While researching the topic of safety related to hypnosis, I found a news article about an incident I heard about a few years ago.  The article included a video I had never seen before, and when I watched it, I didn't feel good about it.  When you read the article and watch the video, it might be easy to focus on criticizing Mr. Nadeau, but I would ask that we avoid any rants aimed at him and focus more on the general topic of hypnotism as a form of entertainment.

I also want to be open about a clear bias that I have: I'm a stage hypnotist.  While I also see clients, and I'm a certified instructor, I generate most of my revenue doing stage work.  I love what I do, and I don't have any plans to stop performing as a stage hypnotist anytime soon, but I also value my own critical thinking skills, and believe I have a duty to re-examine my own beliefs every now and then.  If a compelling argument can be made against stage hypnotism, I will give it full consideration.

I was initially looking for news articles about people who have gotten "stuck" in hypnosis.  Every couple of years, it seems, I'll hear a story in the news about some stage hypnotist not being able to get his/her volunteers out of hypnosis at the end of the show, and the ensuing panic that creates.  You see, this is the stuff that makes for a great headline, and it will drive clicks to a news website easily, so it was no surprise that the incident in Canada was picked up here in the United States and reported nation-wide.  The story even made it across the pond and was reported in the UK.

"2nd Hypnotist Rescues Students Stuck in Trance" -CBC News
"Panic as students get stuck in hypnosis."  -NY Daily News
"Hypnotist Summons Help as Girls Get Stuck in a Trance" -USA Today
"Trainee Hypnotist Forced to Call in Help after Girls at Canadian Private School are Locked in a Trance for FIVE Hours" -Daily Mail

I felt bad for the young hypnotist.  He made a rookie mistake, but none of those girls were in danger; you can't get truly stuck in hypnosis!  It's a safe and natural state.  One way or the other, every volunteer was going to come out of hypnosis and be just fine.  But because the hypnotist didn't handle the situation more smoothly and facilitate a prompt emergence for the people in hypnosis, his picture was now plastered all over the news with these dramatic headlines.

Then I found the Huffington Post's report on the story, and it included video footage from the show.  I hadn't seen the footage when the story broke a couple of years ago, but now here was this footage of a hypnotist performing the hypnotic bridge, and as soon as I saw him doing that, something inside me turned on him.  Any sympathy I had for this hypnotist evaporated.

I have never facilitated the hypnotic bridge, and I don't believe it should be done.  I think it's grandstanding.  The only exception to that is Jim Wand's version.  Jim would use self-hypnosis to make himself a bridge, and would have a big guy picked out of the audience stand on him.  If you want to put yourself in that position, it's your choice, and I think it's a more ethical choice than doing it to someone from the audience.

The bigger issue is the use of hypnotism for entertainment, and how that invariably leads to hypnotists who want to impress people, to get the biggest pop from a crowd, choosing to do things on stage that might put people's safety at risk.  It also sometimes leads to stage hypnotists developing routines that purposefully make people feel uncomfortable (for example, "Whenever I say the word ___, somebody is jabbing you in the bum with a needle." That's an actual bit I saw a stage hypnotist do.)

I have always considered my show to be a clean act, and it is one of the most consistent pieces of feedback I get from clients.  I think you can be funny without being dirty, and without doing things at the expense of your volunteers having a positive experience on stage.  I perform for between 10,000 and 12,000 people each year, and at every show I ask people how many of them have been hypnotized before.  About five percent of the audience typically raises their hands. I also ask how many of them have never even seen live hypnotism before, and anywhere from 30-50% of the audience will raise their hands.  I've been touring for a decade, now, and those numbers really haven't changed.  The vast majority of Americans have little to no experience with hypnosis.

As a stage hypnotist, I feel a duty to entertain my audience, and I also recognize an opportunity to be an ambassador for hypnotism.  I would like to think that every time I put on a good show, that I demonstrate the fun side of hypnotism while also showing I care about people, that I am opening up people's minds to the possibility of using hypnosis.  But surely there must be some times, over a decade of performing, when I have done something in a show that somebody didn't like.  You can't control every single aspect of a stage hypnotism show.  Sometimes, even the things you are in control of don't work the way you envisioned them when you actually do them.

Some hypnotists might argue that the hypnotic bridge is a way to show people how powerful the human mind is.  They might say that, if it's performed properly, there is no risk to the volunteer.  I am basically making that same argument about my whole show, but what if that's just a rationalization?  Can you use hypnosis for entertainment ethically?  Or are you in trouble the moment you choose to use hypnosis to create moments in which the audience is laughing at the people on stage?  If we can't ensure that all stage hypnotists will perform with the highest standards of safety and ethics, should we ban stage hypnotism?

