Recently, as part of research for his role in the hypnosis-led thriller Trance, actor James McAvoy spent time with a hypnotherapist, but failed to achieve a state of hypnosis [click here]. “I was very keen to be suggested,” he said, “to have somebody tell me to run naked or cluck like a chicken or whatever, but it didn’t work for me.” And, therein lies the rub. I would argue that hypnosis failed due to his expectations.
It’s a misinformed cliché to say that a hypnotherapist you will make you cluck like a chicken, bark like a dog or do any of those things.
A stage hypnotist might do those things, for the purposes of entertainment. But hypnotherapy is not entertainment. It is therapy undertaken in a state of hypnosis.
As such, it is a very serious business and one with your mental health and wellbeing as its prime consideration.
If Mr McAvoy went to a hypnotherapist expecting to be made to do something, he would have left very much surprised and/or disappointed. Which is probably what happened.
You can’t even be hypnotised against your will. You can’t be made to do anything you don’t want to do. You are in control at all times.
Hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness similar to daydreaming, nodding off, zoning out or losing yourself in a really good book. You know how to go into those states all by yourself and you do so several times a day.
So far, so safe and natural.
If you thought hypnosis was a load of rubbish and that you could not be hypnotised, you’d be absolutely right and there would be nothing a stage hypnotist or hypnotherapist could do about it.
Hypnosis happens by agreement. You allow a hypnotherapist to help you go into a state of trance, something you know how to do anyway, but right there and then, for the purposes of therapy, to help you achieve your goals.
If the therapist did anything at any point that you had not agreed to, that was not therapy (such as barking like a dog), you would be able to wake up immediately and tell them to stop.
Even stage hypnosis happens by agreement. The hypnotist asks for a volunteer, someone willing to be the entertainment for that show; if they picked on the unwilling, the hypnosis would fail.
Another cliché I often notice in the media is one perpetrated by many journalists themselves when writing about hypnotherapy.
They often write something along the lines of, “contrary to popular belief, I was not made to cluck like a chicken, nor was I hypnotised by a man with a mesmeric stare and a swinging pocket watch” thereby reinforcing (either wittingly or unwittingly) all those things as exactly that: popular beliefs.
Firstly, any journalist worth his or her salt should have been taught to avoid clichés like the plague (I hope you see what I did there); secondly, as I have already mentioned, chicken clucking is not part of any therapeutic practice, hypnotic or otherwise and, thirdly, no modern day hypnotherapist would rely on a mesmeric stare and a swinging pocket watch to help you achieve a state of hypnosis.
That’s not to say that you can’t be hypnotised by a swinging pocket watch, I could use one if you wanted me to but, really, that’s just so passé.
You don’t even have to look into my eyes either, despite what you have seen on Little Britain.