No – I didn’t see You’re Back in the Room. Personally, I find stage hypnosis at best boring and at worst deeply irritating. Maybe I’m an old stick-in-the-mud but I take very little pleasure when people are made to look foolish for the entertainment of others. To me, it seems to represent one of the lowest traits of human nature. Stage hypnosis is rather like my other bête noire, the prank phone call. I detest these with a passion, especially if the prank caller is some smug radio DJ. But it is just harmless fun, isn’t it? Tell that to the family of Jacintha Saldanha.

I tend to think that such things are best ignored. They go away eventually. But, as my previous couple of posts show, some senior colleagues have expressed considerable concern over this latest attempt to fill Paul McKenna’s shoes, and fill a few bank accounts into the bargain. So – I thought that this might be a good opportunity to summarize some of the main reasons why stage hypnosis should be avoided.

As clinical psychologist Michael Heap has shown, much of the evidence against stage hypnosis is largely anecdotal. To my knowledge, there has never been a successful prosecution against a stage hypnotist. The reason is that it is practically impossible to prove a causal connection between what happens on stage and any subsequent mishap. If a person has a traumatic time on stage and dies shortly afterwards – well, they might have died anyway. Who can really know for sure? My problems with stage hypnosis, therefore, do not stem from actual cases of real or alleged harm. They arise from my knowledge and experience of hypnosis and hypnotherapy.

The problems can be summarized as follows:

1. Stage hypnotists have no training or experience in psychotherapy or psychology.

Any properly trained hypnotherapist will know that there are some people you should not hypnotize. People on anti-psychotic medication, people who hear voices, people who, for one reason or another, happen to be psychologically highly vulnerable. I’m prepared to concede that a high-profile program like You’re Back in the Room may run some proper pre-performance checks. Your average stage hypnotist, working in pubs, clubs and other small venues, will not do so.

2. Stage hypnosis may trigger off concealed phobias.

A stage hypnotist might suggest that the subject is being chased, for example, by a giant mouse. What if the poor subject has a profound phobia of mice?

3. Stage hypnosis may awaken buried traumas.

On stage, you are highly exposed, even in hypnosis. Being the centre of attention may be fine for some people. For others, it may re-awaken a whole host of traumatic memories or experiences.

4. Stage hypnosis may cause physical harm.

Some hypnotic tricks may involve things such as body rigidity. But a person may have an undisclosed physical weakness – a bad back, a heart condition or some other such problem. The additional stress could be highly detrimental. Furthermore, a hypnotized person is likely to be less aware of their surrounding than a wide-awake person. A hypnotized person might bump into things, trip up, or – at worst – fall off the stage.

5. A stage hypnotist may transgress bounds of common decency just to get a laugh.

When we were in training at the National College of Hypnosis and Psychotherapy we were shown an interview with a stage hypnotist. One of his tricks was to hypnotize women and get them to believe that they had been raped. In the name of entertainment! It literally beggars belief.


Think stage hypnosis is safe? Take a look at this:


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