Are You Going To Make Me Cluck Like A Chicken?

When I tell people I’m a hypnotherapist I usually get one of 3 responses. Sometimes people are quite positive because they have had hypnosis themselves or know someone who has; occasionally they look at me with a bemused look, as though they didn’t really think it was a real job; or thirdly, and most commonly, I get some variation of “look into my eyes, not around the eyes…”

Of course, this response is understandable when most people’s experience and knowledge of hypnosis is either the Little Britain sketch, hypnotist dogs on Britain’s Got Talent, the recent ITV show Back In The Room, stage hypnotist shows on holiday or, for those with longer memories, Paul Mckenna making fools of contestants on his show in the early 90’s.

I think even for many potential clients who ring up to find out more about my hypnotherapy services there is often that nagging doubt at the back of their minds that I’m going to make them cluck like a chicken when their eyes are closed.

In this blog article I’m going to explore more about the similarities and differences between stage hypnosis and hypnotherapy and why what you see on TV isn’t always all it seems.

Stage Hypnotists 3 weapons: Hypnosis, Suggestions and Compliance

A good place to start is to understand what hypnosis really is. There have been dozens of theories written about hypnosis and one that fits in well with understanding how stage hypnosis works is called the Social Role-Taking Theory. This theory argues that a hypnotised person is simply playing a role, or acting “as if” they are hypnotised, based upon their understanding of how a hypnotised person behaves. They are not “faking it” but simply using their imagination to act, feel and think “as if” they are hypnotised.

In addition to hypnosis, understanding the power of suggestions is also helpful. We live in a society where we are bombarded by all types of suggestions. Whether that’s to buy a particular product or brand, to vote for a political party or to watch a particular television programme. Sometimes we call it advertising or marketing but, however we describe them, suggestions are aimed at influencing our behaviours, thoughts and feelings. In hypnosis we use positive suggestions to help people change unhelpful behaviours, but research shows that many people respond readily to suggestions outside of hypnosis.

Finally, the impact of compliance on an audience member is probably a stage hypnotists strongest weapon. In 1961 Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment to test whether participants would obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts conflicting with their personal conscience. Participants, were asked by the Experimenter (an authority figure) to give a Learner in another room (actually an actor and confederate) an electric shock for each incorrect answer they gave. In reality there were no shocks, just a well planned set up.  As the experiment went on the participants were told to increase the voltage of the electric shock up to 450v. Despite the screams and banging from the Learner after each increasingly stronger shock, the Experimenter insisted to the participant that the experiment had to continue. Despite many participants becoming stressed and upset by what they were doing to the Learner 65% of them administered the highest 450v shock. If people are willing to cause considerable pain to another, it becomes easier to understand why someone would be willing to make a fool of themselves in front of an audience when told to by a stage hypnotist.

The Secrets of a Stage Hypnotist

A stage hypnosis show usually starts with a call for volunteers. The stage hypnotist asks for volunteers to come on stage only if they “truly want to be hypnotised.” The popularity of some hypnotists means that there is usually no shortage of volunteers, and for those that do step forward the hypnotist can be highly certain that:

  1. They know what they are volunteering for and what will be expected of them. This means that they will be very willing to participate as directed by the hypnotist.
  2. They are going to be exhibitionists. Volunteers want to be on stage and want to perform, regardless of how foolish they might look. Indeed, they are happy to play the “role” of someone who is hypnotised, happy to follow any “suggestions” and will be happy to be “compliant” to any request made.
  3. Amongst the volunteers there will be some who have a “hidden agenda”. Perhaps to prove that it ‘s a “fraud” or that they cannot be hypnotised.

Once the volunteers are assembled the hypnotist will start to establish which of them are going to be entertaining performers and which are there to prove a point. Either off stage away from the audience or under dimmed lights on stage, the hypnotist will administer simple hypnotic suggestibility tests to the group. This will start by giving all the volunteers a quick hypnotic induction or focusing technique (for example “your eyes will get heavy as you listen to my voice”). Then using suggestions, usually given in an authoratative tone, such as “You can’t open your eyes” or “your hands are stuck tight together” they are able to find the most responsive volunteers. Volunteers who don’t respond well to the suggestions are asked to return to their seats. For those that remain the hypnotist will strengthen their confidence by making suggestions that they are good and responsive participants and how unfortunate it was that the others were not smart enough to succeed as hypnotic subjects.

