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  • Writer's pictureAlexander James

7 Ways Stage Hypnotists fool us.

Whilst stage hypnosis and hypnotherapy share some fundamental principles of hypnosis, their aims and outcomes could not be further apart!

Primarily, the stage illusionist’s goal is that of entertainment; to sell tickets and put on a show; to WOW! their audience and create a memorable experience for the whole family.

Subjects usually end up running around the stage like chickens, or demonstrating their newly acquired skills as kung-fu masters, before being emerged from hypnosis at the end of the extravaganza with no lasting change or effects.

The clinical hypnotherapist’s goal is to help clients achieve their therapeutic goals be that reducing anxiety, stopping unhelpful behaviours or overcoming their emotional challenges. All carried out in a transparent, collaborative and professional manner.

While the onstage spectacle is certainly intriguing and really quite funny, it is a notable departure from the serious nature of clinical hypnotherapy and the positive results it can achieve, and has, to an extent, undermined its credibility.

Because of this, one of the hypnotherapist’s first tasks in therapy is to dispel any myths and misconceptions surrounding hypnosis that television shows, movies and stage performances have propagated.

Misleading The Audience: 7 Strategies & Techniques

To ensure the performance is an entertainment success, a variety of strategies and techniques are used in stage hypnosis to mislead the audience and heighten the impact of the illusion.

Let’s take a look at them now!

1. Cherry Picking

When it comes to stage hypnosis, suggestibility is the most important thing. Suggestibility is an individuals tendency to respond to hypnotic suggestions.

The more suggestible the subject, the more entertaining the show!

The stage hypnotist cherry-picks the most suggestible volunteers from the audience for the performance by using a variety of suggestibility tests. Inviting them on stage, they are further whittled down to get the most suitable people to be part of the performance.

2. Audience Expectation

The volunteers’ compliance is increased further by the pressures of being on stage in front of an expectant audience and being swept into the script of a well crafted stage-show.

These individuals are now so susceptible and ready to perform that the chance of them not going into hypnosis and performing for the audience is almost zero.

3. It’s magic!

Alongside traditional hypnotic techniques, an array of deceptions are employed.

‘Sleight of hand’ and ‘smoke and mirrors’, normally the stuff of magic shows, are used deliberately to amplify the viewers’ experience.

4. Private Whispers

Communication between the hypnotist and subject is sometimes done via microphone and earpiece, asking them to play along in deceiving the audience.

5. Fake Hypnosis

There are number of fake hypnosis tricks employed by stage hypnotists to confuse the audience. For example ‘hypnotised animals’, ‘flameproof hypnosis’, ‘stuck in the chair’, ‘stopping of the pulse’ etc., with the most famous being the ‘human plank trick’.

6. Taking advantage of the knowledge gap

The audience’s lack of knowledge about hypnosis also plays into the hypnotist’s hands when it comes to his failure to challenge certain suggestions. For example, the subject can be told that their ‘arm is as rigid as steel’ but the instruction to attempt to ‘bend it' is withheld.

7. Nothing but a stooge!

Stage hypnosis productions can even plant stooges in the audience, who can be the first “volunteer” and the first to respond strongly to each suggestion the hypnotist gives. This in turn encourages the other volunteers to follow suit and imitate his responses.

Whilst the stage hypnotist is relying upon at least a few of the volunteers from the audience to be highly suggestible extroverts, having a stooge to hand will always make the more difficult and dramatic suggestions a definitive success, leading to rapturous applause from the audience, rave newspaper reviews, and a possible Netflix special.

Stage Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy; Are there ANY similarities?

It should go without saying that hypnotherapy fails to match the pageantry of stage hypnosis. You will find no smoke and mirrors or performing stooges in your hypnotherapy sessions; no sleight of hand or enraptured audience.

But in spite of such clear differences between, there are things hypnotherapists can learn from stage hypnosis.

Firstly, it demonstrates the importance of the hypnotic subject’s motivation and willingness to participate in the therapeutic process .

Much like carefully selected audience members, clients seeking therapy need to be goal driven, willing and ready to make changes, and to be a dedicated participant in the process. Without active participation from clients, any suggestions – be that to overcome panic attacks in a therapeutic environment, or sing like Pavarotti on cue in front of a paying audience – are futile.

Finally, stage hypnosis shows what people can do, outlandish as it may considered to be, when they commit their mind to something, when they are motivated and give maximum effort toward a desired outcome. To change their lives for the better.

Whilst the entertainment factor may be left wanting, the potential benefits toward emotional and psychological health and well-being are immense.

Hypnotherapy and Mindfulness in Harley Street

The Mindful Therapist Harley Street combines techniques from CBT, Hypnotherapy & Mindfulness to provide a structured and straightforward approach to therapy.

Please click on the links below to find out more about how Hypnotherapy can help you today.


M.Heap, K.K Aravind, Medical and Dental Hypnosis, Harlands (2002)

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