You’re Back In The Room – Real or fake? And Other Stage Hypnosis FAQs

You’re Back In The Room is a new Saturday night ITV game show, hosted by Philip Schofield, which employs the skills of a stage hypnotist (Keith Barry) to make the games much more difficult. Barry puts contestants into hypnosis and gives suggestions that make them respond in unusual ways, making otherwise simple games much more difficult, with hilarious results. 

Hypnotherapists are divided, with some saying it’s an unfair portrayal of Hypnosis and that it will scare people away from hypnotherapy. Other are saying it will increase interest in seeing a hypnotherapist to solve their problems.

I was invited to attend the filming a few weeks back and found it a fascinating and hugely entertaining thing to watch. I followed the build up publicity keenly, hoping they didn’t mess up the edit of what had been a really interesting live show.

I watched it live on the first night of broadcast and I was not disappointed, although following the live comments on twitter there were a number of interesting themes that cropped up.

I tweeted Philip Schofield, suggesting You’re Back In The Room was like Marmite TV, people either love it or hate it, which he has since quoted many times although not attributed (thanks Phil!).

Unlike the Marmite, I’m not bitter, and just like Marmite, I still love it!

I wanted to write an FAQ to answer some of the questions I saw coming up on Twitter and which have come up since.

Is It Real or Fake? (Are they really audience members or just actors?)

In my opinion, yes, they really were hypnotised. I wasn’t back stage for the process, so I can only look at other evidence, but as a hypnotist I find the evidence pretty compelling so I am happy to say I am convinced for the following reasons.

  • I know Keith Barry is a professional mentalist and a very good hypnotist, and I very much doubt he would put his reputation on the line by faking it for a TV show
  • I very much doubt Philip Schofield would get involved if he had any belief that something was faked
  • I know all of those hypnotic effects are easily possible with good subjects, I have done many similar things myself, and I know many other hypnotists who have also done similar things
  • It is a well accepted fact that using stooges is doing things the hard way, the expensive way and the risky way (It costs money to hire actors, rehearse them, transport them, and then pay them well enough that they don’t blow your cover – it costs even more to keep people quiet about something so high profile!)

 Addressing the topic of whether they were audience members or not, they were not.

As far as I know it has never been claimed otherwise (despite The Daily Mail “quoting” Keith Barry that they were “plucked from the audience before the show”!). Participants were chosen from auditions, where they were tested for their response to hypnosis, and for personality traits that would make them entertaining on the show.

This was all done in the open with plenty of witnesses, and none of it has been in any way spun or covered up. IMHO the suggestion that they were plucked from the audience is a total fabrication, made up simply because it sounds dramatic.

Do They Really Believe Those Things?

Yes and no.

On some level they will have been aware of what was going on but the fantasy was too compelling for them to resist. It’s much like watching a horror movie and feeling genuinely anxious, or watching a sad movie and feeling genuinely tearful, you know it’s just a movie but somehow the fantasy is also utterly convincing.

If the Hypnotist said something that jarred them, or if there was an event that needed their conscious attention, they could easily snap out of it, but as long as those things don’t happen then they will stay caught up in the fun for the duration of the game.

This is one of the characteristics of good subjects; they will easily get caught up in this way and they will be less likely to notice distractions that might pull them out of it.

Can You Really Be Hypnotised With A Click Of The Fingers?

Again, yes and no.

With a really good subject (and I do mean a really good subject), under the right circumstances, in just the right environment, with some expectation, then yes it’s possible. You may have seen Derren Brown do it, but when a very good subject sees Derren Brown click his fingers and tell them to sleep, their expectation is about as high as it gets.

Is this what happened here? No.

These people were selected from auditions. The first time they were hypnotised the Hypnotist will certainly have used a fairly rapid induction (under 3 minutes) because anyone who doesn’t respond well to such an induction would not be right for the show, but it would be unlikely to be an instant induction.

Subsequently, these people will have been put in and out of hypnosis repeatedly, and at some stage they will have been given a suggestion along the lines of ‘when Keith Barry tells you to sleep you will instantly fall into a deep state of hypnosis’.