By now, with the volunteers selected, the pressure to perform becomes very intense. The volunteers have been chosen for their ability to follow instructions, to be obedient and to put on a “good show”. They now need to perform well to meet the expectations of the hypnotist, the crowd and, of course, themselves. As we’ve already discovered we will readily comply with instructions, even if we may not truly wish to. At this point the audience expects the volunteers to behave in a particular way, and the volunteer themselves expects to be “made” to act in certain entertaining ways. Deviating from this arrangement is unlikely due to the volunteer’s expectation to conform to their “role”. With the peer pressure of a watching audience, it takes a strong sense of independence to not conform to the norm. Of course, any negative side effects from being a volunteer, such as embarrassment, can easily be attributed to the hypnosis and not the volunteer themselves. Indeed, research shows that people are far more willing to exercise questionable judgement when they are not held accountable for their actions eg it was the hypnotist/hypnosis that made me do it.

Therefore, on stage, you might have a combination of volunteers who are genuinely hypnotised, those who aren’t hypnotised but are “up for a laugh” and are happy to act “as if” hypnotised and finally those who aren’t hypnotised, perhaps no longer want to be there, but feel the pressure is too strong to say “I want to leave”. Of course, regardless of the state of the volunteer they are all able to refuse to follow any of the suggestions or instructions given by hypnotist. None of them have given up their personal control to the hypnotist, none of them are actually made to do anything that can’t be replicated out of hypnosis, they just act with a greater degree of compliance because that’s their “role” for the evening.

Finally, of course, some stage hypnotists will always be able to fall back on simple deceptions to make the show more entertaining, if the volunteers aren’t up for it. This might include the use of stooges or plants who are paid to perform or requesting that volunteers simply “play along” or fake it.

Stage Hypnotists; For or Against?

I have a confession to make. A part of me has a sneaky respect for stage hypnotists, illusionists and mentalists. Derren Brown is a great example of a performer that uses some of the techniques we’ve discussed to produce exciting, interesting and intelligent television shows. I love to be entertained and I’m willing to suspend disbelief and get taken in by the sleight of hand and misdirection. I then enjoy trying to work out how they did it and what tricks and techniques they used to make the act work.

On the other hand there have also been calls for stage hypnotists to be banned because some perceive them as being dangerous. I’m certain that this is not the case and famous legal cases favour the hypnotist (eg Gates v Mckenna). Indeed the Hypnotism Act (1952) makes sure that hypnotists comply with certain requirements to mitigate potential risks.

However, in my opinion too often stage hypnotists seem to want to produce shows that are crass and tasteless, having little respect for the dignity of their volunteers. I suppose to maintain a living as a stage hypnotist you need to be more outrageous to sell more tickets and I’m sure they would argue that they are just giving the audience what they want.

So what do you think? Have you ever watched a stage hypnotist show? Perhaps you were a volunteer? Do you think they should be banned or are they a valid form of entertainment. Please let me know in the comments box below.

photo credit: NMX14-1-334.jpg via photopin (license)


Why Your New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Stick And How To Fix It

Now that we are well into January how are your New Year’s resolutions going? Don’t feel bad if you’ve already had to dip into your children’s chocolate selection box, or missed your session at the gym. Research conducted in 2007 shows that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail to keep them. In this article we will look at why New Year’s resolutions don’t stick, what you can do about it and how hypnosis can help.

What was your New Year’s Resolution this year?

According to a Comres survey, a third of Brits make New Year’s resolutions and a Yougov poll showed the most popular were;

Lose weight 35%
Get fitter 33%
Eat more healthily 31%
Take more care of my appearance 15%
See more of family/friends 14%
Find more time for myself 12%
Get better at work-to-life balance 12%
Stop drinking alcohol/drink less 11%
Give up smoking 5%


As you can see, many people really want to be healthier, slimmer and enjoy life more. Unfortunately, 43% of those who failed to keep their New Year’s resolutions didn’t even manage a month before caving in to temptation, or going back to old or bad habits.

Why don’t New Year’s Resolutions stick?

