Amateur hypnotist David Goldberg ’15 needs no gimmicks. No watch dangling from a gold chain swaying slowly from side to side. No snapping of fingers. All he needs is a quiet room and a willing subject.
Goldberg has been hypnotizing classmates since early February, teaching himself online and experimenting with his own methods along the way. After watching a video on YouTube, Goldberg became interested in hypnosis. A few months passed, and he did not act on his newfound interest.
“Eventually I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to write a hypnosis script and see if it really works.’ So I wrote it up, invited a friend over and it worked.”
Gil Young ’13 was having a conversation with Goldberg when he asked if Young would be willing to undergo hypnosis.
“When I was a young boy, one of my favorite movies was “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion,” a sub-par Woody Allen mystery-comedy about a hypnotist,” Young said. “Perhaps my desire to ‘buy into’ David’s hypnotism was a lingering remnant of my affection for the movie. That being said, I was somewhat skeptical, if only because I didn’t know David that well.”
Despite his slight skepticism, Young agreed to undergo Goldberg’s hypnosis.
“I honestly don’t remember much, or any of it,” Young said. “I remember David lulling me to sleep and him ‘waking me up’ at the end, but nothing in between.”
School psychologist Sheila Siegel said that there are no potential dangers from hypnosis.
“Hypnosis cannot make a person do anything he or she is unwilling to do. I don’t think there is any harm in it, especially from an amateur,” Siegel said.
Though there are many different ways to practice hypnosis, Goldberg’s method consists of three parts, the Induction, Deepening, and a test to make sure the subject is adequately hypnotized.
Induction is the process of getting the subject into a state of hypnotic trance through relaxation techniques.
“When I do my induction, I use ‘The Arm-Drop Method,’” Goldberg said. “You have them put their hand above head height, extend their arm, and then you start suggesting that their arm is getting heavier and beginning to drop. Since the longer they keep their arm up, the heavier it actually will get, there is also physical suggestion that they are sinking deeper. Generally, their eyes will close without me telling them.”
Once the subject has entered the trance through Induction, Goldberg begins the Deepening, which he describes as “putting [the subject] into an even deeper state of relaxation.” Next, Goldberg tests the deepness of the trance with verbal suggestions meant to elicit a physical response.
“To make sure they are actually hypnotized, you begin by suggesting to them that their eyelids are sealing themselves shut, and if [the hypnosis] worked, if they are truly under, they won’t be able to open their eyes,” Goldberg said.
Having hypnotized seven Harvard-Westlake students and one out-of-school friend, Goldberg has honed in on his techniques and experimented with various methods.
“The room needs to be quiet, and I usually prefer a comfortable chair, something with armrests,” Goldberg said. “So I put them in the chair, relaxed, sitting down. I tell them what I’m going to do, ask them if they are nervous, all to establish a positive feeling before we go into the hypnosis. The point is to get them as relaxed as possible so when I begin the induction, they don’t feel worried.”
Goldberg described Young’s hypnosis, which took place in an empty Weiler Hall classroom, as one of his most successful.
“I wanted to be hypnotized because it’s such a strange and unique experience,” Young said. “When interesting people like David offer you things like this, it’s pretty important to just say ‘carpe diem’ or ‘YOLO’ or however you want to put it and embrace the opportunities that life is presenting you.”