Hello Stranger: Channel Four’s controversial hypnosis show

Jun 10, 2018

Since many of you may have seen this show
broadcast last week, I thought I’d put my thoughts on it in writing. For those who didn’t see the show, it involved a young couple who have lived together for four years and felt the spark had gone out of their relationship. Supposedly they were to be hypnotised by Aaron Calvert, a stage hypnotist, and caused to forget that they had ever met. They would then each go on three blind dates, including one date with each other. The main theme of the show was to see how they responded to each other when meeting as “strangers”. Would they still be attracted to each other, or would they prefer one of their other dates? (Who, unlike them, had not been hypnotised and knew what was going on).

I have mixed feelings about stage hypnotists, thought I would really hate this show, but I
must admit I liked Aaron Calvert better than expected. I still disliked the show itself- Channel Four has evidently gone way downmarket since I last watched television in 2007!

A lot of reviewers have assumed the whole thing was faked, and that the couple were pretending. My impression though, was that
they had genuinely forgotten that they knew each other. Despite the nonsense talked by the commentator that Aaron had “erased their memories,” Aaron himself said he had not erased the memory, just “put it somewhere out of reach.” It wasn’t clear how long they remained in this state of selective amnesia- I’m guessing that all the blind dates were filmed on the same day.

What I did like about the show was that they
showed some of the selection process, in which it was made clear that Aaron had tested a great many other couples before picking these two. most stage hypnotists don’t do this, giving the impression that they could work their “magic” on anyone. Many of the applicants did not respond to Aaron’s hypnotic tests at all. This is realistic. There are very, very few people who could be so suggestible as the couple featured in this show.

There were two things I really didn’t like. The
first was that people as suggestible as this couple are so unusual that messing with their minds in this way seems very irresponsible. Since this has probably never been tried before, how could the programme makers know how this would affect them in the long term?

The other thing I didn’t like was the misleading statement by the commentator that “only thirty per cent of people can be
hypnotised.” This is just nonsense. I've been doing hypnotherapy since 1994 and in my experience at least ninety-five per cent of people can be hypnotised to a depth sufficient for effective hypnotherapy. The number who could be made to forget the person they’re living with would however be very much less than thirty per cent. For Derren Brown’s show “Apocalypse” he selected one man from 14,000 applicants. I suspect that
Aaron’s couple were also selected from several hundreds or thousands of applicants.

Incidentally, a lot of people do call me asking if I can hypnotise them to “forget” something traumatic or embarrassing that’s happened to them, or even to forget a previous relationship. Even in the case of very unusual people like the couple featured in “Hello Stranger” it’s not possible to cause permanent amnesia by hypnosis (even for the short period of filming Aaron was constantly on hand to provide top-up hypnosis as required).
What CAN be done however is to help people to stop thinking constantly about a past event. In my experience of helping couples to have better relationships many problems are kept going by the person constantly re-telling the story to themselves, fantasising conversations and actions, such as revenge upon someone who has wronged them. Their real need is to let go of the past emotionally, not to actually forget that something happened.

Breathing and Emotion

Many of my clients want help for excessive fear, anxiety, and panic. Those who have had other forms of therapy often tell me they were taught about “the breathing.” When I ask them what exactly they were told, they generally say “to breath deeply.” It’s not surprising that these clients did not benefit from the instruction, because it’s simply WRONG!

Breathing is very important. Well obviously- we die if we don’t breathe- but I mean it has a powerful effect on our emotions, not just our physical survival. Breathing patterns are the most powerful link between the mind and body, and the easiest way to control our feelings is through altered breathing. By changing our underlying feelings we change our thought patterns and our memory.

However, it’s not quite as simple as “deep breathing.” There are two ways by which we can alter our breathing. We can breathe faster or slower, and we can breathe deeper or more shallow. So there’s a total of four main breathing patterns we can do. I will now describe each pattern and its effects. Helping my clients to breathe naturally and effortlessly is an important part of enabling them to gain control of their own feelings and reactions.

SLOW AND DEEP. This allows deep relaxation of the mind and body, especially if we focus our attention on each body-part in turn and feel the natural muscle relaxation as we breathe out. Muscle relaxation generally makes that part of us feel heavier at first, later we may feel weightless, or lose awareness of that body part completely.

SLOW AND SHALLOW. We naturally fall into this pattern when we’re asleep. If we use this pattern while still awake, we will fall asleep quite easily.

FAST AND DEEP. This pattern intensifies emotion and can unlock traumatic memories. It is a powerful technique but I don’t advise you doing it on your own as it could cause a panic attack with peculiar physical symptoms that cause further increase in anxiety, setting off a “vicious circle” or feedback loop of increasing anxiety

FAST AND SHALLOW. This pattern holds back emotion- as when we’re trying not to cry- but we should not make a habit of it.

For better control of our emotions, we can learn to breathe out slower than we breathe in. When we breathe in we divert more blood flow to certain areas of the brain that stimulate the “fight-or-flight” response. When we breathe out, the blood is diverted away from those areas. So by spending more time on the out-breath than the in-breath we can turn down the fight-or-flight response and be able to think clearly and rationally in difficult or even dangerous situations. This does not require lengthy exercises or timing yourself with a stop watch! The experience of hypnosis actually feels quite effortless from the client’s point of view.