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.

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.
10. The hypnotist will then ‘invite’ those people standing to go on to the stage and sit on chairs already placed in a line behind the hypnotist. The chairs will have already acted as a powerful suggestion as the audience will have seen them and ‘expected’ members of the audience to sit in them and be hypnotised.
11. Those of the audience who accept the invitation are in effect giving the hypnotist permission to do whatever he wants with them as they know what is to be expected.

However, there will always be those who pretend to by hypnotised or who simply want to make a fool of the hypnotist in front of their friends. But a good hypnotist will be well aware of this and look for signs that will weed out those problem makers.

For example, he may have a stooge in the audience who will secretly point out to him anyone who is misbehaving behind his back. Or, another possible sign is the audience laughing at something that is happening that the hypnotist does not see. So following the direction of the audience’s eyes, will tell him who is going to cause him problems and steel the limelight. Those people are quickly asked to return to their seats in the audience.

So on with the show. The hypnotist will then carry out his act appearing to hypnotise at will and getting his subjects to perform funny, but harmless acts in front of the audience.

It should be noted that NOBODY will respond to any form of SUGGESTION that is OBNOXIOUS or against his or her MORAL CONVICTIONS!

No stage hypnotist would risk his reputation by giving a suggestion to anyone knowing that that person would object to carrying it out. For example, it would be very risky to suggest to an attractive woman that she should physically take her clothes off. Ok, there are women who would gladly do that in front of an audience, but the hypnotist would not know that and would, therefore, avoid such a suggestion.

You will also note that religion is NEVER included in a stage hypnotist’s performance.

It should also be noted that in any audience, there are a small number of people who would be happy to go on stage and do silly things to get a laugh. Go to any holiday camp and you will see performers calling up on stage members of an audience and having them do silly things. There are clowns in every audience and the stage is a perfect vehicle for them, with or WITHOUT hypnosis as an excuse.

Genuine Hypnosis or Not!

So are those volunteers on the stage genuinely hypnotised. The answer is a ‘Yes’ and a ‘No’. Some are in such a deep trance that they are genuinely hypnotised. Those people usually cannot remember what they have done immediately after a show, but do remember as time passes by. (Of course, some people who do remember, say they do not because they want to ‘cover up their tracks’ with their friends and family).

Others will NOT be hypnotised, but pretend they are.

I watched a show once and one woman was certainly under hypnosis whereas there was a man who was obviously not. The hypnotist got only a few laughs from the woman and made full use of the man as he was willing to do virtually anything to raise a laugh.

It should be noted that an ethical hypnotist will always establish normality, at the end of his act, in his subjects, regardless of whether he believes it necessary or not.

Ok, enough about stage hypnosis and now to Hypnotherapy.

Now for the boring part of this article.

What does a Hypnotherapist do? He or she helps people to live a normal and happy life. The definition of ‘normal’ has to be left up to you for it is how you want to live your life that is normal.

A Hypnotherapist will be educated in both the application and use of hypnosis and also in the application of psychology in the form of psychotherapy.

Good Hypnotherapists have an arsenal of techniques and therapies at his or her disposal. The importance of recognising every client as an individual with his or her own personal characteristics, life experiences and most importantly ‘a way of dealing with problems’, cannot be emphasised enough.

Hypnotherapists are there to help and not to make a client feel foolish. An important requirement for any Hypnotherapist is a caring, kind and understanding nature. The need to help others is a bonus.

Also important is the training a Hypnotherapist receives. Any course taken MUST include the psychology aspect of treating clients. The reason simply being that a Hypnotherapist treats psychological problems and he or she must understand human behaviour. It is not necessary to hold a degree in psychology, but knowledge of most forms of psychology is important.

A typical treatment given by a Hypnotherapist would be:

1. A consultation when an overall assessment of a client’s problem is taken. The consultation must include questions on family background, medication, past illnesses and a host of other things. Near the end of the consultation, the Hypnotherapist may or may not include a short session of hypnosis to boost the client’s confidence in the therapy to be given.
2. On the next session the Hypnotherapist will then use an appropriate therapy. Sometimes it includes hypnosis and sometimes a non-hypnosis technique such as Guided Imagery. If the Hypnotherapist considers it appropriate, he or she may just use this session to talk through the problem.
3. Subsequent sessions are then conducted to bring about a solution to the client’s problem.

At no time would an ethical Hypnotherapist produce a situation where the client becomes reliant on the therapy of therapist. The goal of a Hypnotherapist is to guide the client towards self-reliance when he or she is in full control of the life he or she wants to lead.

Hypnotherapy can be used to treat almost, but not all, psychological ailments.

I hope the above helps you recognise the difference between what is perceived as stage hypnosis and Hypnotherapy. One entertains and is not what it appears to be and the other is used for healing.

Please note that in the above article I have used the male gender throughout, but this is for easy reading and does not exclude female hypnotists, or Hypnotherapists.