Stage hypnosis and hypnotherapy – what’s the difference?

As a senior hypnotherapist with many years experience, you would be amazed how often I’m asked the difference between stage hypnosis and hypnotherapy.

There is some similarity in the way that we lead clients into a hypnotic state, although each hypnotherapist will have their own preferred technique for doing that.  However, the suggestions made and purpose of the hypnotic state are entirely different.

So what are the differences between stage hypnosis and hypnotherapy?

The biggest difference between the two is the intended outcome.  With stage hypnosis, the ultimate goal is to entertain the audience, with no long-lasting change to the participant.  Participants are ‘awakened’ at the end and any effects from the hypnosis end immediately.

With hypnotherapy, the long-term goal is almost always behaviour change, whether that is better relaxation, improved confidence, habit-quitting (such as smoking or weight loss) or indeed any other personal goal that we can help a client achieve.  This is incredibly life affirming work, and a discipline I find very personally rewarding.

Can everyone be hypnotised?

Everyone who WANTS to be hypnotised can be hypnotised.  Therapists are trained in a learned skill, we are not magicians – so if you are determined not to be hypnotised or don’t want to be, then we can’t override free will.

What makes a person receptive to hypnosis?

 A stage hypnotist uses suggestibility testing in order to choose their volunteers and will often choose only the most receptive people from the audience – usually those who most want to perform.  In a therapy session, a professional hypnotherapist may use these same tests to identify the best suggestions and approach to use or avoid during a therapy session.  We may choose different approaches for different people, but the state we aim to achieve is the same.

Can you make me act against my will?

Whether on stage or in an office, perhaps the biggest myth hypnotists encounter is that we will somehow make the recipient do things they don’t want to do.  Fortunately, this is a myth.

Under hypnosis you will not be able to do anything which goes against your personal values or beliefs – you are not asleep, but will be in a state of heightened awareness in which you are aware of everything that’s happening around you.

The hypnotherapist does not take control, we simply make suggestions, which the mind is more receptive to when the brain is in a hypnotic state.  I may add, it simply is not possible to take control of someone else’s mind, only to suggest things to them.  If you don’t like a suggestion that you hear – you won’t take it on board.

So no, for avoidance of doubt, I do not make clients cluck like a chicken and walk around the therapy room flapping their wings for my own entertainment, and I have no power to do that either!

How does hypnosis work then?

While we may claim we want to make major life changes, we are often subconsciously sabotaging our success through habits and old belief patterns.

Weight loss and smoking are great examples.  It’s a safe bet that we all know that drinking fizzy pop, downing copious amounts of junk food and smoking 20 cigarettes a day is bad for us.  We don’t need to learn they are bad, we need to treat the impulses which make this food seem like a reward, which sabotage our best efforts to quit.

Hypnosis is the perfect tool for dealing with this, because both these impulses and the therapy itself take place in the sub-conscious. 

It’s like directly addressing the bus driver rather than the conductor.  The driver (you) can still choose to ignore my suggestions but as you are more receptive and in a heightened state of awareness while under hypnosis, you are more likely to really hear the message and respond positively!

Is stage hypnosis and hypnotherapy regulated?

It may surprise you to know that stage hypnosis and hypnotherapy are regulated differently.

in the UK, stage hypnosis is regulated by the Home Office Model Conditions, which are set out in the 1952 Hypnotism Act.

This gives Local Authorities the power to grant or refuse permission for hypnosis shows, and a Hypnotism Licence must be obtained for all public demonstrations of hypnotism. However, this is mostly ignored and where the audience is private, such as at a party, a members club etc. no licence is needed anyway.

The Federation of Ethical Stage Hypnotists (FESH) to which a majority of stage hypnotists belong, has a strict code of conduct, which its members swear to uphold – but a stage hypnotist is unlikely to be checked by the host.

They may well do the bare minimum of training and may not belong to a professional body, hold insurance or conform to any ethical guidelines as laid down by that professional body – though actually some stage hypnotists may do all of this, too, it comes down to the individual.

Is stage hypnosis wrong?

Some, not all, hypnotherapists feel strongly about stage hypnosis and hypnotherapy and assume stage practitioners are somehow ‘lesser’.  However, many have trained over many years.  I prefer to see it as merely using a tool differently.

You can use water to bath a baby or to swim, at the end of the day, it’s still water.

However, as a senior practitioner and hypnosis trainer, my concern is not so much what the therapist plans to do once trained, more whether or not they will operate ethically and safely. 

What should I look for when choosing a hypnotherapist?

Hypnotherapy for private use is NOT regulated in the UK and therefore it is important for clients to check a therapists credentials.

As with any other therapy, a practising hypnotherapist should be professionally qualified and insured. If you aren’t sure, ask to check.  The qualifications and insurance are not cheap to obtain and any reputable therapist will be delighted to show you their credentials and professional indemnity insurance certificate.

In my case, I’m also delighted to show you testimonials from clients who I have worked with.

Hypnotherapy is, for me, a very rewarding way to make a living.  I may not be rich, but the rewards of what I do have given me a very rich and blessed life, helping people reach their personal milestones and conquer their fears.

For me, that’s far more rewarding than getting a few laughs on stage.

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