A bald man tells a girl in a red skirt that her body is made of steel. That she’s so strong and solid that she cannot move her limbs anymore. When, just a little later, he asks her to bow her leg, she tries with all her force but she’s rooted to the spot. The man at work is Patrick Pickart, an enthusiastic Belgian show hypnotist. After 20 years of collecting and reading hundreds of books about hypnosis and having attended several courses, he finally started trying it out some years ago. With success, because nowadays he can be seen on stage all over Belgium and Holland. Knowing all that, Patrick Pickart just seemed the perfect person for telling us more about the unknown world that’s hidden behind that mysterious word: Hypnosis.
Of course such a subject can’t go without demonstration, so happily a red-skirted friend was very willing to immerse.
I presume many people have prejudices about hypnosis. Which one is the most widespread that needs to be refuted?
Many people think that an hypnotist has power over the person being hypnotized. That you loose control of yourself under hypnosis. If it really worked like that I would now go to a bank and order the employee to give me a couple of million Euros and if the police came to arrest me I would make them go away. It’s not like that. You can’t be hypnotized against your will. Hypnosis only works with people who are open to experience what it’s like. Maybe the image of the almighty hypnotist is still a relic of the old days, when hypnotists thought they had magnetic forces. Only later they discovered it had nothing to do with magnetism.
So if it’s not magnetic forces, what is hypnosis?
It’s a changed state of mind in which you have easy access to the subconscious. Your subconscious can be compared with the hard disc of a computer, on which all information is stored. We use that hard disc everyday without noticing. All things we do automatically, like walking, can be done because of the subconscious. The same for bringing back memories. Putting someone under hypnosis, is creating a constant access to his subconscious. In fact, you are opening the door yourself, a hypnotist just helps you do so.
And how exactly do you help?
Two words are really important with hypnosis: relaxation and concentration. I help you relax by speaking to you in a calming voice and telling you that you’re feeling good. I can also evoke an image of a nice spot, like a beautiful beach to make you feel at ease. For most people hypnosis is a very pleasant experience because of the deep relaxation. Furthermore it ’s important that a person strongly focuses on one single image, so that his conscious will not distract him with all kinds of thoughts. Only then can we realize a separation between the conscious and the subconscious, because that’s what hypnosis actually is. To make you reach that point I can use a light and let you stare at it for a while. Or I’ll let you look at my finger which I move back and forth before your eyes. But as everyone is different, I must always adapt my guidance to someone’s personality and preferences. There are several methods as you see.
But how is it possible that you can make people believe they are surrounded by pixies, for example?
Because the subconscious is very open to suggestion. It’s not reasoning, not critical like your conscious, that filters all info that comes in. Compare it with reading a good book. I am sure everyone knows how it feels to be completely absorbed by a book. The main character becomes your friend and you are experiencing what he is experiencing. Even so that you are feeling really bad when something nasty happens to him. How is it possible that you are having all these emotions when you’re just looking at a piece of paper? It’s all the power of suggestion!
What kind of things do you regularly ask hypnotized volunteers to do?
The act with a volunteer who’s lying on two trestles, under his shoulders and ankles, is one of my favorites. I will do that one with your friend as well if she likes. The special thing about that act is not the fact itself that she’s laying on those trestles, because a lot of people are able to do that as well when not hypnotized. What makes it interesting is that beforehand, I will make her believe that her body is made of steel.She will have the feeling that she’s so strong, she could lie there forever, without ever getting tired. That’s why indeed she will be able to hold on much longer than someone that’s who’s not hypnotized. I can also suggest that you’re making a nice trip and that you are feeling very hot in the sun. Or I tell you that you are not able to count to ten, move your arm or say your name. It’s all possible..
What is the difference between hypnosis and dreaming?
James Braid, who invented the term ‘hypnosis’ named the phenomenon after ‘Hypnos’ the Greek god of sleep and master of dreams. He thought that hypnosis was a form of sleep. When he later discovered that it wasn’t like sleeping, he tried to rename it ‘monoideism’, the focus on one idea. It was too late, the term ‘hypnosis’ was already widely adopted. One of the important differences with dreaming is that under hypnosis you stay in contact with your environment. Most people who are hypnotized during my shows continue to hear the talking or laughing around them, and they perfectly realize where they are. After bringing them back they still remember, in broad outline, what has happened, because someone under hypnosis is still aware of the things he’s doing. He just doesn’t know why he is doing them, because he’s acting without reasoning. That also explains why most hypnotized people don’t take initiatives themselves. They don’t start to walk around and try things out by themselves, because their commanding conscious is absent.
