Is Stage Hypnosis Real?
I often get asked by many people “is stage hypnosis real?”. There seems to be great fascination, and often stigma, that people draw from those who use hypnosis for entertainment purposes. I'm sure everyone has at some stage seen a stage hypnotist in front of an audience getting people to do all sorts of strange and funny things... thinking “is this really real?” In short - most of the time it definitely is real, but as with most trades there will always some 'shonksters' and 'scam artists' who set the whole thing up. But for the majority, what you see done on the stage is 100% absolutely real!
First and foremost I would like to say that as a 'Hypnotherapist' I am not real keen on using hypnosis for entertainment purposes. I think it undermines the modality and makes a bit of a mockery of the discipline... but that is another story. In this article I wanted to explain how the stage hypnotists do it, and why they are able to get people to do such extreme things.
The BIGGEST factor in getting people to do the crazy stunts is to pick the right type of person who is very receptive to hypnosis. Such people are known as 'somnambulists', and most studies point to these types making up between 10% to 15% of the population. To find the somnambulists the stage hypnotist will conduct a thorough screening/testing process before the show. This involves asking people specific questions/interaction and taking note of their reactions. Taking note of reactions like body language, eye movement, language, tone of voice etc. the stage hypnotist will keep narrowing down his/her possible selection until the final group of subjects is chosen. These people are than asked to sign disclosure forms and give permission to be hypnotized as part of the show.
The Hypnosis Process
Depending on the hypnotist, sometimes the chosen group of people are given some prior hypnosis before the show. Once the show begins they are called up on the stage and taken through a hypnotic induction process, usually a 'rapid induction'. This is simply a very quick process of putting the person into trance, usually involving a combination of words and some physical contact. This is like when you see the hypnotist make direct contact with the person and then clap their hands or snap their fingers and the person's head drops down as they enter hypnosis. This phenomena is very much real, especially so with somnambulists. Rapid inductions are quite impressive to watch from an audience perspective. People usually are fascinated with how it happens, how quick they happen , and if the person really did just fall asleep?
The Stage Antics
Basically once the subject is 'asleep' this means they are under hypnosis and become completely susceptible to what happens next in the show. This is where the stage hypnotist will get the people to do funny things like pretend they are animal, talk in a funny voice, or think they are someone else etc. Often this comes across as completely bizarre, especially for people who personally know the participant thinking it is so out of character that they must be faking it. What I can say is that most times this certainly is real and not staged. Although the majority the participants realise what they are doing at some level, such is the power of hypnosis that they offer no conscious resistance and happily go along with it all. I like to call this phenomena the “I don't care factor” where all their inhibitions and sense of normality is not present.
What is Actually Happening to the Participant?
If you have experienced hypnosis before you may be able to have some idea of how this feels. Basically the participant under trance is completely open to suggestion and following the instructions through. This all happens at a subconscious level, as consciously they have a much reduced awareness of their present environment and actions. This is why there is no shame, hesitation or other normal conscious 'better judgement' that will stop the person doing the silly things we see them play out. What they are instructed to do bypasses the normal analysis procedure and is acted upon by the subconscious, putting the action into place both mentally and physically. The whole time the subject is not really 'asleep' nor 'awake' - simply in a state of hypnosis where they are just doing what they are told and acting upon it naturally. This can often be when the subject is aware of what they are doing yet still going along with it.
What Happens After?
At the conclusion of the show the hypnotist will do a 'wake up' on the participants. Basically what they are doing here is bringing the person back to normal consciousness and out of hypnosis. Here they will use safeguards to make sure the person goes to back to a fully awakened state, removing any instructions or suggestions they were previously given. This is important for safety. The participant usually does have some memories of what had happened unless of course the hypnotist has instructed them specifically not to.
A Final Thought...
Stage hypnosis is a two edged sword. One one hand it illustrates the power of hypnosis and the ability to really have an effect on people with it. On the other it is almost making a mockery of the entire modality. I don't like to judge so I will finish this article by saying that is 100% real, and myself personally, I prefer to use hypnosis for therapeutical purposes only.
- Giovanni Lordi