This is known as conditioning, and if you are unaware of the process then it looks like the Hypnotist is just clicking his fingers and inducing hypnosis.

With that in mind, technically, yes, he is doing what it appears he is doing, but a lot of conditioning will have been done, with repeated tested and reinforcement before the audience get anywhere near the studio.

What Has This Got To Do With Hypnotherapy? 

Hypnosis is a great way to change the way you perceive the world, and therefore how you respond to it. In instances such as a hypnosis TV game show, they are just given suggestions that make it harder to win the money.

In hypnotherapy you would be given suggestions such as realising that the benefits of being a non smoker far out weigh any perceived benefits of smoking, or that spiders are not scary, or that there is no need to be anxious in a given situation.

At the end of a hypnosis stage show, all suggestions would be removed, and probably replaced with posthypnotic suggestions for confidence, happiness, better sleep or other positive things that hypnosis in known to help with and everyone would want.

At the end of a hypnotherapy session the suggestions would not be removed and you would be given posthypnotic suggestions that are aligned with the reason you have sought hypnotherapy.

In broad terms, magnetism, then Mesmerism, then Hypnosis (essentially all the same thing) were all in use as forms of entertainment long before the idea of Hypnotherapy took hold and became ‘a thing’. (Shamen and Medicine Men notwithstanding). Modern Hypnotherapy comes from the school of thought that these same effects can be used therapeutically.

To quote Bob Burns :

“If I can get their hand to stick to the chair, I can get them to stick to their goal, if I can get them to see the Genie popping out of the matchbox, I can get them to see the opportunity that they haven’t been able to see before, if I can become invisible, then so can that obstacle they’ve been seeing right in front of them, stopping them from achieving; [in this way] I can wipe out the imagined problem that they’ve brought into the therapy room, and then I can make that even stronger”

What Do Hypnotherapists Think about This Type Of Entertainment?

For as long as there has been hypnotherapy, there have been therapists who believe hypnosis should be the preserve of the professional psychologists, and should never be used for entertainment. There have been a number of very vocal hypnotherapists who have viscerally denounced this show specifically (here’s a good example of one).

I don’t question their right to their opinion, and these opinions have no bearing on their skills as therapists, however, as a hypnotherapist who does not do stage work, I respectfully but very strongly disagree with my learned colleagues’ position.

The general criticism is that ‘the industry’ has worked hard to ‘leave all these parlour tricks behind’ (see above linked article). In my opinion such claims are entirely baseless and truly insulting to those who are skilled stage performers, as though their skills and use of hypnosis are not as valuable as ours. Some within the industry may have this desire but on the whole I don’t see that as the prevailing attitude at all.

To me, saying this is a lot like a classical musician saying that Heavy Metal is a lesser form of music because it doesn’t appeal to their musical sensibilities, when in truth the top Heavy Metal musicians are every bit as good as the top classical performers. (Actually there are very few classical performers who would fail to appreciate the skills of other musicians regardless of genre, but that’s another topic!)

The fact is that many great stage/street Hypnotists are great therapists too, and the skills of the hypnotic entertainers have been a necessary part of the development of hypnotherapy, and continue to be useful and important tools in the arsenal.

One only needs to Google the name of Dave Elman to see that actually this former vaudeville stage hypnotist played a key role in modernising hypnosis and creating the whole paradigm of hypnotherapy.

In my view, to deride these skills does more damage to our industry and the level of skill within it than any TV show could. I have met a significant number of therapists who lack some key knowledge, and therefore skills, because their training simply taught them that stage performers are bad and that these ideas are to be avoided.

 In turn these therapists have holes in their education, can take longer to help their clients, and sometimes are unable to help otherwise simple problems, all because they are missing some really effective techniques on (a flawed) principle.

If I come to See You For Hypnotherapy, Will I End Up Thinking I’m James Brown?

Only if that is one of your goals, but I charge extra for that sort of thing.


UPDATE: I really appreciate all the feedback and comments I’ve been getting about this article.

