DeLuca revels in his hypnotism

Approximately 5,000 people piled into UVA’s amphitheater last night. That volume of people on a Tuesday evening can only mean one thing: Tom DeLuca's back in town.

Postponed two weeks by tropical storm Ernesto, the popular annual visitor is a hypnotist who performs for colleges and corporate audiences across the country. But he says UVA is by far the biggest show he does.

“I started doing this when I was in college, and I believe UVA was one of the first schools I ever played,”
Deluca says. “It just kept building and building and over the years; it’s become almost cultish.”

Indeed, students arrive hours before the show in hopes of getting a good seat and bettering their chances of getting on stage.

“I’ve been here since four o’clock yesterday afternoon,” says third year student Daniel Markham. A Resident Assistant for Dunnington dormitory, Markham says he wanted to secure a front row spot for his dorm because he felt it was something they should experience.

"I spent the night out here," admits Markham. "It was awful."

Even though DeLuca holds a masters in psychology, his popularity with audiences doesn't always translate to the world of practicing psychologists.

“It's somewhat detrimental [to clinical hypnosis] in that it tends to promote untrue myths about hypnosis,” says Dr. John Boyd, a licensed clinical psychologist with a private practice in Charlottesville. Boyd says he typically uses hypnotherapy to help patients who have emotion problems such as anxiety attacks, depression or post traumatic stress disorder.

Deluca admits that some people could get the wrong impression about clinical hypnosis from his show, but that most see it for what he says it is: entertainment.

“Without good stage hypnosis, there would be very limited hypnotherapy," says DeLuca. "That’s what’s really gotten it out over the years. I think that people see hypnosis on stage and know there is a real phenomenon happening.”

Boyd has never attended one of Deluca’s shows but has interviewed people who were in the audience. “I found they were believers in a lot of myths about hypnosis,” says Boyd. “They said things like, ââ?¬Ë?Mr. Deluca could make people do anything he wanted them to do– like he had a special power over them.”

Another widespread myth is that participants are totally unconscious while hypnotized, but in fact they remain aware of their surroundings, according to Boyd.

Deluca says he tries to pick people who are imaginative, involved, and interesting, because hypnotized people can still refuse to go along with one of his suggestions. “I get fooled sometimes," DeLuca says, "when I think somebody’s going to do something and they don’t.”

But what happens when someone says or does something completely unexpected? During Tuesday's show, first year student Kadeem Cooper said under hypnosis that “all white people lie.”

“I thought that was funny as hell, and you know what I’m not politically correct,” DeLuca said afterwards. “You know they laughed; they laughed at themselves when they laughed at that.”

Although participants do have free will under hypnosis, it’s possible that participants experience some embarrassment after the show. “There have been cases where people were disturbed by the experience and have to seek counseling,” Boyd says.

Deluca says he does not assume responsibility for the participants’ reactions to their experience on the show. “I ask for volunteers," says DeLuca. "I don’t force anybody up there."