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Stage Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy: Questions Answered & Myths Busted

Whenever anyone mentions the word ‘hypnosis’, many of us think of stage hypnosis where people are ‘made’ to do silly or embarrassing acts. Or perhaps we think of a hypnotised person who is sat in a chair with their eyes closed, whilst a Hypnotherapist ‘makes’ them overcome their fears, lose weight or stop smoking… almost as if by some sort of mind magic.

It’s not surprising that with so many different myths and beliefs about what hypnosis is or isn’t and what does or doesn’t happen, that people can often feel a little worried or uncertain when considering hypnotherapy. In this post, I will be looking at some of the common beliefs and questions that people have about stage hypnosis and hypnotherapy and hopefully put a few fears to rest along the way.

What is hypnosis?

Far from being the almost zombie-like state that many people think it is, hypnosis is actually a natural psychological trance state which we all experience, often several times a day. Examples you might be familiar with include day dreaming, travelling to work and not remembering the journey, or being deeply absorbed in a good book or film.

The mind is like an iceberg. Only a small part of an iceberg is visible above the surface of the water and this is similar to the conscious mind; the part of your mind which is responsible for every day thoughts and processes, analysing information, using logic and making decisions. Below the surface is the subconscious mind; the much larger part of your mind which controls the autonomic nervous system and deals with memories and emotions. It is this part of the mind that stores all of the behaviours and responses which make you who you are.

Although often mistaken as a form of sleep, hypnosis is actually an altered state of awareness where the subconscious mind is very alert. During hypnosis, the subconscious mind becomes more receptive to suggestion and through hypnotherapy, new thought or behaviour patterns and responses can be suggested.

What does hypnosis feel like?

There are no specific feelings associated with being in hypnosis, because everyone experiences it differently. It’s similar to drifting off to sleep at night where you are not quite awake and not quite asleep. Some people say that it feels very similar to a deeply relaxed day dream. You may experience a sense of weightlessness or you might experience a feeling of heaviness as your muscles begin to relax, or you might not feel very different at all, just very relaxed. Everyone’s experience of hypnosis differs slightly and most people are pleasantly surprised at how calm and relaxed they feel afterwards.

Can anyone be hypnotised?

Most people can go into a light hypnotic trance, providing that they want to. Hypnosis is a natural state of awareness which we all experience several times a day. However, hypnosis is not usually suitable for people who are experiencing serious mental health issues, some people with Epilepsy, the very young or those under the influence of alcohol or recreational drugs.

Can hypnosis help with medical conditions?

Hypnotherapy can be beneficial for a variety of medical conditions including migraines, tension headaches and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) to name a few. By helping you to relax, reduce stress and anxiety and change the way that you feel about a particular condition or diagnosis, hypnotherapy can have a positive effect on various symptoms that you might experience.

However, it is important to know that hypnosis and hypnotherapy cannot ‘cure’ a medical or physiological condition, despite some of the claims that are often made on the internet. If you are seeking hypnotherapy for a medical, physiological or psychiatric condition, you will need to consult your doctor first to confirm that they are happy for you to seek help from a Hypnotherapist.

Can hypnotherapy make me overcome my problem?

It’s a common misconception that a Hypnotherapist will ‘put’ you into a hypnotic trance and then ‘make’ you stop smoking, lose weight, overcome a fear or other problem. Hypnosis is not a magic pill; you cannot be made to do something that you do not want to do, even in hypnosis. The only person who can make you do something, is you.

On average, it takes the subconscious mind around 10 to 14 days to take new ideas on board and to start making long term changes to habits and patterns of behaviour. However, everyone responds differently to therapy and so the time it takes for therapeutic suggestions to take effect will vary from person to person. Ultimately, hypnotherapy will only be successful if you want it to be. A Hypnotherapist is a bit like a taxi driver; they can give you directions and show you the quickest route to your destination, but you need to make the journey yourself.

How does someone become hypnotised?

There are many different ways to induce hypnosis from very rapid, shock-inducing methods often used in stage hypnosis, to more relaxing methods usually used in hypnotherapy. Some of the more common methods used in hypnotherapy sessions include being asked to relax various muscles in the body, focusing your attention on an object or point on the wall or ceiling, or imagining relaxing scenes such as walking through a meadow or along a beach. Drifting into hypnosis as part of a hypnotherapy session is usually a very pleasant and relaxing experience.

Is hypnosis dangerous?

Hypnosis is a natural and safe state of awareness which we all experience several times a day and hypnotherapy can be a very positive and beneficial experience when carried out by a properly trained and experienced Hypnotherapist.

Are people really under the control of the Stage Hypnotist or Hypnotherapist?

Absolutely not. This is probably one of the most common beliefs about hypnosis and usually stems from what people have seen or heard about hypnosis used in performance settings (stage hypnosis), as well as the popular portrayal in the media of ‘The Hypnotist’ as a sinister character who has absolute power and control over their subjects.