In response to one of the questions below I’ve written a follow up called Hypnosis, Hypnotherapy, and Hypnoentertainment – How You’re Back In The Room Could Change Your Life

27 Comments on “You’re Back In The Room – Real or fake? And Other Stage Hypnosis FAQs

  1. Well done a sound argument that shows the worth of all hypnotists whatever their background, specialist knowledge or learning. I believe in the heart of all hypnotists is to bring about healing and the abilIty to overcome their fears and achieve their goals. I do not believe that stage hypnotists do an injustice to our professionalism as we can only learn from them. I feel we as hypnotists will do ourselves a great injustice if we set ourselves above the often brilliant skills and knowledge street and stage hypnotists.
    I did watch ‘You’re Back in the Room’ I also feel that the contestants were hypnotised and that this programme can do no harm to our profession. What it will show is the power of hypnotism to improve the life of all who seek our help whatever their need or reason.

    1. Interesting comment Susanne. I was offered therapeutic hypnosis once, but after seeing shows like this I wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole.

      1. Thanks for your input Susanne and Mike.

        @mike – I’m sorry to hear that, I’d like to understand why that is. What is your concern? Were you interested at some earlier time and something specific put you off? Please feel free to explain more, I’m genuinely interested.

        1. I don’t think it is real as could be really dangerous we need to find someone that has been on the show to tell the truth however if you have been on the show why wouldn’t you tell the truth considering you could become really rich from it. It’s about time we found out the truth.

        2. Hi Abi,

          Assuming you're right and that this is fake, why do you think nobody has come out and told the truth?

          There have been a couple of dozen contestants on the UK version, and I believe many more than that in versions around the world. This would be an interesting and potentially lucrative story for them to tell, but AFAIK nobody has blown the whistle. Why would that be?

    1. Hi Shane,

      . Thanks for your comment. Do you mean people in general are not hypnotised (i.e. there’s no such thing as hypnosis)? or specifically that contestants on You’re Back in The Room are not hypnotised?

  2. Very interesting article. I understand the difference between hypnotism (for shows) and hypnotherapy for treatment. What i struggle understanding is why practitioners can’t use stage style hypnosis if it will help the patient? For example my daughter has suffered with a condition called CRPS for 10 years which causes continuous nerve pain in her foot, has tried all the treatments and thought hypnosis would help. However the two practitioners she has seen just taught her self hypnosis techniques to try and decrease the pain. Why can’t they click their fingers so that she believes she is pain free ? Even just one day a month would help give her relief from the nightmare she is in. I would be interested in your opinion on this

    1. Hi Sue,

      Sorry to hear your experience has not been ideal.

      Obviously I can’t comment specifically on what other hypnotists may have said or done, but it does sound like you have been given advice I wouldn’t agree with.

      Hypnosis can be incredibly effective with pain management (and with inflammation) but self-hypnosis for this sort of thing would be a supportive tool IMHO, and I would never advocate it as a primary choice.

      Nonetheless, it would also be a rare occasion where someone walks into my therapy room and I (or any hypnotist) can simply give a lasting beneficial suggestion for chronic pain simply with a click of the fingers and a few well-chosen words. The contestants on the show are not only hand picked because they are the very best subjects the production company could find, but they are also heavily conditioned to respond that way.

      Everybody has their own response to hypnosis, and some are much more responsive than others. Some people are going to respond very well to the very first thing a hypnotist tries, some are going to need a little more time and patience to get the result they want.

      With an average client I would expect to spend some minutes inducing hypnosis, then some minutes getting a deep enough state; I would then try a few different techniques to reduce pain and discomfort to find out what works best and create a longer strategy from there.

      Having said that, there is no such thing as an average client, everyone is unique, and everyone requires a unique approach.

      Once a client has sufficient experience and skill with getting into hypnosis I would probably teach them self hypnosis, so they can do what we’ve been doing in the therapy room whilst at home.

      Hopefully this give a little insight into my views on this sort of thing, but please feel free to ask further questions or to call me for a chat.

