Does “Stage Hypnosis” Give Clinical Hypnosis a Bad Name?

For many people, their only contact with hypnosis is the stage performance, where the use of hypnotism is used to entertain and delight an audience. Stage performance can either be on tour, traveling throughout the country, or be on television shows, or both. This is obviously different from clinical hypnosis, where a hypnotherapist works one-on-one with a patient in an effort to solve a problem or seek a solution to an addiction

But the techniques are basically the same. Both attempt to induce an hypnotic trance, and bypass the conscious mind to reach the unconscious, and then plant a suggestion into the unconscious mind.

But that’s where the similarities end. The stage performer’s priority is to entertain, so his suggestions to his participants would have that as a goal, so he would suggest things such as quacking like a duck, talking with aliens, dancing like a ballerina, etc.. This would be unlike a clinical hypnotherapist whose chief aim would be more serious, for example, to root out an addiction or solve some ongoing problem for the patient.

Another difference would be the speed and depth of a trance performed by the stage hypnotist. He has a waiting audience to appease, so he can’t take too long to get his volunteers hypnotized. The stage performer would carefully look for signs with his volunteers to determine how open to suggestions they are, and who responds best to his suggestions. The need to find easily hypnotizable subjects is why the performer chooses more volunteers than he needs and that allows him to reject those he considers are not easily able to be hypnotized.

The clinical hypnotist,on the other hand, would take his time and ask his patient lots of questions, so he could determine the best and most effective way to induce an hypnotic trance.

A stage hypnotist has to be a good performer and have good stage presence. After all, he is putting on a show.

The clinical hypnotist works with his patients in trying to arrive at the best and most effective way to induce an hypnotic trance and reach a solution to the problem at hand.

A good stage hypnotist is no less skilled in trance induction and suggestion than a therapeutic hypnotist. In fact, a number of stage hypnotists have previously been clinical hypnotists; others may go on to became clinical hypnotists, and some do both at the same time.

A question that is frequently asked is about the use of free will. The generally accepted view among experts ad practitioners is that no person can be hypnotized to act against their will. They feel that there is always a part of the mind that is aware of what is happening, and the person would come out of the hypnotic trance if they would be given hypnotic suggestions to perform an action contrary to their belief.

In the late eighteenth century, stage performers would take part in elaborate stage shows in order to attract fee-paying clients. Hypnotism became a popular parlor game as the craze swept Europe and America. In the united States hypnotism stage performance really took off in the 1890’s and became a popular form of entertainment.

The dominant figure in the early part of the twentieth century was a man by the name of Ormond McGill, a great showman during his day, who first became interested in magic shows before he eventually changed to stage hypnosis. He was the author of several popular books on hypnotism and had a long and successful career both as a stage performer and in clinical hypnotism. In fact, he was an early pioneer in the use of television for his performances, and has served as an inspiration to many of today’s performers.

There are now thousands of stage performers throughout the world, performing before live audiences or on television. There are probably as many stage routines as there are performers. The basic pattern of each show may be similar; a group of volunteers are selected from the audience to come up on stage, put under an hypnotic trance, given suggestions and post-hypnotic suggestions, and then act out according to the suggestions, with the suggestions given only limited by the imagination of the performer.

Which brings me back to the original question: Does “Stage Hypnosis” give Clinical Hypnosis a bad name?

Critics say that the stage performances give clinical hypnosis a bad name because they trivialize the effectiveness of hypnosis in solving personal problems, and give the general public a warped idea of what hypnosis really is and how it can help in many aspects of life.

The counter argument is that the opposite occurs. By seeing hypnosis at work first hand, the public is more likely to believe in the therapeutic effects of it, and may even contact a clinical hypnotist for help with their particular problem.

The jury is still out on a final answer. What do you think?

Copyright 2006 by Gary Machado