Category Archives: Current Events

Events and news relevant to hypnotherapy, hypnosis, and psychology

Hello Stranger! My Thoughts on Channel Four’s new hypnotism show.

Since many of you may have seen this show broadcast last week, I thought I’d put my thoughts on it in writing. For those who didn’t see the show, it involved a young couple who have lived together for four years and felt the spark had gone out of their relationship. Supposedly they were to be hypnotised by Aaron Calvert, a stage hypnotist, and caused to forget that they had ever met. They would then each go on three blind dates, including one date with each other. The main theme of the show was to see how they responded to each other when meeting as “strangers”. Would they still be attracted to each other, or would they prefer one of their other dates? (Who, unlike them, had not been hypnotised and knew what was going on).

I thought I would really hate this show, but I must admit I liked Aaron Calvert better than expected. I still disliked the show itself- Channel Four has evidently gone way downmarket since I last watched television in 2007!

A lot of reviewers have assumed the whole thing was faked, and that the couple were pretending. My impression though, was that they had genuinely forgotten that they knew each other. Despite the nonsense talked by the commentator that Aaron had “erased their memories,” Aaron himself said he had not erased the memory, just “put it somewhere out of reach.” It wasn’t clear how long they remained in this state of selective amnesia- I’m guessing that all the blind dates were filmed on the same day.

What I did like about the show was that they showed some of the selection process, in which it was made clear that Aaron had tested a great many other couples before picking these two. most stage hypnotists don’t do this, giving the impression that they could work their “magic” on anyone. Many of the applicants did not respond to Aaron’s hypnotic tests at all. This is realistic. There are very, very few people who could be so suggestible as the couple featured in this show.

There were two things I really didn’t like. The first was that people as suggestible as this couple are so unusual that messing with their minds in this way seems very irresponsible. Since this has probably never been tried before, how could the programme makers know how this would affect them in the long term?

The other thing I didn’t like was the misleading statement by the commentator that “only thirty per cent of people can be hypnotised.” This is just nonsense. In my experience at least ninety-five per cent of people can be hypnotised to a depth sufficient for effective hypnotherapy. The number who could be made to forget the person they’re living with would however be very much less than thirty per cent. For Derren Brown’s show “Apocalypse” he selected one man from 14,000 applicants. I suspect that Aaron’s couple were also selected from several hundreds or thousands of applicants.

Incidentally, a lot of people do call me asking if I can hypnotise them to “forget” something traumatic or embarrassing that’s happened to them, or even to forget a previous relationship. Even in the case of very unusual people like the couple featured in “Hello Stranger” it’s not possible to cause permanent amnesia by hypnosis (even for the short period of filming Aaron was constantly on hand to provide top-up hypnosis as required). What CAN be done however is to help people to stop thinking constantly about a past event. In my experience many problems are kept going by the person constantly re-telling the story to themselves, fantasising conversations and actions, such as revenge upon someone who has wronged them. Their real need is to let go of the past emotionally, not to actually forget that something happened. 

Keeping Secrets

In recent years we have got used to frequent revelations of “dark secrets” in the media. Some of them are genuinely important and relevant to the general public, but the great majority are mere tittle-tattle, most often of a sexual nature. Editors reveal these secrets merely to get ahead of their rival newspapers by selling a few thousand more copies of that day’s paper. As the Millie Dowler case confirmed, they have total disregard for the effect on those involved, who are often not even “celebs” but quite ordinary people. In this article I’ll be discussing the therapist’s approach to secrets, comparing it with that of the journalist.

Having practiced hypnotherapy in Plymouth for 18 years, I have listened to many closely guarded secrets, that could cause immense embarrassment to clients, or even physical danger. Other secrets may include a client’s real feelings about other people in their lives, which could be deeply hurtful if revealed.
The first thing I explain to clients at their initial consultation is the limits of confidentiality. As a hypnotherapist I am obliged to keep clients’ information secret. But I am also required to discuss my work with two colleagues in regular supervision meetings. No personal information that could identify a client is revealed at these meetings- they focus on problems and therapy techniques. The real limit on secrecy is where some serious crime is being planned or has already been committed. Also, if a client tells me they are planning their own death, I feel justified in assuming that a part of them at least wants me to prevent this. These limits to confidentiality are spelled out before a new client has the chance to tell me anything they might afterwards regret.
I’m interested in all aspects of human life- that’s why I’m a therapist. But I generally ask only about things I need to know- information that helps me understand the client’s problem and decide how I can help.
Counsellors and psychotherapists thus follow policies precisely opposite to those of many journalists. The journalist gathers information from varied sources, many of them hostile to the person being investigated. This information is then revealed to the public for their entertainment, even though it is of no real relevance to them. Or it may be retained on file for years, to be dislclosed at a later date when it can do most harm.
The policy of a therapist is precisely opposite to this. Therapists gather information from the client himself, respecting his right to conceal things they are not yet ready to disclose. Only information directly relevant to the client’s problem is gathered, and even this is closely guarded. Finally, the client is never mocked or vilified for changing his mind or even contradicting himself. Therapy is all about change, and counsellors are well aware that people often have mixed feelings about many things.