By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
Without knowing what was going on, anyone walking into The Downtown bar Tuesday evening might have been quite perplexed.
People gathered in front of a speaker on the bar’s upstairs stage, eyes closed and holding index fingers to the top of their heads, while others walked around to different tables set up on the main floor, getting back massages, sampling perfumes and reading up on financial planning.
Was this some sort of Hokey Pokey-bazaar?
It was an educational evening on West Front Street, bringing together the curious, an olio of businesses and a lineup of professionals to mark Red Bank’s first celebration of World Hypnotism Day, an event purposed for networking and clearly defining the oft-misconceived practice of hypnotism.
Organized by borough-based hypnotherapist James Giunta to bring an international event to a local audience, it was also a way, Giunta said, to offer the curious an opportunity right at the time most people are newly underway with new year’s resolutions to get a crash course in the benefits of hypnosis and “to have it demystified and let people understand it better.”
That means addressing common misconceptions: that you can unlock someone’s secrets or control their actions when they’re hypnotized, Giunta said.
“People think it’s mind control, and it’s really not,” said Jaime Feldman, who has hypnotherapy practices in Manalapan and Edison. “It’s really having access to the subconscious, but you can stop it at any point.”
The event drew a wall-to-wall crowd, a mix of inquisitive visitors and ardent supporters of the practice, with rows of vendors arrayed throughout.
Giunta, who plans to open a hypnotism school in Red Bank, said he uses the practice to help clients change their behaviors, be it to relieve stress or get somebody to quit smoking. And it won’t work every time, he said.
But “the one thing I can guarantee is that they’ll be more relaxed after a session,” Giunta said.
Steve Morse and his family, of Sea Bright, were among those checking in to see what it was all about. Morse said he’d always seen hypnotism as more of an entertainment novelty, usually reserved for talk shows or the movies. But he learned Tuesday it goes well beyond that.
“It’s much more than just entertaining groups,” he said. “It has a great therapeutic value.”
Hypnotism has a practical use in more serious situations as well, said Judd Bank, a private investigator in Wall. He’ll often use hypnosis to draw a confession from an accused criminal, he said.
“All good detectives have to get into the subconscious and suggest. You suggest them to confess,” Bank said. “There’s a lot of benefit. No doubt about it.”
As people milled about the room between speakers, checking out the random vendors and trading business cards, Vic Nylund sat in the back, taking mental notes on all the evening had to offer.
He drove nearly two hours from Warminster, Pennsylvania, to get tips on how to seriously get into hypnotherapy. For now, he dabbles on the side hypnotizing people on the internet, with the hopes that he’ll open up his own practice one day.
“That’s really why I came, because I wanted to learn more,” Nylund, 32, said. “I like the fact that you can change people’s behavior. And a lot of people here are saying that it’s helped them.”
Tuesday’s turnout and the feedback Giunta received gave him the confidence that his idea was put to good use.
“Look out for a second annual next year,” he said.