Cert SM

so then, how does stage hypnosis work?

Whether working on a stage or on television, it is the task of a performance hypnotist to create an entertaining show. To do this, the performer will invariably build the illusion that he or she is able to take control of the minds and behaviour of the subjects that end up sharing his or her stage. The seemingly all-powerful hypnotist, who can cause these subjects to fall under some sort of magical spell, will appear to be able to make them perform actions, with or without their consent.

The suggested actions will, of course, be designed to entertain an audience, and frequently be designed to make a subject appear somewhat silly. This is not merely for the sake of getting a laugh, but to also reinforce the illusion of the hypnotist’s control. The idea being that, if it were not for his or her perhaps sinister power over them, the apparent victims would be unlikely to perform in such a strange, even humiliating, way.

Unsurprisingly, the message that is usually promulgated by stage hypnosis is very much at odds with the ones put forward by most therapists. Indeed, it is thought by some, that shows of this nature do a distinct disservice to hypnotherapy as a profession; not least because the general public will have little idea of the process involved in getting seemingly normal people do the strange and silly things they tend do during such a show. Although, as we will see, the hypnotists’ control over their subjects is something of an illusion, there remains an unsettling aspect to their antics. For good reason, hypnotherapists would generally prefer to set themselves well apart from this type of circus.

So, how might our stage hypnotist achieve such seemingly impressive results? Firstly, he or she will conduct the important selection process. Here, prospective subjects are picked out of the audience on the basis that they will have been seen to pass a certain suggestibility test. Volunteers from this group are then called for and duly taken to the stage. Understanding his craft, the hypnotist can be reasonably certain that these volunteers will both be likely to have at least some exhibitionist traits and will generally also be aware of what they are letting themselves in for.

Once having first been accepted by the hypnotist and then having agreed to participate in the show, the individuals are quickly made to feel that they belong to a small select group. Membership of this elite group is, of course, contingent on continued success; and continued success is contingent on them complying with the stage hypnotist’s suggestions. With such strong pressure to succeed in place, the hypnotist is generally able to achieve an almost unquestioning cooperation from a high percentage of these volunteers.

The stage hypnotist’s adept ability to link the subject’s good self-image to his or her compliance is, of course, a powerful device. Add to this the very real pressure a person might feel when performing in front of an audience, especially when aware, as is usually the case, of an expectation for him or her to behave in a particular way. There is also the feeling that one may simply blame the hypnotist for whatever transpires on stage, and so not take responsibly for one’s own behaviour. All in all, we now have an excellent recipe for an illusion of mind control!

Despite these all too significant pressures, the person on stage always retains the ability to either accept or reject any given suggestion. Because of the way his or her situation has been constructed, it becomes much easier to comply with most directions than to object to them. The subject’s option of going against what is asked of him or her by the stage hypnotist is, therefore, rarely taken up. (Yapko – 2003)


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By combining elements such as hypnosis, magic, neurolinguistic programming and psychology, I can make it appear that I can hack into people's brains.

Keith Barry