Hypnotized people stop reasoning and thinking critically, so you shoulder a huge responsibility..
Yes. You must know what you’re doing. And you need experience to know how to handle problems that can occur, like someone who strays from my voice. But on the other side, you can’t change someone’s character in one show. If people under hypnosis are misbehaving, it’s because there was already an underlying tendency to do so. A hypnotist can’t turn you into a murderer, as some movies suggest. But he can lower the threshold, of course. If a hypnotist invites, without knowing, someone with a criminal past on stage and asks him to commit a crime again, well.. that person might do it.
But how do you prevent unhealthy or even crazy people to volunteer in your shows?
I always require that volunteers are feeling well and that they haven’t had any traumatic experience during the last months. Before each show I give an explanation of 15 minutes about what hypnosis is. People with diseases such as epilepsy, but also pregnant women and unstable people I advice against volunteering. I know hypnosis can be an escape for some people who are having problems. Some of them haven’t slept for weeks, others are taking heavy medicines. When they are finally able to relax under hypnosis, all kinds of emotions might show up. Whether positive or negative, it doesn’t belong in a show. Those people might stray, which makes it hard to wake them up. But you do have techniques to regain their attention, all those things you learn at courses.
Hypnosis is also used by psychotherapists, and a lot of them criticize that hypnosis is used in shows. What do they have against it?
A lot of hypnotherapists say that our shows put hypnosis in a bad light. I think they generalize, because not all show hypnotists are the same. But unfortunately there are indeed some artists that cause damage to the image of hypnosis, like Rasti Rostelli, a famous Dutch hypnotist. Before every show he says very clearly: “I am not a magician, I won’t show you conjuring tricks. I am paranormally gifted and that’s why I am able to hypnotize.” Well, I completely disagree with the fact that someone sells hypnosis as something paranormal. You must be clear about the fact that it’s a psychological phenomenon, that basically can be practiced by anyone. Another criticism that one can have on performers like Rasti Rostelli is that they often make their volunteers look like a fool. Rostelli makes people imagine that they’re standing naked on the stage, for example. And that’s very dishonest towards those who make your show possible, if you ask me.
In conclusion, I think that a lot of therapists don’t realize that hypnosis survived just because of our shows! Those therapists do nothing to inform the people about the wonderful phenomenon, while we do. Moreover, I even bring those therapists new clients! Because after my shows there is often someone who asks me whether I give therapy as well. As I don’t, I always refer to a therapist who can help him them.
You don’t pretend to be paranormal but don’t you suggest magic too? If I imagine you on stage wearing those mysterious glasses while playing with a voodoo puppet..
If I would leave that all out, it wouldn’t be a show anymore! The public wants to be informed but entertained as well. The complicated aspect is that hypnosis partly works because people consider it something magic. If the volunteers would realize too strongly that they are doing it mostly themselves, they would become so rational and aware that it will be very hard to hypnotize them. It’s similar to the placebo effect. If you tell a patient that you are going to give him a fake pill, it won’t have any effect. The power lies within the belief that it’s a normal pill. Only people that practice hypnosis on a high level, for example in Eastern martial sports, are able to use hypnosis in a conscious way. But that’s a long way to go..
Let’s end with a small exercise! You and your friend, stretch your hands out before your body, the palms up. Now look concentrated at your hands, study their form and their colour. Close your eyes, you will still see the image of your hands. They have the same shape and colour. Now, imagine that I put a big pile of books on your right hand. You know, those heavy, leather bounded books. You feel the weight of them, heavy on your right hand and arm, you feel how they push your arm down. And imagine that I have a lot of helium filled balloons, that I fasten with a string around your left wrist. Do you feel the lightness of the balloons, that are rising up in the sky. Do you notice that they pull your left arm up in the air? Now open your eyes…
Just what I thought…My hands didn’t move a centimetre, they’re in the same position as where I left them. I immediately lost the image of my hands when I closed my eyes. Not to mention that I could imagine books or balloons. A little disappointed I look at the hands of my friend. It’s unbelievable! There’s a gap of a half a metre between them! She explains how she was very well able to see what Patrick was describing. She felt how her hands were pulled down and up. Well, as she never saw Patrick before, it can’t be a conspiracy. I guess I just invited the right volunteer…One thing is clear: I urgently have to work on my concentration..
Website Patrick Pickart: www.okusproductions.com
This article was published in Zoe magazine