"There are people who do stage hypnosis, which I would never do," she says, shaking her head. "They make them get up on stage and squawk like a chicken. It's very frowned on."

McKenzie-Pollock has experienced firsthand the dangers of amateur hypnosis. "There is a hypnotist who was trained as an engineer, of all things," she says. "One of his patients came to see me. She went to see him for stopping smoking, and he gave her the suggestion that she'd been sexually abused.

"But that's a bad example," she says, pausing. "Most of them are harmless."

When I leave McKenzie-Pollock's office, it is raining. I have forgotten my umbrella. I stop in a bodega on Comm Ave that is out of umbrellas but has plenty of Camel Lights.

It's been a month since I saw the Russian. It's been a week since I started smoking again.

I buy a pack.

GROWING AND GROWING Tom Nicoli, trying to raise awareness of hypnotism, dreams of a day when the field's professionalism is standardized.


Tom Nicoli is a proud member of the National Guild of Hypnotists, the group McKenzie-Pollock shuns. His office, in a squat strip mall on a frontage road off I-93, could be a set for Twin Peaks: thick burgundy carpet, sepia wallpaper, wood paneling. Nicoli sits at a large desk, his fingers tented in front of him. He is wearing a camel-hair blazer and a black button-down shirt with the top button undone. He shakes my hand; his grip is firm.

He was once a touring musician down on his luck, bankrupt and pushing 40. Then he saw a hypnotist perform in a bar. "I thought, 'How can I do that stage hypnosis stuff?' because hypnosis is awesome," he says. "I didn't really look at it in a clinical sense." His diction has a rehearsed quality, like that of a pastor or a vacuum-cleaner salesman.

He still loves going to hypnotism shows, he says, especially those of Tommy Vee, because he "keeps it clean." Nicoli gets onstage himself sometimes. He favors making people stutter or believe they're a state trooper.

Nicoli holds three training sessions a year for 10 aspiring hypnotists each. He never lacks for students, he says. The hypnosis industry is booming, even in these tough times.

"It keeps growing and growing," he says. "It's almost like affiliate marketing. It's like the Old West. There might be some ethics and some guidelines, but are they enforced? And by whom?"

Still, he says he's concerned about hypnosis being used for nefarious purposes.

"Just go look on the Internet and you'll find crazy shit — I mean sex slaves. . ." he says, trailing off.

To bolster hypnosis's reputation, Nicoli has founded something called World Hypnotism Day, when he and other practitioners of his craft band together to raise awareness of hypnotism and educate the public about its benefits. This year, World Hypnotism day fell on Wednesday, January 4. Hypnotists worldwide hosted free events from Syracuse to Singapore. In Boston, hypnotherapist Kathryn Flynn gave a stress-management seminar. The Self Center in Winchester hosted a lecture called "Shift to Higher Levels of Consciousness as You Rise Up from the Muck and Mire."

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