I have been inundated with emails, texts, tweets and Facebook messages from people asking me what I thought of ITV’s new television programme ‘You’re Back in the Room’ and so I thought I’d write my thoughts up and share them with you here on my hypnosis blog today.

The show is heavily punctuated with language that proliferates myth and misconception; from the off, Phillip Schofield welcomes the viewers and refers to the game show contestants as being ’under hypnosis.’ It gives the impression that these people are somehow anaesthetised or unconscious, yet the contestants in this show were quite lucid for most of it. I have a video of Gil Boyne stating that the word ‘under’ is a pejorative term when describing hypnosis and I agree. Heck though, we’re only on the introduction of the show and I’m picking fault already…. There was a lot of nonsense in the opening introduction to the show…..

Phillip Schofield also suggested that hypnosis is going to be used to ‘override the brain’ – What? What actually does that mean? Override the brain? How can anyone or anything that is not alien technology ‘override the brain.’ I’m being facetious, but my mindset probably set the tone of how I was going to view the show from here onwards… Especially as our ‘world renowned hypnotist’ (I know, I know, I had never heard of him before either) Keith Barry, is introduced. He strikes a pose while holding his index fingers to his temples. Seriously. What is he trying to do? Send us all a psychic message? Or is he trying a Klingon temple massage technique to ease his pre-show nerves and we just caught him in the middle of it, I mean he was beaming with smiles while he was doing it, it must have felt good.

He has an exchange with Phillip Schofield, Phillip asks him “is hypnosis real?” What on earth do you think he’s going to say to that? He is the hypnotist, earning his living doing hypnosis, on a hypnosis themed TV show….. Among other things he says of the contestants, “they may not even remember being hypnotised” – well if you tell them to remember everything, they will. However, if you keep on suggesting they may not remember stuff, whether they do or not, they’re not going to admit they do. They are not going to question how the entire framework of hypnosis is presented and suggested to them, are they? I suspect also that if one of them continued to say “I remember everything, in great detail” they may not make the show. But to me, this notion is one that gets promoted throughout and smacks a bit of the emperors new clothes.

I’ll add here though, that I actually really liked the manner and demeanour of Keith barry, he is perfect for a show like this and he seemed like a very good guy, not that I have any evidence of that, hypnosis aside, he came across well as a person in my opinion.

Sooooo…. The clichéd swinging watch graphics swung across the screen and after the contestants had all been introduced, the show began in earnest. The contestants were to be set tasks, seemingly simple, but were hypnotised prior to those tasks. They were hypnotised to respond, behave and react to the exercise in a variety of ways that may hinder their ability to do the exercises. This add jeopardy and humour and is the central entertaining component of the show.

First up, they had to engage in some clay sculpting; sculpting clay into objects that were on the envelope they had been given. This exercise was pretty funny I thought. I particularly found everyone’s readiness to get irritated with each other amusing. They were all able to perform the tasks, but as I said, how they did it was the entertaining part. One lady thought the clay smelled of dog poo, one kept rubbing it into everyone’s faces, one many behaved like he was Patrick Swayze in Ghost when the music came on. For a moment, I forgot my issues with the portrayal of hypnosis thus far and giggled a bit.  At times, I thought that they forgot to play the parts they were hypnotised to be, and did not think they were all being consistent in their hypnotised behaviours, I’ll come back to this point later.

The section is then concluded by post-show interviews and thoughts on the different exercises, virtually identical to the format of Paul McKenna’s TV show in the 1990s. Here is where things get confirmed for the audience and we get to see how the contestants explain themselves.

One chap said he had “no idea what I were doing” and a lady said “I knew what I was supposed to be doing, but I was not in control of it” this is not really an accurate description of what clinical evidence would suggest is the phenomenological experience of hypnosis. In fact away from TV cameras and a misleading framework, most people say quite the opposite to these statements.

