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 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. 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 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.

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