Hypnotists are just people, and all people have challenges.  When I created my reality web series, I wanted to show people that hypnosis is something we can all benefit from, so I figured I should model that myself.

I was recently at a cookout at a colleague's home, and everybody there was a hypnotist.  My colleague had purposefully invited only hypnotists for this particular event, as a way to build some new friendships and bring like-minded people together.  A few of the people there were newly certified hypnotists, people who had gotten their certification within the past six months.  Others, like myself, had been practicing for a decade or more. It was a nice mix of people from different backgrounds and experience levels who all wanted to do good things and create successful practices.

After we had been there for a couple of hours, I could tell that there was a feeling of familiarity, good rapport, that was in the group.  We had all been talking about the projects we were working on, and the folks who were newer, more recently certified, had stayed out of the conversation.  I could tell they were observing and taking mental notes.  Finally, one brave guy was willing to break the silence from that contingent.

"Can I ask you a question?" he said.

"Sure" I replied.

"It's pretty clear that several of you have been doing this for awhile and have some really good experience to draw from.  I feel like I need to take advantage of that" he explained.

"I think it's smart of you to do so" I said.  "What do you want to know?"

"Well, I got certified a year ago, and I've been trying to make a go of it, but I just can't seem to get any momentum going.  I know that I'm really good at what I do, and I really want to help people, but I just can't seem to get them into my office.  What are you guys doing that's getting you so much work?  What's the secret?"

"There's no secret" said Tom, one of the more experienced guys that was there.  "It's the oldest stuff in the book.  You hustle, and you can't just focus on the hypnosis.  You have to learn how to run your business.  You have to be able to sell.  You can be the best hypnotist in the world, but if you can't get people into your office, you're going to go out of business.  What are you offering to people?"

The man who asked the initial question responded with a description of his services that was so long-winded I can't type it all here.  He got into the metaphysics of how he approaches hypnotism, and how his methods are special and different from most other hypnotists.  I could tell by the way he was talking that he was being truly sincere, that he cared deeply about helping people, but he was making a classic mistake, and since he asked, I felt an obligation to tell him about the mistake he was making.

"You just showed me why your business is failing" I said, "and I'll explain it to you, but it's going to make you feel bad at first. I need you to fight through that bad feeling and really listen to me.  Can you do that?"

"I think I can" he answered.

"Ok.  Here it is, in a nutshell:  you're all about yourself, in terms of how you talk about your work.  Tom asked you what you're offering to people, and you just spent a solid two minutes talking about what makes YOU special.  If you're talking to potential clients the way you just talked to us, you're going to lose them.

I believe everything you said.  I can tell by the way you talk that you're passionate about your work, and you really want to make a difference with people.  That's fantastic.  When you talk with people, you have to speak to them so that passion is framed around them, not around you.  They don't come to you to hear about how great you are, how much you know, or any of that stuff.  They come to you because they need help, and they want to know that you will do your very best to help them."

He dropped his head down for a brief moment and shook it slowly from side to side.  Then he looked up at me and smiled.  "You're totally right.  In trying to explain, I just talked about myself.  I didn't mean to, but I see, now, that it came off that way.  I won't make that mistake again."

As hypnotists, we're not selling hypnosis.  We're selling a solution to someone's problem.  Hypnosis just happens to be the tool we use to help the client solve the problem.  Focus on the solution.  Focus on helping the client see that you can help them solve that problem, and they will want to work with you.

There's a creative process to being a stage hypnotist.  Part of the job is creating content that will entertain your audience and set you apart from other stage hypnotists.  How do you do that?

Hypnotizing people requires one set of skills.  Creating a stage show that is entertaining requires an additional set of skills.  Most stage hypnosis trainers teach you to hypnotize people, and they touch every so briefly on the the business aspects and entertainment aspects of the business.  They will often leave you to fend for yourself, in those areas.  It's a big part of why so many people who have been trained and certified in stage hypnotism aren't actually out there doing shows.

 

Past life regression is a popular topic in the world of hypnotism, and it's one of the topics that the broader public is often curious about, as well. I interviewed two practicing hypnotists who offer PLR as part of their practices, and they were kind enough to share their perspective.

The tour is wrapping up, but there's plenty to do for a full-time hypnotist.

The tour brings Paul back to New Hampshire for a show at his alma mater.

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Touring is taking its toll on Paul. A mistake while driving could mean missing a show.

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