As you probably already know from your own experience, just because we say we are going to quit smoking, lose weight, go to the gym or just make more time for ourselves, it doesn’t mean it is actually going to happen. Despite our best intentions, there are a couple of reasons why our resolutions just don’t stick.
Making personal changes requires willpower and it’s best to think of willpower as being like a muscle. Just as your biceps can only manage so many push ups before they give up, willpower is a limited resource that can be overloaded when asked to do too much. The prefontal cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for willpower, is also in charge of short term memory and solving abstract problems. Expecting it to take on the task of losing weight as well as everything else we have to do is just asking too much. In fact experiments show that when this part of the cortex is overloaded with information, participants are more likely to eat unhealthy food.
Another factor that reduces our success rate is our need for instant gratification. In a famous experiment called the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, small children were told that if they could resist the marshmallow (or cookie or pretzel) in front of them for 15 minutes then they would get to eat the marshmallow and get a second as a reward. Only a third of the children managed to delay gratification long enough to receive the second marshmallow. The children who were successful were able to distract themselves for long enough, for example by singing to themselves or tying their shoe laces. In other words, using distraction techniques they were able to remove the temptation from their consciousness. In a follow up study many years later the group that had resisted temptation “tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI), and other life measures”.

How can I make my resolutions stick?

If you really want to make a success of your New Year’s resolutions here are 5 really useful tips to increase your chances of success this year.

  • Only set yourself one resolution at a time – don’t overload your cortex with too many goals or targets
  • Make sure your resolution is SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic & time related). For example, commit to losing 8lbs in 10 weeks, rather than just “lose some weight”
  • Ask a friend or family member to help and support you. Keep them updated with your progress and speak to them when your willpower is slipping. Even better, find someone with a similar resolution eg quit smoking, and do it together
  • Think of your goal in terms of baby steps. Identify milestones along the way and make sure you celebrate each milestone you hit. For example, your first milestone could be 10 visits to the gym in 8 weeks. Reward yourself by going to the movies or having a pamper session
  • Don’t beat yourself up if you have a setback. Dust yourself off, accept that you need to take one step at a time and recommit to your goal. Learn to be more mindful and less judgemental or self critical by focusing on the present rather than the past or the future

How hypnosis can make your goals more achievable

When working with clients who are looking to change old, unwanted habits, such as smoking or biting nails, I successfully incorporate a technique called the Benefits Approach developed by a hypnotherapist called Roy Hunter. The process involves identifying the rewards or benefits of changing a behaviour and incorporating that into a future image of ourselves.
To begin with, define your goal and then identify the benefits. Write them down and make sure they will offer sufficient motivation to help you change. For example, if you want to lose weight your goal might be to lose 3 stone in 6 months. The benefits of losing that weight might be:

  • I’ll be healthier (this might even be related to an illness such as diabetes)
  • I’ll have more energy (and decide what you will do with this extra energy)
  • I’ll have a better self image
  • I’ll have a greater choice over the clothes I can buy and wear
  • I’ll be less conscious about my weight
  • I’ll feel more attractive
  • I’ll feel happier about myself

Once you are happy with your benefits you are ready to do some hypnosis

  1. Find 5 –10 minutes in your morning or night time routine to find somewhere you can be undisturbed to close your eyes and relax
  2. Close your eyes and simply count down slowly from 10 to zero. With each number allow yourself to become more comfortable and relaxed
  3. Once you are nice and relaxed, create in your own imagination an image of yourself, as you wish to be one year in the future, having achieved your goal. Be aware of how you look, how you feel, how you walk, talk and behave.
  4. As you enjoy that image focus on all your benefits; feeling healthier, happier, fitter etc and think about how those benefits are going to impact on your life. See yourself as you want to be doing the things you want to do.
  5. As you focus on those benefits create a wonderful feeling of success, as though you have already achieved your goal, as though those images are the present.
  6. Spend as much time as you want enjoying those images, feelings and ideas.
  7. Then spend a few moments refocusing on your goal and your commitment to achieving that goal. Become more aware that the benefits and rewards you identified are realistic and achievable.
  8. Finally, when you are ready, you can slowly emerge yourself from hypnosis by counting up from 1 to 5, becoming more energised with each number.

If you feel you need personal support to achieve your goals, whether for weight loss, to quit smoking, to feel calmer or any other habit please contact me to arrange your free consultation.