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I'd give it an honest shot. I'd get hypnotized up and down, inside and out. I went to see Erick Känd in Pacific Beach. (Note: Känd has recently relocated to Florida's east coast -- he likes the ocean and he likes warm weather.) He's a practicing hypnotherapist, certified, experienced, personable. I had a specific issue I wanted to address. What exactly that issue was is between a man and his hypnotherapist.

Känd is in his early 30s. He's trim, immaculate (he brushes his teeth between appointments), and passionate about his profession. We met at his small office about a mile from the beach. We went to lunch. He was the first hypnotist I talked to, and I had a lot of questions. I knew he had done hypnosis as entertainment. I needed to know how a hypnotist got people from an audience of strangers to come up onstage and do outrageous or silly things. Imitate a chicken. Or sing like a member of the Village People. Actually, it's not the hypnotist who makes this happen, it's the subject him/herself. First of all, someone under hypnosis never loses consciousness and won't do anything he or she wouldn't do otherwise. If you want to hypnotize a woman into going to bed with you, it won't work unless she wants to go to bed with you.

A stage show works like this: the hypnotist calls maybe 30 people onstage and attempts to drop them all into a trance. This is done mostly orally and rarely with either a watch or one of those twirly things. He sends back to their seats those who do not initially respond. It helps if the hypnotist is a student of human nature, has intuitive and empathetic powers.

The hypnotist looks for the most appropriate subjects, weeding out people who he thinks are faking or not sober enough, while at the same time trying to find the ones not afraid to have fun, the ones willing to be silly. The subjects must want to be hypnotized. They are in a state of deep relaxation and glad to be goofy. Känd told me that you'd prefer not to give a hypnotist show to a room full of accountants or lawyers. The best groups are junior high or high school or college students. People at a convention away from home. Less-inhibited crowds. The point is fun, laughs. The last people onstage are the most susceptible to hypnosis. Yes, they are conscious of what's going on. Yes, they are in a trance and open to suggestion. Hypnosis: a state of de-e-e-e-e-ep relaxation. The hypnotist gets you there by telling you to go there. It's not that some people can't be hypnotized; it's that some people don't want to be hypnotized.

The trance state (what it's called when one is hypnotized) is common. We are each in and out of trance states every day. Daydreaming and all its variations (lost in a book, lost in a movie, lost in sex) are trance states. Intense, highly detailed daydreams are a common form of trance. I'm not sure, for example, what an accountant daydreams about. Or an engineer. I teach at a university crawling with engineers of all kinds. A joke I've heard several tell on themselves: "Why do people become engineers? Because they don't have enough personality to be undertakers."

It makes sense that children are good subjects for stage hypnosis: they're all kings of daydreaming. I still remember in great detail an afternoon-long daydream that involved me firing a machine gun at Japanese Zeroes strafing my grammar school. No matter that I lived in inland Massachusetts and the war had been over nearly a decade. Needless to say, I shot them all down and was awarded a medal the next morning after we said the Pledge of Allegiance. And ditto needless to say, a girl I had a crush on smiled at me. She looked exactly like Annette Funicello. I asked Känd if he had many kids as hypnotherapy clients. He said no, "because they're already in a trance!"

Did Känd feel there was anything contradictory about doing stage shows and practicing hypnosis as a legitimate form of therapy? No, the stage show is fun, and it's a way of advertising his therapeutic side. It's "another line in the water." He meant this pragmatically (it's a business; it's how he earns his living), and he believes in the power and the possibilities of hypnosis to help people, to help heal people; and any way he can get the word out, he will. I asked Känd about the things people came to him for. He said first that hypnosis was often a last resort: "People have run through medical doctors, shrinks, voodoo doctors not in the Yellow Pages" before they come to a hypnotist. He also told me he rarely has more than three sessions with clients. Other hypnotists said this too. If they can't make at least a dent in a problem in three sessions, then they probably can't help. I wish the shrinks I've seen in my life had made the same claim! I'd have a lot more money in the bank now. Känd summed it up this way: "talking, talking, talking, and never moving." He also made it clear hypnotism's not a magic bullet. You don't get hypnotized and suddenly drop 50 pounds. Helping people quit smoking or lose weight is his bread and butter, but he also treats clients with social phobias, fear of flying (particularly since 9/11). After 9/11 he treated a client who had to commute weekly to Saudi Arabia. He said he helped the person not only to get over the fear of flying to that part of the world but also to enjoy the trip! He treats people who have a fear of public speaking. Research indicates that public speaking is the average person's second greatest fear, coming right after death.

Känd's office is dominated by a huge, soft leather chair. Sitting in it was like sitting in a large bowl of warm chocolate pudding. I came to call it the World's Most Comfortable Chair. Känd said he shopped carefully for it: it's one of the few pieces of equipment a hypnotist needs. I think I dropped into a quarter of a trance as soon as I sat down and before Känd even opened his mouth. The curtains were drawn. He played a new agey music -- barely audible. I prefer new age music inaudible.

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