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Stage Hypnosis versus Hypnotherapy

Let me firstly briefly outline my credentials. I have been a practicing Hypnotherapist for 26 years and have, sometimes to my shame, done a fair amount of demonstration hypnosis to audiences, including hallucination hypnosis and altering a subject’s memory. I am principal and founder of The Robert shields College and have trained Hypnotherapists since 1986. I presently do the training through the Internet. Here are brief explanations of the two types of the application of hypnosis I am writing about: Stage Hypnosis: Is a demonstration of the willingness of certain individuals to use hypnosis as an excuse to be the centre of attraction to a non-criticising audience. It is also a vehicle for a proclaimed hypnotist to stroke his own ego and to give the false impression that he is all powerful and in total control of those individuals I have just described. Hypnotherapy: On the other hand, a Hypnotherapist is an individual who for whatever reason, usually because of a need within his personality, to help other individuals in need of psychological help. A Hypnotherapist should be well versed in both the ethical use of hypnosis and a working knowledge of psychology, both of which are used to help his client towards a better life. The Mechanics How does a stage hypnotist appear to control his subjects? To answer that we have to become aware of what is actually happening some hours before and during his performance. Here are the procedures that are typically applied before a hypnotist carries out his act:

1. Before the hypnotist appears on stage, he would have received a great deal of ‘positive and complimentary’ publicity. There should also be an entrance charge to his act, the higher the better. Reasons being that the publicity builds up an expectation of a powerful figure and when a fee is paid, it is an unconscious way of saying, ‘I believe the publicity’. In fact, those people who know themselves to be hypnotisable, are unconsciously expecting to be, and invariably will, be hypnotised.

2. On the actual night, the audience will be kept waiting to build up the ‘expectancy’ even more. Usually the proprietors of the establishment will continually mention that the hypnotist will appear later in the evening. This is in a way similar to the build up to a T.V. show when the floor manager and some well known comedians ‘prepare’ the audience minutes before the show. Also, it is common practice for the use of alcohol to be used to ‘free up the inhibitions’ by being available for at least a couple of hours before the show.

3. The appearance of the hypnotist will be to the sound of great applause – again building up the expectation and causing excitement. The personal attire of the hypnotist is usually black to give that ‘mystical’ appearance and to create the impression of power. This is not absolutely necessary if the performer is well known.

4. The hypnotist will then talk to the audience and further convince them that he is the powerful figure they were expecting who has the magical hypnotic powers expected of him. Usually the talk includes personal testimonials to his abilities.

5. Now to the performance. The hypnotist will always carry out a number of ‘suggestibility tests’ to establish who is highly suggestible within the audience. The tests are intended to produce a small number of people who respond readily to suggestions and who are either able to convince themselves they can be hypnotised or, are willing to do foolish things with the excuse of having no control over their actions due to being hypnotised.

6. The suggestibility tests are varied and numerous, an example being the ‘hand clasp’ test. a. The audience is ‘asked’ to stand up (those that do are responding to an order (a suggestion) to do so) and then to hold their arms out in front of them. They are then instructed to clasp the hands together, intertwining their fingers (the hypnotist will demonstrate to ensure the instructions are followed exactly as that is very important). b. The audience is then told that when the hypnotist counts up to a certain number, the hands will become stuck together (this is repeated at least three times in accordance with the ’laws of suggestion’) and on the final number the hypnotist will ask the audience to ‘try’ (this word ‘suggests’ that they cannot) to unclasp their hands. The harder they try (this is another law of suggestion – ‘the harder you try, the more difficult it becomes’) the more difficult it will become and they will find they cannot unclasp the hands, no matter ‘how hard’ they try. (Think of the ‘tight ropewalker’. The novice will try too hard and fall, whereas the experienced walker just takes it easy and succeeds)

7. As it is known that approximately 25% of the population is highly suggestible, in any audience there will be a number of people who will not be able to unclasp their hands. Sometimes a lot and sometimes very few.

8. Those people who cannot unclasp their hands are asked to remain standing (this is to ensure the hypnotist does not lose track of them and enables him to observe the ‘exhibitionists’ amongst them). Another suggestion is given to allow them to unclasp their hands, usually by simply telling them to relax their hands and on a given word such as ‘now’ they will be able to unclasp their hands. The reason their hands are clasped together is because they are tensing them and the simple act of relaxing enables them to unclasp, but the audience believes it is the power of the hypnotist at work.

9. Sometimes, the hypnotist will then carry out another ‘suggestibility test’ to lower the numbers of possible subjects. This is done mainly with large audiences.


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