facing each other. Then he may suggest that the palms have magnets in them and the attraction between them is getting stronger, and stronger, and stronger. Maybe the ones who respond to that suggestion will be kept on to imagine that their hands are stuck together, and those who responded to that suggestion were asked to stay on for the longer and deeper induction.
As the show goes on, the suggestions get more complicated.
The stage hypnotist may start by generally fooling with the participants’ senses. He may start by suggesting that it’s really cold, and then reinforce that suggestion by giving more explicit commands: “Now you start shivering! Imagine that you are at the South Pole!” Then, he may suggest that the person next to you has the most amazing smell ever, so the participants start sniffing strangers.
Between these suggestions, the hypnotist may bring his subjects in and out of hypnosis, only to bring them right back down with a rapid induction followed by another suggestion. I think it’s important to explain what is going on there. The hypnotist is utilizing the hypnotic technique called fractionation. Fractionation is when a hypnotist takes a subject in and out of hypnosis repeatedly. This enables the subject’s mind to learn how to go into deep trance quickly, which also increases the subject’s level of suggestibility. So the subject may think it’s cold by the beginning of the show, but by the end of the show he may be positive he’s Elvis Presley.
Hypnotists may vary as much as first hypnotic experiences.
Some hypnotists are happy to make you act a fool. Most will claim that since hypnosis can’t make you do anything you wouldn’t normally do, if you did it, you must be comfortable with it. This may be true while you are on the stage. However, that’s not to say you’re going to be happy about what you did when you walk off the stage.
Good hypnotists are good at helping you know what you’re getting into up front, but it never hurts to do your research. If you are going to an R-rated hypnosis show, you better not be shy. However, as a hypnotherapist, I will say that I wish there were more hypnotists who were more responsible with the impression of hypnosis they gave people.
It is possible to completely forget some of the things that took place while under hypnosis, but that isn’t most people’s experience. Most will tell you that they remember everything, but it just felt good to go along with the hypnotist’s suggestions. That is what suggestion is, after all. You have free will, the free will to follow along.
Often times, hypnotists are kind enough to leave some self-help suggestions in the mix. There are many people who will go home from the show and never touch a cigarette again. Most people walk off the stage feeling energized and refreshed. If a hypnotist can have that much fun with a group of people in a crowed room for an hour show, imaging what a hypnotist could do working one-on-one in an intense hypnotherapy session. The only thing that is certain is once you’ve had your first hypnotic experience, your life has changed forever.