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.



3 Steps To A Stress Free Christmas

With Christmas once again almost upon us, I felt this might be a useful time to share my 3 steps for a stress free holiday.

The festive period is a great time to unwind, spend time with family and friends, overindulge and catch up on all the Christmas specials on television. Unfortunately, Christmas can also be a stressful time if you have to deal with overexcited kids, drunk uncles and broken Christmas tree lights. Follow these 3 steps and you’ll enjoy a much more relaxing, enjoyable and stress free holiday.

Start With A Healthy Perspective

Too often our expectations for how the holidays will turn out becomes unrealistic. The kids must love their presents; the Christmas turkey must be perfect; no-one should argue; she shouldn’t get drunk; the Christmas tree has to look perfect.

We want Christmas to be great and so we end up making ourselves anxious by placing unrealistic expectations on ourselves and others. We need to start by having a healthy perspective on the holidays. Some things won’t turn out the way you want them to – and that’s ok, it doesn’t have to be perfect. With 6 billion people living on a planet floating in an infinite universe how important is it really that you have a perfect Christmas?

Begin by thinking about the small pleasures you want to get out of Christmas and then recognise that anything else is a bonus. So perhaps your goal is to have a few days away from a hectic workplace, or spend a couple of hours with your children, or visit an elderly relative, or go for a drink with an old friend, or go for a winter walk with your family. By hoping these things happen, but not wanting or expecting them to happen, you are developing a healthier and more realistic perspective.

Practice Acceptance

So, it’s Christmas day and the dog has stolen the turkey…

Take a deep breath…

Acceptance means acknowledging a situation in a non-judgemental way, not seeing it as good or bad. Things happen over Christmas that we have no control over. For example, we can’t control other people’s behaviours, responses or emotions any more than we can influence the weather. If you have visitors coming on Christmas day some will be early, some late and if you are lucky some will turn up on time. Acceptance doesn’t mean liking, supporting or endorsing a situation but it does mean recognising that you can’t change what has happened. Spending time worrying about the future or ruminating on what’s happened will just mean you won’t enjoy the holidays. Learning to accept the ebb and flow of the holidays is the second step to feeling calmer.

A really useful technique to help you practice acceptance was develop by Dr Elisha Goldstein and is based on the acronym S.T.O.P:

S – Stop what you are doing

T – Take a breath. Breathe naturally and focus on your breathing for a moment.

O – Observe your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Name any emotions you recognise but don’t try to stop them, just allow them to be. Then take your attention to your body and become aware of any sensations and how you are holding yourself.

P – Proceed with something that will support you in that moment for example talk to someone or take a walk.

Develop An Attitude Of Gratitude

The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca summed up the value of gratitude best when he wrote:

“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.”

Unfortunately, as we got caught up in the Christmas spirit, especially in our modern age of consumerism, it is easy to lose track of all the things in our life for which we are grateful. No amount of expensive presents can be as fulfilling or rewarding as the support of a loved one, or a great friendship. Developing a better attitude of gratitude is proven to:

  • Improve physical health
  • Improve psychological health
  • Enhance empathy
  • Reduce aggression
  • Improve sleep
  • Improve self esteem
  • Increase mental strength

So this Christmas why not try this simple technique to help you feel happier and reduce and minimise any stress. A study of the effectiveness of this technique showed that 6 months later participants were on average 9% happier.

  • Get a notebook
  • Every night for one week before you go to bed make a note of 3 good things that have happened to you that day. It can be as simple as a delicious lunch or a catch up with friend
  • Think about why  – make a note of why it happened and why it made you feel good
  • Look back at your journal a week later. How does it make you feel? Are there any themes?
  • Try again for a second week. Get into the habit of including it in your bedtime routine


Mindfulness: the 2500 year old technique helping people today

Hardly a day goes by without a report in the newspaper about the success of mindfulness to improve people’s lives. Research into mindfulness has shown its use can improve:

But what is mindfulness and how can you incorporate into your life?

What is Mindfulness?

The practice of mindfulness and mindfulness meditation are key components of Buddhist teachings which were developed 2500 years ago. At the heart of Buddhism are the four noble truths:

  1. Life has inevitable suffering
  2. The cause of our suffering are our attachments
  3. There is an end to our suffering
  4. The end to suffering is contained in the eight fold path

You can think of attachments as being our “must, should and have too’s”. Attachments are our cravings and desires, the expectations we place upon ourselves and on others.

The eight fold path consists of guidelines for how to live a life without suffering. Right mindfulness is the seventh path and it involves learning to be more present and aware of the moment rather than focusing on our thoughts. Mindfulness can therefore be practised formally as a meditation, perhaps sat down undisturbed for 5 –10 minutes, or informally while going about our daily business.

By being mindful we can focus our attention on what we are doing at that moment. Perhaps while washing up, or driving to work we tend to allow our thoughts to wander and find ourselves worrying or ruminating on a situation. This in turn can lead us to feel negative emotions such as anger, anxiety or irritability. By learning to be mindful we can focus our mind on the task in hand. The key to mindfulness is to learn to accept when our mind does start to wander and to then gently take our attention back to what we are doing.

Mindfulness has been practised by millions of Buddhists for hundreds of years, mainly in the east, to improve their general well being. Then during the second half of the 19th century interest in Buddhism in the West began to grow. By the 1960’s, at the time of the rise of the counter culture movement, Buddhism became more popular in America and Europe.

