The window sill in the waiting room of Anthony Jacquin’s hypnotherapy practice is piled high with empty cigarette packets. Unlike most of his clientele I am not here for help with quitting a debilitating habit of one sort or another, so I’m momentarily confused by this cue. Then the penny drops.
“There’s a few scalps there,” he says proudly. “I cleared the office out and found a few packets people had left so I put them there. That evening there were two more. I don’t ask people to leave them, but if they do, then good.” CV Writing service for hypnotherapists
You have to really want to find Jacquin’s consulting rooms, hidden as they are behind a red, arch-shaped door off a quiet Derby shopping street and then further secreted within a warren of musty Victorian chambers. Having climbed the huge staircase and stumbled along a few dead ends I eventually find a white door with the words “THE HYPNOTIST” stuck on in slanting capitals.
He leads me through the chilly waiting area and into his office. Everything is geared to relaxation, from the bar fire glowing beside two cream leather-backed chairs, to the mellow decor, beige walls adorned with curious, faceless portraits. On the far wall, above a desk crammed with family photos, a mind-boggling clock with swirling, melting hands ticks away, “the kind of present people buy you when you’re a hypnotist”, Jacquin says, grinning.
Dressed in a plain white T-shirt, jacket and jeans, Jacquin seems down to earth, with an engaging if slightly deadpan demeanour. Yet I can’t help feeling mildly apprehensive, as if I might somehow be submitting myself to the will of a man with incomprehensible powers of persuasion.
“People still have a 19th-century view of hypnosis somewhere, it’s Svengali and mind control, that kind of thing. That’s one way of presenting it,” he says, as I sink deeper into one of his comfy chairs. “But even on stage that’s not how I pitch it. It’s about relaxing and using your imagination, and when you harness that ability you will experience some incredible things.”
In the cloistered world of hypnotic theory Jacquin has a broad practice, combining his private hypnotherapy with stage hypnosis and the co-running of two training companies. The first, the United Kingdom Hypnotherapy Training College (with his father, Freddy Jacquin) focuses on trainee hypnotherapists, while the second, Head Hacking (with fellow hypnotist Kev Sheldrake), is geared more towards performance.
Most of those coming to him for hypnotherapy, though, just want rid of something, be it a weight-loss problem, a fear of spiders or a phobia of baked beans. “I’ve seen people for all those things,” he says. “Not the same person though, thankfully.”
He claims more than 80% of customers can be treated successfully in one session – in his early days in practice he offered a money-back guarantee to anyone less than fully satisfied. “I don’t offer that now, purely because it was everywhere,” he says dismissively. “You could pick up a paper and there’d be hypnotherapists all over it. Cheaper, faster … it was beginning to sound like double-glazing sales.”
In many ways this is an interesting comparison because the hypnotherapy industry has no formal regulation, meaning that with minimal training, anyone can set themselves up as a “qualified” practitioner. Or, for that matter, as a regulator. “There are 98 organisations or bodies you can sign up for,” Jacquin admits. “But there isn’t any official regulation because it’s difficult for the medical establishment to place it. They recognise it’s valid; the British Medical Association has done three studies and see it as a complementary treatment, not an alternative one.”
Surely though, some of the public’s suspicion of hypnosis arises from the fact that the lines between therapy and entertainment are often blurred. Cases in point might be a series of “Hypno survival” clips Jacquin has posted on YouTube in which he attempts to get by without spending any money for days by hypnotising shopkeepers and bartenders into giving him food, drink and clothes.
Precisely what he is doing when he hypnotises someone is difficult to explain. “If you ask hypnotherapists how they do it, they often struggle to answer, because they just relax people by talking to them,” he says.
Jacquin’s technique seems to involve exuding a supreme confidence, almost willing someone to believe he has control over them. A handshake is often the trigger, or an order to focus on a static object. “Sleep! Deeper deeper deeper deeper deeper,” he orders a hapless market trader in one of his videos, who slumps forward obligingly, rendered spellbound by the tip of one of his own cucumbers.
It seems like powerful stuff. But does it really amount to any more than a trendier version of the old vaudeville act? “Some hypnotherapists are anti-stage hypnosis, but I’m not,” he says. “It keeps hypnosis in the public eye and demonstrates just how powerful it can be … A lot of the silly stuff I do is research that I want to know if it’s possible.”
Perhaps not surprisingly for someone with two training companies, Jacquin is keen to demystify hypnosis; he has written a book and made DVDs in addition to his training courses, which take him all over the world. “Nurses, teachers, parents can benefit from helping people to change the way they think, feel and respond,” he says.
So how would he go about treating someone who, I venture (entirely hypothetically, of course), might wish to lose a few pounds due to a partiality for chocolate and cakes?
“First off,” says Jacquin, assuming a sudden urgency, “I would ask, what do you want? Do you never want to eat a sweet again, or just have a bit more control? You’d say, I like a dessert once a week, but I certainly don’t need to be eating sweets in my car. I’d then ask you to justify that. Why is it important to you? You might say it’s to keep fit and play sport and this 6lb is starting to slow you down.” I nod furiously.
The aim, he explains, is to establish an achievable outcome by which to measure success or failure. He then asks more questions around the supposition that the behaviour is entirely learned: “And most people say, ‘Yeah, that’s exactly how it is’.”
Jacquin’s gaze now feels intense. “What I’m going to demonstrate to you,” he continues firmly, “is that this is not who you are, you haven’t got a sweet tooth, you’ve learned in certain situations that this is what you do.”
He continues: “Then I’ll show you how to go into this … condition if you like, it’s not really a state.”
It’s hard for me to know whether he is hypnotising me or not; on balance I’m pretty sure he isn’t, but something about the ambience of the room and Jacquin’s spiel is certainly combining to make me feel a little light-headed.
Jacquin was first smitten with hypnosis after his father gave up a successful sales career to set up a hypnotherapy practice. “I had a go and it just worked,” he recalls of his first attempts while at university, to help students “quitting smoking, for exam pressure, for creativity in a music studio”.
He moved to Paris for a while but continued to dabble in hypnotherapy as a side interest. Five years later he found himself working for a software firm in the City when the dotcom boom suddenly ended and he was made redundant. “I had a six-week window to make the hypnotherapy business happen, and it happened,” he says.
I ask Jacquin when he was last hypnotised and he replies instantly: “About three weeks ago, for research purposes.” He does not hold much stock in the various established theories of hypnosis, of which he tells me there are “about four or five”, but feels he and Sheldrake