Were you thinking what I am thinking?
I wrote a few days ago, of how curious I was about how someone of my profession may be portrayed in the now released film, Trance, directed by the nation’s Olympian hero Danny Boyle. You may recall that I already had my doubts about how ‘professional’, or rather ‘unprofessional’, the character played by Rosario Dawson as the Harley Street hypnotherapist was going to register. Well let’s say, in my opinion, on a Richter scale of 0-9, the character would register 9, in her potential to rip apart the professionalism of a profession I have worked to raise the profile of for almost twenty years. I have striven to educate and coach people toward a vision of hypnosis and therapy, as the one therapy that is a safe, powerful, and empowering. Hypnosis and therapy is the way to realise emotional and psychological healing and change … for the better.
Championing the Truth
Through my writing and my talks, my TEDx presentation, and my television interviews, I have sought to champion hypnosis and hypnotherapy, and to blow away the miasma of myths that surround hypnotherapy ― a complementary therapy that is ripe for de-mystification and full respectability.(www.youtube.com/user/Experthypnotherapy) An increasing number of people now choose hypnosis as first resort, not a last resort. They choose hypnosis because they want something that is ʺpositive, constructive and specific.ʺ
Then along came the thriller, Trance, and brought back all these notions of ‘messing with the mind’!
Let’s talk about Mind Messing
The film Trance makes a case for the notion that hypnosis and therapy can mess with your mind. Many people who could probably benefit from hypnotherapy actually avoid that form of therapy because they fear that their mind will be messed with, and hence messed up ― as happes in the movie. Yet, if by ʹmind messingʹ you mean surreptitious influences on your thoughts, then in fact anyone who lives in a modern city or is exposed to modern internet media, television and newspapers, anyone in that situation is already being subjected to subliminal ‘mind messing’ on a daily basis. The constant battery of advertising and the ideological biases of news media, are continually trickling in through the gaps in our attention. The human mind is remarkably susceptible to subtle suggestions all the time and you do not need hypnosis to be influenced by them.
I’ve been practising almost twenty years, and I have a gift for helping people whose minds have been ‘messed up’ by life.
Keep in mind that there are practitioners of varying levels of expertise in all professions, including the medical realm. Professional hypnotherapy does not come as ʹa business in a boxʹ together with a ʹ30-day action planʹ and a correspondence course. Professional electricians are not born electricians they are trained to become electricians, although some have more of a talent than others. Likewise hypnotherapists do vary in their abilities. Some simply have more aptitude for the job than others or they may be better suited to working with some kinds of people and with some kinds of problems than others. Just as you may seek a second opinion from a doctor or a consultant, or get a recommendation for a builder, a plumber, or an accountant before contracting them to commence work on your home or your financial affairs, you may seek references for a hypnotherapist.
In the film the character Simon (played by James McAvoy) has a natural tendency to ‘please’ and to obey
Abuse is not specifically mediated by hypnosis. It is rather a result of someone taking advantage of a natural tendency of the majority of people to please and to obey figures of authority.
Get up to speed with Stanley Milgram ― 1961
Stanley Milgram conducted a classic series of psychological experiments in 1961 and 1962 at Yale University which demonstrated the degree of power wielded simply by someone playing the role of an authority figure. In this experiment the apparatus consisted of an electric chair that administered electric shocks and a control panel that could be used to apply graded shocks, apparently from 14 volts to 450 volts. A subject (the ʹlearnerʹ) was strapped in and the electrode stuck on his skin (see picture). A second participant (the ʹteacherʹ) was seated at the control panel. The experimenter stood by and instructed the ʹteacherʹ when to start the experiment and when she could stop. In fact, the electric chair was a fake and could not produce anything more than a harmless 45-volt shock. Furthermore, the ʹlearnerʹ was an actor who pretended to receive the increasingly higher shocks up to 450 volts. The ʹteacherʹ, however, did not know that the chair was a fake or that the ʹlearnerʹ was acting. As far as the ʹteacherʹ was concerned the electric chair was real as were the ʹlearnerʹsʹ responses to the shocks. In the experimental procedure the ʹlearnerʹ had to memorise lists of words and the ʹteacherʹ had to apply a punishment in the form of an electric shock whenever the learner got one wrong. The surprising and dismaying result of this experiment was that the majority of the volunteers who played the role of ʹteacherʹ were willing to inflict what they believed to be intensely painful, dangerous, or even lethal electric shocks to the person in the ʹlearnerʹ role. Subjects who were playing the ʹteacherʹ role were never hypnotised nor were they promised any reward for carrying on with the experiment nor threatened with any penalty for refusing. It was purely the aura of authority that led most of them to behave in a manner that they knew to be morally wrong. In a variant of the basic experiment, Dr Milgram placed the experimenter in another building communicating by telephone. In that case, most of the ʹteachersʹ refused to inflict dangerous shocks. The physical presence of the experimenter was necessary for the aura of authority to be effective.
Roles of authority
The key element in Trance is the hypnotistʹs role of authority. Rosario Dawson’s rogue character is not working as a co-facilitator for enhancement and change. She is a purveyor of authority, with a dictatorial style. The fact that Simon is placed in a relaxed and receptive state may have exacerbated the situation. Nevertheless, it is not the hypnosis itself that was the instrument of control but the hypnotist’s projection of authority.
It is clear from the transcripts in Stanley Milgramʹs experiments, that the subjects playing the role of ʹteacherʹ were not relaxed but highly distressed by what they were being compelled to do by a figure of authority. Any significant clash of values will likewise bring a hypnotised person out of the relaxed state of trance and bring full conscious attention to bear on the matter. The problem then is not the abuse of hypnosis but the abuse of trust.
Consider when you watch Trance whether it really is a malign, and mis-aligned representation of the truth.
Is it a true portrayal or a or a betrayal of a contemporary, life-enhancing healing art?