At the same time Cognitive and Behavioural Therapies (CBT) were being developed based upon the idea that if you change the way you think or behave you can change the way that you feel. One of the originators of this new form of therapy was Albert Ellis who was influenced by the work of the Greek philosopher Socrates and the Stoics. The Roman Emperor and Stoic, Marcus Aurelius, gave the following advice:

“Every hour focus your mind attentively…on the performance of the task in hand, with dignity, human sympathy, benevolence and freedom, and leave aside all other thoughts. You will achieve this, if you perform each action as if it were your last…’ 

So, just as the Buddhist used mindfulness, the Stoics advised focusing on the present rather than getting caught up in unhelpful thoughts.

Then in the late 1970’s Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine, developed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). The programme incorporated mindfulness meditation, yoga and body awareness to help patients to reduce pain, stress and anxiety. Kabat-Zinn has described mindfulness as “moment to moment non-judgemental awareness”.

Since then the interest in mindfulness has increased greatly and has become ever more mainstream. Indeed the NHS now offer mindfulness courses to help patients with depression.

Mindfulness & Hypnosis

So, when working with clients, particularly for stress, anxiety, phobias and panic attacks I incorporate mindfulness techniques into client treatments. This inevitably leads clients to ask “are hypnosis and mindfulness/meditation the same thing?” In his book Mindfulness & Hypnosis: The Power of Suggestion to Transform Experience Michael Yapko claims that although not identical, hypnosis and mindfulness share “a common practical foundation, common methodology and common therapeutic orientation”.

Hypnosis is a state of focused attention and during hypnotherapy sessions I very often encourage clients to focus on a particular idea, image or suggestion. In a way, I’m teaching clients to focus on just one thing and not to become fused with their thoughts. I also teach clients to “let go” during sessions and also to become more aware of changes in bodily sensations such as warmth or heaviness. I also teach clients to “accept” their thoughts and to learn to not judge them. In addition I teach clients self-hypnosis techniques so that they can practice their new found skill whenever they need to settle and calm their minds.

Learning to be more mindful

The great thing about mindfulness is that it is portable, you can do it anywhere and it’s free. By starting to incorporate the practice into your daily life you can start to feel more centred and balanced throughout your life in general. Below is a really simple technique that you can use at any time.

Mindful Breathing

This is great to use through the day. I recommend you try to link it with something you do regularly during the day such as each time you wash your hands.

  • Take your attention to your breathing for 8-10 breaths
  • Observe each breath and become aware of any sensations eg the air coming in through your nose, the feeling of your abdomen rising and falling etc
  • If you find your mind wanders just accept any thought that pops into your head and then gently take your attention back to your breathing
  • At the end of the exercise expand your attention away from your breath and back into the room

Tackling Workplace Stress: A Worthwhile Investment

November 4th is National Stress Awareness Day (NSAD), coordinated annually by the International Stress Management Association (ISMA).

Having run NSAD since 1998, the theme this year is Employee Wellbeing as a Worthwhile Investment in Your Business and events are running up and down the country to promote the benefits of reducing workplace stress.

Hardly a day goes by without a news report, survey or piece of research that shows that stress is having a serious impact on the wellbeing of many people, not only in this country but across the world.

For businesses there are measureable impacts to all this workplace stress. Research in this country shows:

  • The total number of cases of stress in the UK in 2011/12 was 428,000, or 40% of all work-related illnesses
  • The cost of stress related absence to business is £3.7 billion

So the aim of this year’s NSAD, to show businesses that there are genuine benefits to having a healthy & happy workforce, should be taken seriously. The Health and Safety Executive have outlined a number of benefits to tackling workplace stress including:

Management benefits

  • Reduced staff turnover and intention to leave, so improving retention
  • Better absence management
  • Fewer days lost to sickness and absenteeism
  • Fewer accidents
  • Improved work quality
  • Improved organisational image and reputation

Benefits for individuals

  • People feel more motivated and committed to their work
  • Morale is high
  • People work harder and perform better – increasing their earning power
  • People feel that they are part of a team and the decision-making process, so accept change better
  • Relationships – with managers and within teams – are better
  • People are happy in their work and don’t want to leave

Economic benefits

  • Lower risks of litigation – because they comply with legal duties
  • Improved return on investment in training and development
  • Improved customer care and relationships with clients and suppliers
  • Reduced costs of sick pay, sickness cover, overtime and recruitment
  • Better staff understanding and tolerance of others experiencing problems


Getting it right in your workplace

So, if you are an employer or manager, or perhaps you are part of a workforce and want to help tackle stress in your workplace and improve wellbeing, how do you go about it?

I would strongly recommend that you start by taking a look at the ISMA Charter. This document clearly outlines how to develop a positive working culture in any organisation, regardless of size. It includes a range of behaviours and attitudes that all members of a team can work towards, developing a culture of trust, respect, openness and fairness.

Secondly, I would read and implement How to tackle work-related stress by the HSE. This documents uses a management standards approach to help employers manage the causes of work-related stress. Again, it requires a whole organisation approach and a commitment from all to evaluate and understand the causes of stress in that company. The document then advises that a process of monitoring and review is implemented to make sure that standards are maintained.