During the first interview section, they all stated the experience was quite surreal, which I understand. Not just in hypnosis terms, but having to do unusual things in front of a studio audience and know that it is going to be shown to millions of people. That in and of itself is probably a major determining factor in what is going on here; massive expectation. If these people were not considered to be good entertainment, they would not have made it onto the show, right? They have pressure and expectation placed upon them to respond in accordance with the suggestions, I am not convinced that these mechanisms are anything to do with hypnosis necessarily but other factors influencing how they behave and respond.

Hypnosis is collaborative, a hypnotised individual must engage their own imagination, must use their own cognitions, must create a level of self-deception at times, must respond and react to the suggestions given. They are an active agent in the process, not a docile automatron responding in a machine-like fashion to all suggestions given by the hypnotist.

The people on the show volunteered to be part of the show. They would have gone through some auditions and would have been tested for responsiveness. They already believe they are good subjects, and because they have been picked for the show, they are going to be more responsive and fulfil more of the role expectations. This is actually a mechanism that is prevalent in the sociocognitive model of hypnosis that I adhere to – expectation being fulfilled and adoption of the role of hypnotised subject, so it is not all totally misleading. However, I suspect that the vast majority of the audience are not looking at it in the same way I am. They are in fact believng that hypnotic responses are happening for other reasons, like they are ‘in a trance’, for example….

Yes indeed, prior to the second section Phillip Schofield says that “the contestants are in a deep trance” at the moment, as they sit slumped in chairs while Keith Barry is giving suggestions to them. Trance and altered states of consciousness types of explanations of hypnosis are largely considered outmoded, outdated and simply misleading or incorrect these days. The very, very few academics who still refer to hypnosis being a state still only theorise and have no concrete evidence despite the results of pet scans, fMRI, brain imaging technology failing to identify a unique hypnosis ‘state’.

The next section and task for the contestants involved balloons and was not as funny in my opinion. Though I was getting jaded by now. It looked like a lot of play acting and fooling around in front of cameras. It looked like compliance rather than real, non-volitional hypnotic responsiveness – for example, the contestants were laughing at themselves often rather than firmly believing in what they were doing.

The interviews afterwards sounded like they were attempting to convince themselves of what they did rather than believing in it truly. That is the point though, isn’t it? The TV producers need to make it seem even more authentic with these frank interviews with the contestants all sat together. They are all sat together validating each other’s experiencing and helping promote the same thought process. They are all going to feed into each others experiences aren’t they? They are going to agree and nudge each other along. They all nod at each other throughout. They need to explain themselves and their behaviour, they need to agree with each other.

The next section was a quiz section and had moments that i thought were quite funny, but again, it often seemed like poor acting and tomfoolery to my sceptical eye. I mean, one of the women was supposed to be acting as if she was in love with Phillip Schofield. She instead behaved like a caricatured school girl doing some sort of childish crush behaviour that even childish schoolgirls do not actually do. That level of swooning really only occurs in cartoons. People in love don’t really act in that way. This may seem like I am picking fault, but it needs to be highlighted to demonstrate and explain that these people were acting in exaggerated and amplified fashion for cameras and to fulfil comedy expectations. Some of the dancing was funny, but again, they were laughing at themselves.

There is a big studio audience there too. Audiences are encouraged to laugh and be noisy, that stimulates the TV viewer into thinking things are funny. TV audience are warmed up too, so that they laugh more readily for maximum effect during the show. As the audience laughs more, the contestants respond and react to that laughter. They behave according to it, that response is therefore not wholly due to hypnosis, but further additional peripheral factors all contributing to the effects we see.

Again, we get some more interview snippets:

“Can’t remember any of that game” said the guy who was being James Brown – this is really misleading and very uncommon. But I’ve covered this point and won’t go on about it.  By the end of this section, I was totally fed up and felt like I had to endure the show to give a proper account of it.

I’ll digress again from the show for a moment…. TV shows are all edited. They cut and paste the funniest bits into the show. of course they do. The boring, stale or less animated parts do not make the cut. The show could give the impression of a rollicking voyage of non-stop hilarity, but the reality is often very different.

The show had a final task for our contestants. In a briefer section of the show, dinner got served up to some famous celebrity chefs in a messy and chaotic fashion.

