Stage hypnotism can be a contentious issue amongst hypnotherapists. It can be seen as giving hypnosis a bad name, or leading people to draw the wrong conclusions about hypnosis as a therapy.
But many famous hypnotists over the years have worked in entertainment as well as therapy - for instance Ormond McGill, an American stage hypnotist, and Paul McKenna, a very popular stage hypnotist who, over many years, has captured the public's imagination with his well known television and media appearances.
Stage hypnotists sometimes argue that it's seeing people hypnotized on television or on stage that convinces people of its use and that it does indeed work. Sure enough, many people who come to see hypnotherapists, or indeed doctors and psychologists using hypnosis, have seen hypnotism on television and are intrigued. The flip side of this is that it can take quite a lot of time to explain what hypnosis is to allay some of their fears. For example:
- Hypnosis is not magic
- It does not involve people being made to do things against their will
- It does involve a hypnotist acting as a guide to help clients empower themselves and make natural, healthy and often profound changes.
Is stage hypnosis exploitative?
In its worst form, stage hypnosis has been accused of being manipulative and exploitative. Most professional stage hypnotists would counter this claim by demonstrating that subjects have volunteered to take part in the show and fully understand what to expect. This is seen by many as a grey area in that stage hypnotists often suggest indirectly that events are beyond the subject's control. Far less debatable is the willingness a client shows when entering a session of hypnotherapy.
The facts about hypnosis for entertainment
Film and TV depictions of hypnosis are often grossly inaccurate and can lead to people developing a fear or distrust of hypnosis. Viewers are led to believe that the hypnotist can take control of the person being hypnotized, and even make them do something against their will. This is sometimes called the 'Svengali effect' (after the sinister character in the 1894 novel Trilby by George Du Maurier). While this may make for interesting storylines, the reality is quite the opposite. In hypnosis you are always in control and can choose to follow or ignore the suggestions of the hypnotherapist.
The difference between hypnotherapy and stage hypnotism
There's a very big difference between clinical hypnotherapy and stage hypnotism. Whilst the former is a therapeutic process for the benefit of the client, the latter is a performance, a show designed purely to entertain the audience. Careful selection techniques are used by stage hypnotists in order to identify the most hypnotizable subjects.
Also, people who volunteer as subjects for stage hypnosis tend to be happy to lose their inhibitions and be the centre of attention, and are willing to go along with the show whether or not they're actually in a state of hypnosis.
The history of stage hypnosis
Throughout history there have been public demonstrations of hypnosis, with the presenters often following their shows with private consultations. However, the reputation of hypnotism was eventually compromised by numerous fakes employing crude routines and paid stooges.
Early in the last century, interest was revived with the success of Ormond McGill. As well as pioneering hypnosis as TV entertainment, McGill wrote what is now known as 'The Bible' of stage hypnosis, his 1947 book The Encyclopedia of Genuine Stage Hypnotism.
In the UK, the revival of stage hypnotism was accompanied by a heightened concern about the possible dangers of stage hypnosis, and the 1952 Hypnotism Act was brought in to protect the public from unscrupulous hypnotists.
In 1994 a panel of experts was set up by the UK Home Office to examine any evidence of possible harm to people taking part in public entertainments involving hypnotism, and to review the effectiveness of the law governing hypnotism for entertainment. Publication of the expert panel's report was announced in parliament in 1995, which concluded that "there was no evidence of serious risk to participants in stage hypnosis, and that any risk which does exist is much less significant than that involved in many other activities."
Nowadays the hypnosis stage show remains popular as both public and corporate entertainment. There are courses available on hypnotic stage techniques for those who wish to learn stage hypnosis online or on a professionally taught course.
If you'd like to learn hypnotism yourself, give our free hypnosis course a try.