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How a hypnotism show left teen girls in a trance

A group of 13- and 14-year old girls recently fell under a mass trance after attending a hypnotism act at their private high school in Quebec. The inexperienced 20-year-old hypnotist -- who claimed to have had about 14 hours of instruction -- had to call on his instructor to help snap the girls out of it, according to a CBC News report

The school principal later apologized to parents and students saying "they didn't know that 14-year-olds were more vulnerable to hypnosis than other people," and noted that all the girls are now fine, a Canadian press account reported.

But some of the girls complained of nausea and headaches shortly after the show, a sign that hypnosis shouldn’t be used as entertainment, says Dr. Joseph Zastrow, president of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis and a family practitioner in Mooresville, N.C who teaches hypnosis and uses it in his medical practice.

"Stage hypnotists largely set a bad example to the public of what clinical hypnosis can do," says Zastrow. "We find it unethical to use hypnosis in a nonclinical fashion and certainly in the type of setting that it was provided in Canada," he adds. 

Zastrow says the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis provides hypnosis training but only to health professionals who have at least a master's degree  -- to psychologists, social workers, dentists, and doctors -- who will be using it as a tool in their practices. In addition to at least 60 hours of training, these practitioners also need to become board certified in hypnosis in their respective health field.

Using hypnosis as “fun and frolics,” is "like practicing medicine or psychology without a license,” Zastrow suggests, adding that doing hypnosis in groups is difficult to do properly.

There’s no magic to putting someone in a hypnotic state because a trance is a "natural extension of focus and attention," says Zastrow. Many of us are in a form of a trance when we daydream, or drive past our exit on the highway, or when professional athletes compete without being distracted by the crowd. 

By some estimates 5 to 10 percent of people are easily hypnotized and a roughly similar percentage are resistant to trance. The rest of us fall somewhere in between. Young people between the ages of 10 to 18 are at a prime age for responding to hypnotic suggestions and using these skills, says Zastrow.

Medical hypnosis has been most effective for pain control, such as for cancer-related pain, dental procedure pain, or the pain of childbirth, says Zastrow. Studies indicate it can ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, and is effective for about 20 percent of people hoping to quit smoking.

When poorly trained entertainers – the types who make people quack like a duck or sing like Elvis – put teen girls into long deep trances, Zastrow believes "it besmirches the good deeds done every day by professionals using clinical hypnosis." 

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