I’m talking about ITV1’s ‘You’re Back In The Room’ and the series starts its run this Saturday, 14th March. Hosted by Philip Schofield, it’s a brand new prime-time game show centred around a group of complete strangers who compete as a team in order to win money by completing very simple tasks. However - and this is where the programme sets its own unique agenda - the contestants’ efforts are thwarted by the fact they have been ‘hypnotised’ beforehand by ‘Master Hypnotist’ and ‘International Mentalist’ Keith Barry. And the results are apparently hilarious.
Incidentally, a mentalist (no, I didn’t know either) is “a magician who performs feats that apparently demonstrate extraordinary mental powers such as mind reading.” In other words, Barry is a hypnotist and, perhaps more importantly, a showman.
I first heard about You’re Back In The Room this time last year, and even back then there were mutterings within hypnotherapy circles that it might have the capacity to portray the profession in a less than positive light. Twelve months on, and with just a few days to go until broadcast, hypnotherapists across the land are awaiting with bated breath.
On the one hand you have people saying it’s just an entertainment show – pure and simple. Karen Smith, Managing Director of Tuesday’s Child, the production company responsible for You’re Back In The Room, said that it’s “Something completely unique that will provide genuine laugh-out-loud moments, perfect entertainment for all the family.”
On the other hand, you have people who may be a little more concerned about the notion, being put across in publicity for the programme, that Keith Barry ‘hypnotises’ people and is able to ‘hack into people’s brains’ and control what they do using this hypnotism.
Mark Powlett, who is a fellow hypnotherapist and has a thriving therapy business in Redditch, was recently interviewed by the Daily Mail and said contestants on the show “were not under Barry’s ‘control’, but playing along willingly.”
Even here, the media conjures up its own agenda. The headline being:
"Therapists savage ITV's You're Back In The Room over claims it could be exploiting 'vulnerable' people."
A new dictionary definition is perhaps needed?: Savage (verb) = simply putting your views and concerns across.
Last night Keith Barry himself tweeted that the programme was all set to divide opinion.
I’m looking forward to seeing the first episode of You’re Back In The Room. You can see an advert for it here.
My one concern is actually not for the contestants on the programme – they knew what they were going to see; they knew that the programme makers wanted willing volunteers; before they left the house that day they even knew, perhaps, that they themselves would be one of those willing volunteers.
My concern is that people who might’ve been thinking of going to see a hypnotherapist for genuine reasons – anxiety, depression, phobias etc - might well be put off by the erroneous thought that the hypnotherapist can somehow gain control over their thoughts and actions. We can’t!
So, is there anyone who can gain apparent ‘control’ over your thoughts and actions?
Well, maybe someone who is already renowned as an international figure, and describes themselves as a ‘mentalist and master hypnotist’ as well as a magician. In other words they already have the kudos, the reputation, the gravitas, that they can do this sort of stuff. But it’s not as simple as that.
You’re Back In The Room is a stage show with all that that entails. So, yes, hypnosis may well have been used. But it will have been used in conjunction with so many other ploys thrown in to the mix too – peer pressure, audience pressure, thrill of the moment, expectation. When the lights are on, the cameras are rolling, and the audience is waiting and expecting to be entertained, those willing volunteers are bound to perform.
Hypnosis works by inducing deep relaxation; hypnotherapy adds the power of positive suggestion into the equation too. Due to possible adverse affects on an unsuspecting tv audience (deep relaxation can cause epileptic seizures in susceptible people), it is against broadcasting regulations to show the hypnotic procedure in its entirety.
If perhaps we actually saw Keith Barry working with the contestants beforehand, we might hear him suggest that when they act along with everything – sticking their heads into cream cakes; thinking that their pants are too tight; or throwing their prize money away – they will hear laughter, people cheering, and they will be revered for what they do… and won’t that feel good?! He probably suggests that they visualise themselves doing this and feel how it feels to get that applause and adoration, making it as real in their imaginations as they can. They’d love it. That, I would imagine, is the extent of the use of hypnosis in this programme.
What people sometimes don’t get is that, at any point, if he asked them to do anything that went against the grain, then they would be completely free to ignore his suggestions. But then the show wouldn’t work. So a) it’s in his best interests to find out what the contestants’ limits are and b) it’s good for us to remember that the success of the whole show is on their shoulders – no pressure on them then!
Mental processes and their subsequent actions are hugely complicated. There is not one thing that can solely define or shape them. They form and play out as a result of complex interactions between the social, moral, and intellectual dimensions of our whole psyche. And it’s perhaps good to keep this in mind, especially if the game show you’re watching uses the magical word ‘hypnotism’ as a unique selling point.
Derren Brown (who is also known as a mentalist and hypnotist, as well as illusionist) uses this disclaimer at the beginning of his shows:
“This program fuses magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship.”
Although it’s probably anticipated that it won’t be anywhere near as intellectually appealing, perhaps You’re Back In The Room should show something similar?
It will certainly be interesting to watch. I'm looking forward to Saturday!