      You might be interested to see my video of an experiment in hypnosis-induced anaesthesia

    1. Thanks Richard,

      this is my business website, you can find out more about me and my work via the links at the top. You are also welcome to call me for a chat or to book a session on 07967 473691

  3. Benjamin- thank you for this article. I have just watched the show for the first time, and my scepticism brought me to your page. Yes, I had doubts, and really appreciate your explanation of how the participants were vetted and selected. I strongly believe that it is advantageous to all hypnotists, and not detrimental to their profession as therapists – my personal opinion – as it does actually encourage those who are thinking of seeking help, for whatever reason, to try it. It may well help. I know I am not a very suggestible subject; I failed miserably at the online Derren Brown test some years ago! I have twice previously sought treatment by hypnotism, without success, and am very aware that some people are just not very good subjects, despite being willing. But this show, coupled with your comments above, gives even us ‘difficult’ subjects hope! Well written, thank you!

    1. Hi Sue, thanks for commenting.

      I'm glad the article was of interest, you definitely shouldn't lose hope.

      Whilst there is definitely a range of responsiveness and some people are naturally at one end of the range or the other, in my experience people can learn to get better at it. Not only that, but sometimes it just takes the right hypnotist or the right circumstance and someone who was not very responsive before can become much more responsive.

  4. Great article, just watched the show and you answered most of my intrigue. Am wondering if hypnosis therapy can assist me with anxiety in the workplace? I had a few hypnotherapy sessions years ago for eye floaters which were distressing me. Sadly had no effect and spent two sessions trying to reach a trance state which was not working.

    1. Hi Simon, thank you for your comment, I'm glad the article was able to answer some questions for you.

      Hypnosis is great for dealing with anxiety and I would definitely encourage you to try hypnotherapy again.

      I would be happy to do a consultation if you would like. If you're not close to me (Suffolk/Essex border) then I can do that over Skype, although I understand some people would rather sit down with someone in the same room.

      Either way, find someone who others recommend and ask for a free or money back consultation. Not everyone will offer that, but if you find someone who will then you have nothing to lose except a little of your time.

      Best of luck

  5. I have just recently come back from consulting for the FOX TV USA version. I hypnotized over 200 people in two days to find the best subjects for the program. YES the subjects from the program are real. The producers have a huge choice of individuals to work with. Of course they have the luxury of having great subjects, BUT everybody can experience some level of trance state.
    The program is certainly going to take people in different directions with their belief systems!
    Bottom line its real!
    http://www.barryjones.com

    1. Thanks David.

      I encourage you to go and see a live stage hypnosis show and take part. Belief that you can be hypnotised is not a pre-requisite, I've hypnotised lots of people who didn't think they could be. (including some that had been told the were 'unhypnotiseable' by other hypnotists!) All that is required is that you want to experience it and that you follow instructions.

    1. Hi Mark,

      I'm sorry to hear this. The short answer is that hypnotherapy can certainly help most people in most circumstances with pain management. This is a little over simplistic as an answer, but I would prefer to give the simple answer and then expand a little.

      I was asked a similar question previously and wrote a much fuller and more detailed answer at http://www.sudburyhypnosis.co.uk/ybitr-could-change-your-life/

      Hopefully this makes sense, but feel free to post here again if you have further questions or to call me on 07967 473691 for a chat.

  6. Would love to see if this could help me find this kind of things very interesting have you got your website or a link I could follow please

    1. Hi Crystal,

      not sure what it is you're in need of help with, but would be happy to Skype for a chat. I will email you on the email address provided.

