Why Hypnotherapy Isn’t Like Stage Hypnosis

John Cerbone stage hypnosis

As a clinical hypnotherapist, I get all kinds of reactions when people find out what I do for a living. Anything from “ooh… I’m scared of hypnosis” or “do you make people cluck like chickens?” And when I hear things like that I realise that for most people, their only experience with hypnosis is what they’ve seen on television, or at a show.

There are a number of reasons why what people see in a stage show doesn’t have very much in common with what happens when a person visits a clinical hypnotherapist seeking help for whatever problem they want help with.

(By the way, the lady on the far right is me, and this is on stage in Las Vegas. The stage hypnotist is my good friend The Trance-Master, John Cerbone.)

Reason 1: Stage hypnosis is a performance.

The first priority of the stage hypnotist is to be entertaining, because that’s what they get paid for. The first priority of the hypnotherapist is to help people make a change in their lives, and most often this isn’t very interesting to watch, since the client looks as though they’re asleep in a comfortable chair, while the hypnotherapist talks to themself!

Reason 2: The suggestions given to subjects in a stage show don’t need to last very long.

The type of suggestions given by a stage hypnotist only need to last for the length of the show – maybe 60 minutes or so. They usually only have to be effective once, to create a good show. The stage hypnotist can tell which of his participants are the best hypnotic subjects and those are the ones he may give suggestions to that have an effect out in the audience after the show is over.  A clinical hypnotherapist isn’t looking for short-term responses to simple suggestions, however. We are working with material with more emotional history, and working to create durable responses that last a lifetime. This requires a different skillset, deeper rapport with the client and more hypnosis sessions.

Reason 3: The stage hypnotist works in a controlled environment, whereas the clinical hypnotherapist is giving suggestions that the client will take out into the real world.

clinical HYPNOSIS
Pretty boring to watch!

A stage hypnosis show only lasts an hour or so. So it doesn’t matter if the suggestions that the subjects are given will wear off after a while, or are constructed in a way where the subject could take them out of context because at the end of the show they should be given suggestions to negate the suggestions they’ve been given during the show. If there are any problems with suggestions being taken out of context during a stage show, the stage hypnotist is right there and should be able to deal with situation immediately.

In the clinic, people want to make a change for good, not just a change for a few minutes, days or weeks. To help a client to achieve this, we need to be much more careful about how suggestions are formulated so that they are appealing to the client’s subconscious mind, and that they deal with the client’s problem in the right way.

Often the problem that a client wants help with has other contributing factors, and these factors need to be taken into consideration when putting together a treatment program that gives the client the best possible prospect of overcoming their problem for good. We also have to think about how those suggestions are going to be supported over the coming weeks, so that they remain relevant and important in the client’s mind, and become dominant over the months or even years of experience that they’ve had of their problem.

Reason 4: Suggestions given during stage shows usually don’t have any emotional history associated with them.

During a stage show, subjects are often given suggestions like “when you hear X you will start dancing.” And for the subjects on stage, these suggestions are accepted, and when X plays, they start dancing. While there’s go guarantee that every subject will respond to these suggestions in exactly the same way, they’re generally on neutral ground where it’s unlikely that the subject has any preconceived ideas that will interfere with the suggestions being accepted and acted on.

In the clinic, there is never a clean slate to deal with. Clients arrive at the clinic with all kinds of ideas about their problem, about their prospects for improvement, as well as experience of having the problem, why they have the problem, and how they’ve dealt with it along the way. To be able to help them overcome these problems using hypnosis, these preconceived ideas and experiences need to be taken into consideration, otherwise there is a very high probability that some of these ideas and thoughts will get in the way of the client making the progress that they want to make.

Reason 5: Stage hypnotists carefully select their subjects, hypnotherapists work with (almost) anyone.

Only about 10% of the population respond to suggestions given during hypnosis in a way that makes them viable subjects for a stage show. This is why at the beginning of a show, the stage hypnotist goes through a process of identifying that 10%. The others are often told “sorry, you couldn’t be hypnotised.” There are numerous methods of helping a person into hypnosis, and some methods generally work better or faster than others, and some work very well for some people and not so well for others. The only people who cannot be helped into hypnosis by some means are those with a very short attention span, and those who don’t want to go into hypnosis.

In the clinic, the hypnotherapist is able to work with almost any client, as long as they want to change, and their are no factors that make hypnotherapy an inappropriate form of treatment for the client. Whether you’re one of the 10% or the other 90% makes no difference to the progress you can make with the help of hypnosis and appropriate suggestions.

While both the stage hypnotist and clinical hypnotist both use hypnosis, you can see that our approach to creating suggestions is very different because of the different goals between the two.  So if you’ve seen a stage show and thought, “I’m not doing that!” you can be assured of a very different experience when you visit a clinical hypnotherapist. Whether you’re looking for help to stop smoking, or get over your fear of public speaking, clinical hypnotherapy is safe, comfortable and effective.


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