“I really wasn’t aware of why I had potato in my hands at the end” said one lady. Well how did you remember to play the part? How did you remember to adopt the hypnotic suggestions? And then, at the end, did all those suggestions just vanish? If so, why did you continue to adopt the role until you went and sat down in the chairs? This idea of not remembering is a fallacy. It is almost like the woman felt she had to say that to validate what happened.

The show then progressed onto the final golden ball grabbing money prize process. They now had this final chance to carry the golden balls from one pot to another and be rewarded with real prize money for doing so. I thought this resembled a poor quality college foundation acting class.  When the hypnotist suggested that a stormy wind was now blowing one lady started holding her arms out like a child acting as if she was an aeroplane. i got the impression that this suggestion was only given because up to that point there was very little jeopardy or humour in this final section. The contestants seemed to know that they;d be winning thousands of pounds for successful transportation of the golden balls and were not going to drop them everywhere – though some did get dropped and spilled along the way. They still won well over £20,000 and the maximum prize was £25,000.

They all got given a commemorative trophy with the words ‘I went under’ written on them and at this point, I had simply had enough.

The final interview snippets included one lady saying “I’m not a skeptic anymore” – well, you have to say that, what else can you say after you have been doing what you have been doing.

I used to like Phillip Schofield. A lot. He has been on telly throughout my life, I watched him as a child in the broom cupboard on children BBC with Gordon the Gopher. After the amount of nonsense, myth, misconception and misinformation that poured from his mouth in the TV programme, I find it tough to like him in the same way. I know he gets a script to read and is ‘only’ presenting the show, but I consider my beloved field and subject matter to be sullied by this type of TV show and cannot see beyond the fact that it was his mouth the words were coming from.

Ok, let’s do a reality test and stop behaving like a spoilt child for a moment…. The TV show is a bit of fun and not aimed at people like me. It is not trying to bear up under my kind of scrutiny. It is not supposed to be anything other than entertainment on a Saturday night and for many people it offers that, I’m sure. The problem for people like me, who dedicate their lifetime’s to the development of the field of hypnosis and attempt to showcase it in a credible fashion, is that this type of TV show sets us back. It misinforms. It portrays hypnosis incorrectly.

‘You’re Back in the Room’ proliferated numerous myths and misconceptions:

– That people do not remember what goes on when hypnotised.

– That people have no control when hypnotised.

– That hypnosis is purely about one person making another person do stuff. Rather than it being collaborative at all. The problem for therapy I suppose is that people expect to be ‘zapped’ rather than have to engage with the therapy. We do get to educate and inform the clients, but… blah, blah, moan.

– That hypnosis is about being in a ‘trance’ or being ‘under’ when the larger bodies of evidence tend to suggest the contrary.

There is empirical evidence yet to be superseded that suggests all the above notions are false and misleading.

Those in our field who defend the show will probably argue that:

– There is no such thing as bad publicity.

– It does show hypnosis to be powerful.

– It is getting hypnosis into the public eye, regardless of how it is portrayed.

Publicity at all costs is not important to me as correct information and understanding. Simply because when we have correct understanding, or as correct as possible, then that level of understanding can advance the efficacy of treatment outcomes, for example. Plus, I don’t want to have to spend valuable therapy time explaining to clients why they are not having the same experience as those on the telly. Ok, so we might be able to piggy back on the shirt tails of a client’s belief that hypnosis is powerful because they saw it on telly…. But they think it is powerful for the wrong reasons. Imagine if they thought it was powerful because the individuals are learning how to do incredible things for themselves? That they realise their own cognitions and imagination can be used to create powerful changes that builds self-efficacy – now that is a better message….. But not a very sexy one that TV shows are going to want to feature.

Perhaps I viewed it from a particular perspective and had a degree of negative expectation. I am a hypnosis snob I guess. These are my thoughts on the show and I may struggle to watch any more episodes. Bah humbug, eh? You knew I was going to go all ‘bah humbug’ on this though, didn’t you?

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