  7. (corrected copy)
    You say “It is a well accepted fact that using stooges is doing things the hard way, the expensive way and the risky way…”
    The budgets for TV shows are huge and easily cover hiring people to go along with it. Professional actors are not needed – anyone can act funny in pre-practised situations.
    And you say ‘the risky way”. Surely, you can’t be sure contestants previously selected for their ease of being hypnotised are going to do the same things every time. With “actors” you can be sure.
    And isn’t it all in the name of entertainment anyway? Just like illusion.
    My girlfriend and I once saw a very famous international stage hypnotist in Australia. Anyone in the audience wanting to be hypnotised was invited to come up on stage. 8 were selected and the rest rejected.
    The show was so fantastic we went to see the show again the following week.
    Once again, anyone in the audience wanting to be hypnotised was invited to come up on stage. 8 were selected and the rest rejected.
    And guess what? The 8 were the same 8 selected in the first time we saw the show and you guessed it, they did exactly the same funny things.
    We walked out.

    1. Hi Roy,

      thanks for your comment. Judging by the timing I'm guessing you're watching one of the international versions of BITR; I think it's with worth making clear that my article relates specifically to the UK version so there may be differences in format that I am unaware of.

      With that in mind, you're absolutely right that TV shows have huge budgets and could easily fake this, however, I stand by my assertion that this is the hard way, the expensive way and the risky way.

      I'm not saying faking doesn't happen, as you have witnessed yourself, it does. However, your own story proves that if you fake it there is every chance of being caught out, and there are some very powerful and compelling arguments why this is not an attractive proposition, especially in the case of this show.

      Any hypnotist who wished to retain their credibility within the serious field of hypnosis or mentalism would not go near fakery, especially not in such a high profile situation. If caught that would be their reputation ruined. Keith Barry has spent a long time building a reputation as a world class mentalist, so aside from it being unnecessary it would be career suicide to get involved in faking something like this.

      Philip Schofield has built a career on being an likeable and trustworthy TV personality. Again, it would be career suicide to knowingly get involved in faking something like this. Having also met Philip Schofield on more than one occasion, and having seen him work on several more, I am 100% certain he would be astute enough to spot if he were being hoodwinked here.

      Further to this, there was a huge scandal in the UK a few years back about some things that were faked for TV in the pursuit of profit, and ITV were right in the middle of this. This controversy spilled over into things that were partly staged to ensure high production quality, to the extent that now there are some perfectly legitimate ways in which TV has always been made that production companies are now very wary of using. I would think faking a hypnosis game show would fall squarely into the remit of things that ITV would not want to get caught doing.

      So, in summary, whilst faking it does happen, and has happened for as long as there has been stage hypnosis, and will no doubt continue to happen in the future, I don't believe this is what is going on here and I stand by the assertion that this is the hard way, the expensive way and the risky way.

      Thanks again, Roy, I appreciate your input.

      1. You are probably right when you say it is not fake.
        We now have the same show in Australia with Keith Barry and Daryl Somers, a popular Australian TV compere.
        Just like in the UK, the contestants are not chosen from the audience.
        Viewers are not told how, when or where the contestants are chosen.
        So how could this be done without being fake?
        Firstly advertise for participants in a new show.
        Let’s say 200 turn up for the audition.
        They are told the new show is a hypnotist stage show and ‘contestants’ will be chosen, but only those who display ease of being hypnotised and perform to suggestions in an amusing manner will be selected.
        They are also told what the payment will be. With the huge budget it could well be $20,000 each for the chosen ‘contestants’.
        The large payment on offer would be enough reason for applicants to go along with it whether they were hypnotised or not and no one including the hypnotist and compere would know either way.
        So for the hypnotist and compere it is not fake.
        But this would only work with pre-auditioned ‘contestants’ before the show and explains why contestants are not selected from the audience.
        Watching the show, there are indications that the contestants are tailoring their actions to fit the proceedings.
        For example they know to stop their antics when the compere is introducing another segment.
        And another; a contestant claims something is wrong with his chair, but still keeps sitting on it.
        But of course, this is all in the name of entertainment.
        The guy who walked on the Thames. Do we say he is a fake?
        Does anyone really believe he actually walked on water?
        A magician makes a car suddenly appear on stage.
        Do we call him a fake because it’s a trick?
        The answer to all the above is no.
        It’s all in the name of entertainment and so is stage hypnosis.
        If you are entertained by this show – so be it – that’s what counts.
        Kind regards,
        Roy

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