Hypnosis should “Get Out” of the movie business

July 6, 2017

There’s​ ​a​ ​long​ ​list​ ​of​ ​movies​ ​that​ ​show​ ​the​ ​nefarious​ ​hypnotist​ ​causing​ ​unsuspecting​ ​people​ ​to​ ​do their​ ​bidding.​ ​There​ ​are​ ​many​ ​reasons​ ​for​ ​this, but I’ll only list a few. ​Unfortunately,​ ​hypnosis​ ​is​ ​a​ ​technique​ ​that​ ​is​ ​not regulated​ ​by​ ​an​ ​organizational​ ​body​ ​such​ ​as​ ​a​ ​licensing​ ​board.​ ​While​ ​NYSEPH​ ​only​ ​trains providers​ ​who​ ​are​ ​licensed​ ​health​ ​and​ ​mental​ ​health​ ​professionals,​ ​there​ ​are​ ​other​ ​organizations who​ ​train​ ​people​ ​who​ ​do​ ​not​ ​have​ ​the​ ​proper​ ​degree​ ​and​ ​state​ ​license​ ​to​ ​practice​ ​as​ ​a​ ​therapist​ ​or health​ ​practitioner. People who do not have the proper degree and licensure to practice are called hypnotists, not hypnotherapists. Unfortunately, this distinction is not widely known.
Also,​ ​there​ ​are​ ​people​ ​who​ ​essentially​ ​do​ ​magic​ ​shows​ ​and​ ​have​ ​people​ ​cluck​ ​like​ ​chickens​ ​and other​ ​ridiculous​ ​stunts.​ ​Therapists​ ​don’t​ ​analyze​ ​dreams​ ​for​ ​a​ ​party​ ​trick,​ ​surgeons​ ​don’t​ ​cut people​ ​open​ ​for​ ​a​ ​laugh.​ ​When​ ​people​ ​who​ ​are​ ​not​ ​licensed​ ​to​ ​practice​ ​are​ ​practicing​ ​a professional​ ​skill​ ​for​ ​entertainment​ ​purposes,​ ​those​ ​of​ ​us​ ​who​ ​are​ ​properly​ ​credentialed​ ​get​ ​a​ ​bad reputation.

The recent blockbuster movie, “Get Out”, features a hypnotherapist who is using her skills for evil instead of healing patients. This post is not a review of the film, but just focusing on the aspects of the inaccurate depiction of hypnosis.
Missy Armitage (played by Catherine Keener), promises to cure her daughter’s new boyfriend Chris Washington (played by Daniel Kaluuya) of smoking through hypnotherapy. The chiming of a spoon in a teacup was supposed to elicit a hypnotic response. Ok so, yes, hypnotherapy is used for smoking and other habit cessation. I don’t have any idea what the whole stirring of the tea was about. Perhaps some throwback to other movies with pendulum dangling hypnotists.

Every time she hits the spoon against the cup, it’s a cue for someone to fall into a hypnotic trance. This has been done in other movies as well, such as the “Manchurian Candidate” where when a word is said someone follows your every command. Yes, there are hypnotic cues, no, someone will not turn into your servant. If that works, then you are getting very sleepy right now and want to give me your bank account number.

Another inaccuracy that is portrayed is that Chris essentially portrayed as weak willed because when he is focusing on an upsetting memory, then he is susceptible to hypnosis. When he is seen as stronger, he is no longer susceptible. Being hypnotized does not indicate strength of will. We engage in hypnotic tasks all of the time. The idea of being “in the zone” when playing sports is a form of trance, when you are so focused on a task to the exclusion of all else.
While it is reasonable to expect a level of fictionalization in any movie, it’s unfortunate that most movies seem to predominately feature villains using hypnosis for evil purposes.

What can hypnosis actually be used for? Pain management, habit cessation, phobias (like fear of flying and injections), and anxiety management just to name a few. And if you ever go to a hypnotherapist and they ask you to cluck like a chicken, just leave them an egg as payment.

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