During hypnosis, you are not asleep and can hear everything that is said. It’s a common myth that hypnosis involves some sort of magical sleep where you are unaware of what’s happening around you. Hypnotherapy involves responding to the suggestions made by the Hypnotherapist, therefore you need to hear what is being said in order for you to take the suggestions on board and for therapeutic change to happen.

Is hypnotherapy like stage hypnosis?

No, it’s not. Whilst both Stage Hypnotists and Hypnotherapists use hypnosis, the way in which it is used is completely different. Stage hypnosis is, what it says; hypnosis carried out on a stage. It is used as a form of entertainment and is for the benefit of the audience and volunteers taking part. Those who go to a stage hypnosis show are usually well aware that the people who volunteer to go on stage will be asked to do funny and sometimes embarrassing things. Nobody has forced the people who are on stage to be there; they have volunteered themselves by choosing to follow the Hypnotist’s suggestions.

There are two types of people who go to a stage hypnosis show; those who want to watch the show (and stay in the audience) and those who want to be part of the show (and be up on the stage). The Hypnotist is looking for his or her volunteers from this second group – the people who want to be on stage and who want their 15 minutes of fame. The best candidates from this group are the people who are naturally outgoing, the life and soul of the party and who will do almost anything for a laugh. Combine this with some cleverly worded suggestions and showmanship from the Hypnotist and it can appear that the volunteers are under some sort of control or ‘spell’.

Hypnotherapy uses hypnosis to help people with a wide range of problems and issues in a safe and appropriate manner which is for their benefit. You cannot be hypnotised against your will; for hypnosis to happen, you have to want it to happen.

Can a person get stuck in hypnosis?

You cannot get ‘stuck’ in hypnosis. It is an altered state of awareness from which you will return to full alertness either by yourself, or when asked to by the Hypnotherapist. Even if something were to happen to the Hypnotherapist whilst you were hypnotised, then after a while, you would either wonder why they had stopped talking and ‘wake up’ by yourself, or if you were tired, you would simply fall asleep and then wake up as normal after a short while.

Hypnosis is a natural state of awareness which you drift in and out of by yourself on a subconscious level every day. You have control over whether you enter a hypnotic trance or not and therefore, you also have control over whether you remain in hypnosis and for how long.

Is it true that a Hypnotist or Hypnotherapist can make a person reveal all their secrets?

You are aware of everything that you say during hypnosis and so you cannot be ‘made’ to discuss or reveal things that you do not want to. However, if you are in hypnosis as part of a hypnotherapy session, it is important to remember the reason why you are seeing a Hypnotherapist. In order for you to benefit fully from hypnotherapy, the therapist needs to know about the problem or issue, including any relevant background information and contributing factors. Hypnotherapy is a two-way process and it is important that you can trust and have confidence in your therapist.

Can a person who has been hypnotised remember everything afterwards?

Because you are aware whilst you are in hypnosis, you will usually remember everything that you experience. In hypnotherapy sessions, sometimes people do find that they can’t consciously remember every detail afterwards, but the subconscious mind remembers everything. This is quite common and is similar to forgetting what someone has just said because your attention was elsewhere rather than concentrating on the conversation.

People commonly report some amnesia or memory loss following participation in a stage hypnosis show and because the Stage Hypnotist can often be heard to give suggestions to the volunteers on stage that they won’t remember what has happened, this is usually believed by both the audience and volunteers taking part. However, in reality, as explained above, the volunteers on stage are fully aware of what they are doing and usually remember everything that they have done whilst on stage. The suggestion that they forget what has happened is often included to save the participants from embarrassment later on, so that when their friends ask them about the antics that they got up to on stage, they can claim they don’t remember!

What does it feel like after being in hypnosis?

You will probably feel more relaxed than usual and slightly refreshed, but you will be fully alert and should not experience any other after-effects other than those which have been suggested for your benefit as part of your therapy session and which your subconscious mind has accepted and acted upon.

Further information and answers to frequently asked questions is available on the Hypnotherapy and FAQs pages of the Therapy in Leeds website.

Vicki Crane

Based in Leeds, West Yorkshire, Vicki Crane is a Hypnotherapist, NLP Practitioner and Talking Therapist, helping people with stopping smoking, weight loss, fears and phobias, anxiety and panic attacks, confidence, public speaking and many more. As an experienced therapist, she is an Accredited Member of The National Hypnotherapy Society and provides supervision for newly qualified and experienced Hypnotherapists. She also has further training in Psychotherapy, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and the Rewind Technique, which is a method for helping people who are experiencing high anxiety conditions such as phobias, trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Vicki is an Ambassador for The National Hypnotherapy Society and a member of the joint National Hypnotherapy Society and National Counselling Society Professional Development and Supervision Committee.