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In this video, Paul briefly explains how some of the less popular, or less common, markets for stage hypnotists operate.  Each market has different pay levels, buyers, and time commitments.

There are approximately 4,000 colleges in the United States.  How do you get work with them as a stage hypnotist?

I've been hypnotizing people on stage since 2004, and in that span of time I've hypnotized approximately 12,000 people.  High school students, college students, and adults at corporate events and theater shows have shared the experience with me.  My audiences have been as small as 25 people, and as large as 1600.  Throughout it all, there have always been, and always will be, naysayers and skeptics.  And that's okay.

First of all, I think a healthy skepticism is an important quality of being a free-thinker.  I don't ever take it personally when people tell me they're skeptical about my profession.  I do get a bit perturbed when people make absolute statements like, "There's no way it's real" or "You'd have to be an idiot to believe in hypnosis." Those statements, and variations of them, have been shared with me many times.  Why are some people so harsh in their criticism of hypnotism?

It's due to a fundamental misunderstanding of what is going on for the person who is hypnotized, and as long as you haven't had the experience yourself, you can't fully appreciate what is happening on stage.  When you're an audience member at a stage hypnosis show, you sit in your seat and evaluate everything you see happening on stage through the critical thinking filter of your conscious mind.  It is only natural, then, for those critical thinking skills to raise red flags for you.

"Normal" people don't act like this.

"Regular" people would never do that.

This can't be real.

For an audience member, using their typical critical thinking skills that they use every day of their lives, what appears on stage at a hypnotism show looks to be simple spoofing, play acting.  It seems especially foolish when you only get to see a picture or a quick video clip from a show.  These things only capture a moment, without giving any window into the greater experience that volunteers at stage shows are having.

When a person volunteers to be in a stage hypnotism show, and successfully enters a hypnotic state, that person no longer thinks critically like all the other people in the audience.  The volunteer is now using their brain in a different way.  The frequency of the brain waves actually changes, slowing down.  They are more like a person who is having a powerful daydream than the astute and skeptical observers in the audience.

In this different set of brain activity, the hypnotized volunteer is typically experiencing some level of dissociation.  They can even have powerful hallucinations.  When the hypnotist gives a suggestion on stage, the way it is processed by the hypnotized volunteer is quite different from the way someone in the audience thinks about it.  Let me give you a specific example.

A long-standing bit in the world of stage hypnotism is to give a man the suggestion that he is having a baby.  As that suggestion is being given to a volunteer on stage, it would only be natural for a person in the audience to think of it as ridiculous.  Thinking critically, we know that men can't have babies.  They simply aren't built for it, biologically speaking.  But the volunteer on stage takes suggestions literally.  The volunteer does not think critically.  So when told that he will have a baby, the volunteer who accepts the suggestion fulfills it by having some level of a hallucination.

I have had men on stage weep with joy at the arrival of their newly birthed child.  I've watched them cradle the hallucinated baby in their arms.  For them, it isn't much different than having a dream.  Haven't you had a dream before that was so realistic at the time of the experience that you were completely exhilarated or terrified by the dream experience's realness?  That's how it is for highly hypnotizable people.  But for the person in the audience, still thinking critically about what they are watching, it just seems too implausible, sometimes.

The most common experience that "converts" skeptics into believers is a wonderfully simple experience: watching someone you know get hypnotized.  More times than I can count, I've had someone come up to me after one of my shows and say, "I never believed in hypnosis before tonight, but tonight my ______ was up on stage, and I know they would never do that on their own.  For them to be up there, like that, it has to be real."

One of the things I enjoy most about my work is that I can entertain people while also opening their minds to new and different experiences, and to new and different ways of thinking about themselves. In that way, I think stage hypnotism is a gift.

 

Paul Ramsay performs his interactive stage hypnotism show, "Mind Games" for audiences all over the United States.  To learn more about Paul's work as a stage hypnotist, visit www.paulramsay.com

Wendy Merron trains consulting hypnotists in Pennsylvania.  She's a great person, and a dedicated professional.  She wanted her students to get some perspective from another practicing hypnotist, so she was kind enough to invite me to a Q&A with her class.

