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

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