For Sandy Chang (張芝華), a crisis became the opportunity of a lifetime. When the Internet boom evaporated in 2001, she lost her marketing job in California and her relationship headed south. At the end of her rope emotionally and financially, Chang sought the help of a hypnotherapist.
"At the time I had very low self-esteem," Chang explained last week. "She [my hypnotherapist] said I was a natural healer. She said I could be a hypnotherapist."
Intrigued, Chang began studying how hypnotherapy can help people change by programming the subconscious. Three years ago, she returned to Taiwan and quickly acquired a roster of high-profile clients, including a famous actress she cured of a fear of thunderstorms.
It wasn't long before the Apple Daily newspaper and several cable news stations featured her in reports, and now Chang is one of the most well-known members of what by international standards is an unusually active hypnosis community.
"Taiwan has the highest concentration of [National Guild of Hypnotists]-certified instructors," said Elliot Chen (陳一德), an instructor for the US-based National Guild of Hypnotists, one of the world's largest hypnosis organizations. There are more than 100 NGH-certified instructors in Taiwan, he said, compared with 14 in California, 30 in New York State and 16 in the UK. Altogether, the National Guild of Hypnotists claims 1,000 members in Taiwan, a larger proportion of the population than its 9,000 US members. "A lot of my students are doctors, lawyers, and professors," Chen said. "They do not want to teach hypnosis for life. They just want to learn more [about] hypnosis or share the wisdom of mind-body spiritual healing."
Brian David Phillips will teach a three-hour Introduction to Couples Hypnosis on Dec. 23, followed by a 12-hour course on Feb. 10 and Feb. 11. Both classes will be held at the Chinese Culture University’s Extension Center. For more information, visit www.sce.pccu.edu.tw or www.briandavidphillips.comPhillips also performs bilingual comedy hypnosis shows in Taipei, with upcoming shows scheduled for Dec. 29 and Dec. 30 at the Farmhouse, at 5, Ln 32, Shuangcheng St, Taipei (台北市雙城街32巷五號)Timothy Huang will give two lectures (in Chinese) on hypnosis at 1:30pm and 4:40pm on Dec. 7 at room B317 in the Qinren Building (親仁樓) of the Chinese-Western Combined Nursing School of the Taipei Nursing College (中西醫結合護理研究所) in Beitou, at 365 Mingde Rd (台北市北投區明德路365號). For more information, call (02) 2822 7101 ext. 3231
Hypnosis is a state of enhanced relaxation and heightened imagination in which a person's critical faculty is bypassed, allowing the deeper parts of the mind to become accessible and open to suggestion. This state may be self-induced, and hypnotists say something similar happens when you "zone out" on the commute to work or engage in intense meditation.
But many consider hypnosis to be a pseudo-science, and misconceptions abound. In Western countries the use of hypnosis as a form of entertainment — notably in stage shows where audiences are induced to perform odd tasks such as barking like dogs or channeling past lives — has made it harder for hypnotherapists to gain acceptance of their practice. In Taiwan, however, the opposite has occurred.
It started in 1994 with the "Hypnosis Typhoon" (催眠颱風), the media storm that followed the arrival of stage hypnotists Martin St. James and Tom Silver. St. James, from Australia, presented himself as a straight-up entertainer, while Silver, an American who also practices hypnotherapy, billed himself as "bringing the science of hypnotherapy to Taiwan."
Silver said he did a half-hour segment for around 10 weeks on variety show Super Sunday, set a world record for mass hypnotism — 3,800 people — and hypnotized celebrities, including Coco Lee (李文), who imagined that in a past life she had been a 17th-century English aristocrat in a billowy white dress.
"The phones were ringing off the hook," said Silver, who was interviewed by phone from California. The hype surrounding his show was so intense that it created a backlash. When Silver left the country to renew his visa, media speculated he had fled after planting suggestions in the minds of his television audience. A member of Silver's stage crew went into a trance while witnessing him hypnotize a celebrity and began exhibiting symptoms of multiple-personality disorder. "We solved the problem but the show was cancelled," Silver said. "So we ended up doing a lot of lectures."