As a fan of horror as well as film in general, I must admit that I have a heightened appreciation for the unconventional. With the sense of curious abandon that appears alongside the unpredictable and alternatives, new experiences that may frighten off or appear to be bizarre to the average person incites my fascination and eradicates my inhibitions. Through these experiences, I feel that you gain a knowledge and a better sense of understanding to the workings of the world, and adds a spark of risk to day-to-day life.
Therefore, when I was given the opportunity by 20th Century Fox to attend a hypnotherapy session in correspondence to our coverage of Trance, now on DVD and Blu-ray, I jumped at the opportunity. After sYeeing the film in theaters, the practice caught my curiosity in terms of how it worked and the experience that follows, so to experience the craft firsthand was too enticing to pass up. So, I ventured into nearby New York City to the ioffice of Dr. Chloe Carmichael, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist who, in fact, offers hypnotherapy as an alternative to the available traditional psychological practices which she also offers to clients.
Upon stepping into the swank and gorgeous building on a blisteringly hot day, I was shocked by how simple and modern the office was, as opposed to the post-modern and progressive design of hypnotherapy offices in films, such as Trance. Doctor Carmichael was incredibly accommodating and comforting before our session began, briefly discussing the film itself and asking me about my expectations for the session with a willingness to go to different places entirely with the practice at a moment’s request. Off the bat, I could see similarities to the real-life practice and the practice seen within the film, as even though a hypnotized patient is removing themselves from a position of cognitive power during their session, the therapist’s practice and cadence reminds you that hypnotherapy relies on the power of suggestion, implying that you are still in control of yourself and your thoughts. This aspect of hypnotherapy is key in Trance, especially when it comes to Simon (James McAvoy) conquering his fears and insecurities to locate a missing artifact.
Before the session began, however, Doctor Carmichael allowed Diabolique to talk to her on the record about the controversial practice of hypnotherapy…
DIABOLIQUE: As someone who practices in both hypnotherapy and general psychiatry, what title do you classify yourself under?
CHLOE CARMICHAEL: Well, hypnotherapy is not a regulated term, so just about anybody can call themselves a hypnotherapist. What I am, actually, is a clinical psychologist. I have a PhD in Clinical Psychology and a BA in Psychology from Columbia University, so I’m very interested in science and evidence-based techniques that help people feel better. Within that toolbox are hypnotherapy, meditation, guided imagery and relaxation training, which all fall into that umbrella. So [hypnotherapy] is one of the many tools that I use, but I don’t really consider myself a hypnotherapist because I’m, by definition, a clinical psychologist.
DIABOLIQUE: Do you think the term “hypnosis” itself, in regards to therapy, attaches a certain stigma to the actual practice?
CARMICHAEL: Yeah, I definitely think the term carries a stigma, in part because when we think of hypnosis, we often think of a circus sideshow, and for good reason. Again, because “hypnosis” is not a regulated term, there’s people out there doing all kinds of things and calling it whatever they want, including hypnotherapy. I think that’s why customers are understandably very cautious and wary when someone starts using the word “hypnosis”. But it’s important to remember that Sigmund Freud himself used hypnotherapy, and when it’s done properly by a clinician who understands psychology, and uses it in a judicious manner, then I think [hypnotherapy] can be really helpful.
DIABOLIQUE: Do you think that hypnotherapy can work side-by-side with traditional forms of therapy or do you think it’s important that a patient traverse a singular form of therapy as to not receive a conflicting diagnosis?
CARMICHAEL: You can certainly combine them, and I think it’s through traditional therapy that we can come to understand what it is that a person needs to change and why. A patient can receive a lot of insight that way. Traditional psychotherapy is still a really important practice. But because the mind has such ingrained habits, and we want to get some new patterns of thought going that need time to sink in, I would suggest that a patient and doctor spend time focusing on those patterns in a slow and controlled manner, which is what hypnotherapy does for people. So I think it’s important to use both, in some cases.
DIABOLIQUE: Inversely, do you think that hypnotherapy is complimentary to physical therapy, which is one of the catalysts to the story within Trance?
CARMICHAEL: Absolutely, because physical injuries create anxiety, such as if someone was having a hard time overcoming an injury, like if they were having a hard time accustoming themselves to processes that may have caused an injury or implementing pain control. Hypnosis, to me, is very similar to meditation. I was a Yoga teacher before I was a clinical psychologist, and in Yoga, it’s clear that people have a body-mind connection. So you can definitely use meditation, psychology and hypnosis to help someone manage pain or physical anxiety. That’s why Yoga means “the union of breath, body and mind.” [Hypnotherapy] just helps meld those elements together in a very healthy way.
DIABOLIQUE: Do you find it difficult to be objective to other forms of therapy while in a hypnotherapy session, like identifying nervous ticks and unconscious behavior?
