The job title of “stage hypnotist” is one of only a few occupations available for those wishing to practice pure hypnosis (the others being hypnosis trainer or hypnotherapist). It is also the job with the greatest level of controversy surrounding it – people pay a hypnotist to do inductions, induce hallucinations, and generally fool about with people’s brains. Such shows can be extremely entertaining, extremely enlightening, but also extremely awkward.
There several reasons for these viewpoints. If we consider the general format of a stage hypnosis show, then they may become clearer:
The show usually starts with the hypnotist giving a brief introduction on the topic of hypnosis, inserting his or her pretalk as he sees fit. Often included in this introductory piece is a short suggestibility test, framed as “this is what hypnosis feels like”. These tactics prime the audience not only to experience hypnosis, but also to view the hypnotist as the expert on the subject – a person to be trusted.
The next step is the hardest one – getting spectators onto the stage to be hypnotized. Many of the shows I have seen involve enormous numbers of people taken onstage at this time – as many as twenty chairs, plus a few more standing. At this point, the first elements of inductions are used, layered with more suggestibility tests. Using these, and the responses from the volunteers, the hypnotist can whittle down his selection until it contains only those who are going to have the most success with the hypnotic phenomena to come. Speaking of which…
The suggestions. Once the hypnotist has got a select number of subjects, they can then commence with the entertainment part of the show. The suggestions used can range in complexity from simply more inductions to full blown hallucinations. Usually, as the show progresses, the suggestions increase in entertainment value – catalepsy at the start, hallucinations towards the end. Another ploy often used is a post hypnotic suggestion attached to a verbal trigger – then, later on in the show, when the hypnotist activates the trigger “by accident”, the subject enacts the suggestion – which may be as simple as leaping out of the chair.
The show continues, sometimes using music in addition to the suggestions to make a real dazzling display of sound and action. To end the show, the hypnotist removes all suggestions from the subjects (and sometimes all memory of the event) and sends them back to their seats. The act ends, and the hypnotist receives what is usually a standing ovation.
So let’s discuss this. The appeal of a hypnosis show is a simple one – most people have never seen a hypnosis show before, and only have a vague grasp of what hypnosis is and what it can be used for. There is always a sense of anticipation and fear in the air!
An interesting point to remember is that it is also this way for the hypnotist. After all, there is no guarantee that the show will go well, or that any of the inductions or suggestions will work! All the hypnotist has to rely on is him or herself. It is therefore a challenge that not many hypnotists cans step up to – to appear confident when you are really terrified is no mean feat.