Is stage hypnosis bad?

By | Monday 23 February 2015

First, let’s clarify what I mean.

  • Stage hypnosis: These are shows for entertainment, typically done in theatre, pubs or other public places. In this discussion, I’ll also include impromptu shows such as street hypnosis or shows done for friends at a party.
  • Hypnotherapy: This is where hypnosis is used for therapy or to improve someone’s abilities, such as helping a golfer to improve his score.

What is the difference between stage hypnosis and hypnotherapy?

Hypnosis shows (stage hypnosis, street hypnosis)

A hypnosis show is usually done for entertainment. Its purposes may be to surprise, shock, awe, or even show off, using the power of hypnosis.

The whole point of a hypnosis show is entertainment.

The hypnotist carefully chooses people who are more susceptible to hypnotic suggestion (because not everyone can be hypnotised easily and quickly). Although this is clear in a standard hypnosis show if you pay attention, it is not so clear in impromptu demonstrations.

A stage or street hypnotist trained by a reputable school and registered with a reputable organisation will have a code of ethics to which they must adhere.


The standard Hollywood demonstration of hypnotherapy is about as far from normal hypnotherapy as you can imagine!

Actually, that’s not completely true. Sometimes it does work out that way in the therapy room, although it is pretty rare.

Most hypnotherapists use a slow relaxing induction into hypnotherapy, simply because it is so calming and restful, which has powerful benefits for the anxious. But this is not always the case. Many times, hypnosis can be done quickly, without relaxation. You can see many examples of that in stage hypnosis, although the techniques are generally softer in the therapy room.

The whole point of hypnotherapy is to improve someone’s life.

Many hypnotherapists combine hypnosis with other therapies. A number of other therapists add hypnotherapy to their tool-kit; for example, some counsellors, clinical psychologists, and even GP’s and psychiatrists will learn hypnotherapy.

As with stage and street hypnosis, a hypnotherapist who has trained with a reputable school and registered with a reputable organisation will have a code of ethics.

Stage hypnosis is bad!

Well, that’s the opinion of a number of hypnotherapists, who argue that stage hypnosis “trivialises” hypnotherapy.

I beg to differ. Although I, personally, have never done stage or street hypnosis, I see no reason why it should be bad. Provided that the hypnotist adheres to the code of ethics, there is no problem. Contrary to the occasional sensational article in tabloids, hypnosis cannot hurt anyone (unless, of course, performed by an unethical hypnotist, in which case it’s not the hypnosis that does the hurting).

After all, you wouldn’t say that cosmetic surgery for vanity (nose jobs, breast enhancement, liposuction) “trivialises” surgery, would you? Cosmetic dental work (whitening or straightening teeth) does not “trivialise” dentistry. If anything, they show the power that these skills have to enhance people’s lives.

In the same way, I see stage hypnosis as positive, allowing people to realise the awesome power of how hypnosis might be used for therapy.

The only downside of stage hypnosis is that the hypnotist needs to entertain, and so will often present hypnosis as some type of mystical phenomenon, when really it isn’t. But that’s not a serious issue, because most people watching entertainment will know that there is some degree of hype.