CARMICHAEL: As a clinical psychologist, the most common practice that I use is cognitive behavioral therapy. Sometimes, I have people who come in wanting cognitive behavioral therapy and I think there might be something else that could be more helpful to them, so of course, I might have that person come in for hypnotherapy and that may be the best thing for them. It may not, but I wouldn’t presume to know that until I spent an entire session evaluating a person and asking them some questions. Hopefully, over that time, they can come to trust my judgment enough that if I gave them my rationale for what I thought was appropriate, they would be able to consider it.
DIABOLIQUE: Trance touches on a lot of ethical questions when it comes to hypnotherapy, including the use of fear and desire as a method of implying control. How do you approach those emotional reactions within the process of hypnotherapy?
CARMICHAEL: Well, it kind of depends on the context of their therapeutic goal. If they’re having an issue with fear, in the case of someone who had been in an automobile accident or has a fear of flying, then hypnotherapy can actually be really helpful to get them to overcome those fears. So we do work with fear, but we also learn how to toggle back and forth between a state of fear and a state of deep relaxation. That way, someone can learn how to search through and control their own emotions.
DIABOLIQUE: Trance is, of course, a crime film told through this visually surreal lens using hypnotherapy as a framing device throughout. Considering that hypnosis isn’t a regulated term, as you mentioned before, does the same rules between patient and client confidentiality apply here as it would a more traditional therapy session, save for certain crimes that you’re required by law to report?
CARMICHAEL: Since I’m a clinical psychologist and not a “hypnotherapist”, I am protected towards confidentiality by HIPAA and under federal law that says I don’t have to disclose information to anybody without a proper cause. So if a hypnotherapist is doing whatever it is that they do, I don’t know what laws they’d be protected by because they’re not even recognized by the government as a doctor. But for me, I am actually required by the government to keep sensitive information completely confidential unless, as you were deducting, there is an immediate physical danger to a patient or to others, in which I am then required to disclose relevant information.
DIABOLIQUE: One of the main story motivations within Trance is the interpersonal relationships Elizabeth engages in with Simon and Franck. Do you consciously try to avoid making too personal of a connection with a client or is it more favorable to become personal as to enhance the suggestive nature of the practice?
CARMICHAEL: That’s an interesting question. Of course, it’s important to have rapport with a person. The interpersonal relationship between a client and therapist has shown to be one of the most powerful factors in different kinds of therapy, even more so than the type of therapy that is being used. So the interpersonal relationship is extremely important However, of course, more is not always better. For example, sleeping with a client may be a little too much rapport. But I feel that you should make someone feel as comfortable as you can while maintaining a professional boundary.
After the interview, we had a brief talk about what exactly I was looking to get out of this session, and some necessary background information, and then we went forward with the session. I found myself in a deep state of relaxation, cognizant of what was happening around me and the words the doctor was saying but at the same time, I had given her the reign to steer my focus. This state is not nearly as immersive or colorful as the worlds painted by Danny Boyle in Trance, but an intense, emotional weight crawls upon you as your internal vision is intensified. There’s almost a sense of loss of will attached, as you become cognizant of your eyelids and muscles as they approach a point of extreme relaxation.
From there, the words are simple, familiar and logical; feelings of comfort and happiness that come with the associated relief match those seen in Trance when McAvoy’s Simon enters his dreamlike trance states. In the actual experience itself, I can see how someone can become attached to this almost sentient and ominous voice, guiding your imagination towards a greater good. And after these thoughts swirl amongst your thoughts and visions, the session comes to a close, with a feeling of weightlessness attached to your physical entity as you come out of this hypnotic state.
Mind you, this procedure is not like the “classical” cinematic hypnosis, but instead is incredibly suggestive and collaborative in many ways. Instead of telling you what you should do with your life and solving any crossroads that appear in your way, this hypnotherapy session deals with what can happen in your life, and what may become of change in habit and thought. In that regards, Trance hits the nail on the head, and the experience of this process lends greatly to the legitimacy of this burgeoning therapeutic craft. So I bid a parting adieu to Doctor Carmichael and head back to the sweltering streets of New York, and whether or not this suggestive process will follow me back is up to time itself.
Trance is currently available on DVD/Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox at all major retail outlets, including Amazon, Walmart, Target, and Best Buy. Furthermore, you can purchase Trance as a digital download on iTunes, Amazon, Ultraviolet, Vudu and many other video-on-demand services. You can read my review of the impressive Blu-ray set here. For New York/ Tri-State Area residents who are interested in becoming a client of or learning more about the work of Dr. Chloe Carmichael, please visit her official website here.
– By Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Diabolique Magazine and Fangoria Magazine. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on several screenplays spanning over different genres and subject matter, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.