“Scooby-Doo” Hypnosis

People have a lot of strange or exaggerated notions about what hypnosis is, how it is applied, and what happens when you are hypnotized. My first exposure to hypnosis occurred when I was boy as I watched a first-run episode of the cartoon Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? There was a particular episode in which an evil haunted-circus clown went around with a shiny gold pocket watch, hypnotizing the Scooby gang into unwillingly doing all sorts of bizarre and dangerous things. The clown swung the watch in front of Scooby, whose eyes grew wide as he became spellbound by some unexplainable force. Once the Great Dane was hypnotized, the clown made Scooby walk a tightrope while in a deep trance. And as long as Scooby stayed in the magical trance, he was able to do it with perfect ease. This totally fascinated me. Right after the cartoon I asked my mother if I could learn about hypnosis. She called libraries all over town. There was a small one not too far away that had one book on the subject. We hopped in the car and headed to that library, where a bemused librarian checked out a blue paperback book on hypnosis to a precocious boy.

I got the book home and started reading immediately. I quickly skipped the front material (which I still do with most self-help books), the parts telling me the “where and why” of hypnosis, and went right for the “how to” chapter. As I read, it seemed easy enough, so I talked one of my closest buddies into letting me experiment with him as the hypnotic subject. We went down to my parents’ basement and I sat him in a comfortable chair as the book told me to do. It also said to put a bright light in front of him, just above eye level, and to have him gaze into it. Being a child, I tended to understand things literally, so I put the bright light only about a foot away from his face and had him look into it. It’s a wonder he didn’t go blind, in retrospect. Anyway, I sat just behind and to his right and followed the instructions, attempting to lull him into a hypnotic trance. I watched and waited expectantly to observe a zombielike glaze in my friend’s eyes like I saw in the cartoon. Minutes went by and by and by. The only thing that happened is that my friend’s eyes started to tear up because I told him not to blink as he stared into the bright light. As for the signs of trance? Nothing. Didn’t happen. How disappointing! Back to the drawing board. So I read the book again and again, and I tried several times to hypnotize my friend in the days that followed.
But nothing even remotely similar to what I saw on Scooby-Doo happened to my friend, so I finally put hypnosis on the back burner and wouldn’t come back to it for another fourteen years. I tell you this story because it illustrates the silly misconceptions that a person may have about hypnosis, often based on works of fiction.
These notions can create unrealistic and even undesirable expectations, leading you away from a rational, sane approach to the subject. It is the job of the trained hypnotherapists to reeducate clients and the public about hypnosis, the kind used for therapeutic ends.

The Half-Truths of Stage Hypnosis

Stage hypnotists are often also the source of spreading misinformation about hypnosis. I remember going to see a stage hypnotist act

when I was in college. From the audience’s point of view, it looked like he had entranced a dozen people on stage—that he could make them say or do just about anything he commanded. One woman was told she was an alien and that she couldn’t speak English. Sure enough, she tried to communicate to the audience with a language no one had ever heard before. He made the entire group think they were five years old, and they were asked what their favorite TV shows were. It was kind of funny when one of them said Scooby-Doo. It reminded me of my experiments with hypnosis ten years earlier. The show was funny; I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life. Boy, the joke sure was on those hypnotized people, wasn’t it? Or was the joke on the audience who watched and believed that those on stage were deeply entranced and oblivious to the antics they performed?

It wasn’t until years later when I began my certification course for clinical hypnotherapy that I began to understand what happens during stage hypnosis. As part of our training with the American Institute of Hypnotherapy, Dr. Christopher Wayne Morrison asked who would like to participate in a stage-type hypnosis experience. I raised my hand and went to the front of the class with about five other individuals. He had us close our eyes as he led us through a hypnotic induction. What I expected was what I saw on stage in college: to go into a deep trance in which I couldn’t think for myself and which would cause me to lapse into unconsciousness as the hypnotist took over my mind and actions. That didn’t happen. What did happen is that I felt very relaxed. I felt ready for something: expectant, willing, cooperative. So when Dr. Morrison told me that he was going to awaken me in a moment and that I would not remember the number six, I felt happy to oblige and to let those in the audience have a laugh seemingly at my expense but really at theirs. Sure enough, when he awakened me and asked me to count to ten, I counted out loud, “One, two, three, four, five, seven, eight, nine, ten.” Sure enough, I omitted the number six in my count. Everybody laughed—except me. I felt like I was a good actor staying in character amidst audience reactions to a comedic play. There were other antics we were asked to do while in front of everyone. None of them were harmful or deeply embarrassing— just silly.

After the experience, Dr. Morrison asked the participants if that was what we expected. The answer was “no” from each of us. He went on to explain how stage hypnotists make it look as though the minds of participants are being controlled by the hypnotist, but that is just for show—an illusion. The reality is that people volunteer to participate in hypnosis and that they are in full control at all times. They do what is suggested to them by the hypnotist because they want to cooperate, for they have a part of them that is extroverted. (This surprised me, by the way, as I’ve always consideredmyself an introvert.) And the idea that you become a tranced-out zombie is really just fiction. At the same time, those who go on stage to be hypnotized actually do enter hypnosis! They enter into a state in which it becomes easy to cooperate, easy to tap the imaginative faculties and to express them if called upon to do so.

My experience verified this truth. While in front of the audience, it was very easy to get my full emotions into the tasks he suggested to me. I felt in no way inhibited or self-conscious—and that’s unusual for most people when in front of a large group. So I could see that something, though I couldn’t yet define what, happened to me as I was hypnotized in front of a group. It just wasn’t what I was expecting because the stage hypnotist from my college days did a good job of entertaining me by letting me believe that he controlled the minds and actions of his subjects. And after all, the reason I went to the show in the first place was to be entertained. He most certainly succeeded, even though he left me with absolutely ridiculous notions about hypnosis, not to mention a bit of intrepidity.

Hypnosis: A Recognized Form of Therapy

Hypnosis has been around a long time. It’s a phenomenon that has been used as a form of therapy. The term hypnosis was coined by a man named Dr. James Braid back in the nineteenth century. The field of clinical hypnotherapy has been developing ever since. In the late 1950s, the American Medical Association approved hypnosis instruction for inclusion in medical schools. And hypnosis is considered by clinicians to be a serious topic in the healing arts.

Hypnosis and self-hypnosis are safe and efficient tools for growth and self-change, applicable to virtually every area of life. As I’ll discuss later in detail, nearly everyone can be hypnotized. Hypnosis can help people physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, and it’s easy to learn and utilize. No fancy equipment is required to apply it. So once the basic tenets and techniques are understood, self-hypnosis can become easily applied. Self-hypnosis, too, can be used for almost any therapeutic end and is a form of self-therapy that is free of cost. This is especially welcome in the face of the rising cost of health care. And unlike drug therapies, there are no negative side effects to hypnosis, making it safe and friendly. These virtues are sure to make hypnosis popular for a long time to come.