When I speak with people about my profession, I think it's important to be honest and open about all the different aspects of the work we do.  I think there's too much secret keeping and question dodging in our community, so when I get these opportunities to speak with students, I don't hold back.

I was disappointed, this morning, to find what I perceived as a dig at hypnotists in a post from one of my favorite TV hosts, Mike Rowe.  To see the full post from Mike Rowe, go here.  Given the greater context of the piece, I'm sure Mike was not making a big effort to slight the profession of hypnotism, but I think challenging these stereotypes, even when they are casually made, is important.

The Stroop Test is an exercise that measures attention.  The premise is pretty simple.  The word for a color is written in a color that may or not be congruent with the word itself...

Stroop

 

The objective is to identify the actual color of the text.  In this case, it's red, even though the text says "green." Sometimes the color matches the text; sometimes it doesn't.  In the test, participants are asked to repeat this process over and over, and there's a tally of how many correct responses are given.  If you'd like to give it a try, you can do so here.

Semantic processing, your understanding of the word, happens automatically.  It takes attention to work through whether the actual color of the text is congruent with what the text says.  In an effort to be as quick as possible when performing the exercise, the conflict between reading the word and seeing the color produces errors.

But not if you're hypnotized.

When subjects are hypnotized and given the suggestion that they can't read the text ("These words are written in a language you don't understand.") the people in the study only recognize the color, and they get the color responses correct.  The only catch is that the people who have succeeded in the studies are highly hypnotizable.  The low hypnotizable subjects didn't fare as well.  Here is one of those published studies.

This is a great example of how hypnosis can actually change brain function.  In this case, the simple suggestion that they couldn't read the words turned off that function in their brain and allowed them to focus on the colors.  This encourages us to look at hypnosis as related, to some extent, to attention and how we allocate brain space and usage to attention.

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.

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.

 

by Paul Ramsay

My phone rang this morning, and the caller ID said it was a colleague from the world of stage hypnosis.  I smiled as I answered, knowing that he always makes me laugh and something good was coming.  Boy, was I surprised.

"I had to call you because I'm so frustrated and angry, and I didn't know who else to talk to" he said.  I could tell by his tone that he was serious. 

"Lay it on me" I replied.

My colleague proceeded to tell me about how he had just gotten a booking at a comedy club, and that he went in person to go over the details with the manager.  They negotiated the fee and all the usual details, and then the manager said, "Will you be bringing your own people?" to which my colleague responded "What do you mean?"

"Well, the guy we used to use, he would bring his own people to be on stage at the show" said the manager.

This is known as using shills.  It's a practice that I really didn't think existed anymore, and I was shocked when my friend told me this story.  When I was first getting into the business, I read stories of this practice from the old, old days.  The shill, or stooge, sits in the audience as if they are a complete stranger, then volunteers to be in the show, and acts as if hypnotized the whole time.  I guess it's a sort of safety net for the hypnotist.  What it really is, is fraud.

One of the things that makes stage hypnotism unique, and challenging, is that you have to actually hypnotize people.  If you're a comedian, you stand on stage and tell your jokes.  Maybe folks laugh, maybe they don't.  If you're a magician, you do your tricks.  If you're a musician, you play your songs.  Hypnotists don't deliver the entertainment themselves; they facilitate it.  Volunteers are actually the stars of the show.  So a successful show is predicated on actually getting people into hypnosis.

I have had three times in my nine year career where I was unable to get anyone hypnotized to a deep enough level to use them in my show.  It's an awful feeling, but I would not let the fear of having to go through that experience put me in a position where I use stooges.  Never.  It's cheating, to me, and my integrity is everything.

When you work as a stage hypnotist, your primary job is to entertain people, but I believe you also have a responsibility to work ethically, to represent hypnotism in a positive way to the people in your audience.  I see every performance as a chance to open people's minds to the possibility that hypnosis could help them, that it's not just for entertainment.  To do this, I must show people the reality of how hypnosis works, which includes the reality that it doesn't always work for everyone on every occasion.

It saddens me to know that this other hypnotist is out there using shills, and some people know he is using shills, so he is contributing to the long-held belief of some that hypnosis isn't real.  It also disappoints me to know that people have paid their hard-earned money to watch a show that was really all a charade.  The whole situation tarnishes my profession, and I understand why my colleague was so upset.