Who Was Charles Tebbetts? revised 2010

Hypnotist C, Roy Hunter

by C. Roy Hunter

After one of my workshops last year, an attendee asked me for some background information regarding the life of Charles Tebbetts. Since I knew him very well, it’s hard to believe that almost two decades have passed since his passing.

Charlie (as he asked me to call him) grew up in the Midwest. He lost his father when he was only 14. Although his mother wanted him to attend college and become a psychiatrist, Charlie’s involvement with music interrupted the career she planned for him. Shortly after graduating from high school, he started playing for a jazz band. Young Tebbetts traveled throughout the eastern half of the United States, finally ending up playing for an orchestra at a vaudeville theatre.

In 1927, this young saxophone player witnessed a stage hypnosis show five nights weekly for several months, and memorized the act. One night the hypnotist drank excessively once too often, and was unable to perform. Meanwhile, the observant Charles Tebbetts volunteered to provide the entertainment that night…and his success resulted in his replacing the drunk performer and becoming the new stage hypnotist!

Initially the young Tebbetts devoted himself to the entertainment side of hypnosis. After many months, a doctor (who was a friend of the family) saw him perform one night in Beatrice, Nebraska, his mother’s hometown. The physician convinced Tebbetts to work with him and with his patients. After considerable experiments, the doctor learned the art of hypnosis himself; but skepticism among his peers caused the physician to swear Charlie to silence, and they parted ways.

During the first half of the 20th Century it was very difficult to earn a decent income as a hypnotist; so Charlie started working with a jeweler, manufacturing Walt Disney character charms. After negotiating a lucrative contract with Walt Disney, he moved to Hollywood. He again got involved with music, and met the woman who became Joyce Tebbetts. His work with art, music and advertising helped to pay bills; but Tebbetts continually remained involved with hypnosis as a side business, conducting occasional sessions and doing research. He considered himself to be a lifelong student of hypnosis, always studying the work of others and always reading.

During the 1960’s and 1970’s he pioneered a technique based on the work of Paul Federn, utilizing the various aspects of the personality that he called ego parts. Thus, Tebbetts became the pioneer of parts work. He told me that his work inspired him to seek some formal training from another source; and Gil Boyne eventually became his source of that training. Charlie liked the way Boyne taught and promoted hypnosis, and chose to attend Gil’s school to learn more. They became personal friends, and soon Charlie started practicing out of Gil’s facility. He later opened an office in Brentwood, and sold his advertising business. However, Charlie told me personally that he did not tell Boyne about his many years of experience with hypnosis until long after completing Boyne’s training program.

In the late 1970’s, Charlie suffered a paralyzing stroke. He first used self-hypnosis to regain his ability to talk, and then to walk once again. This experience inspired him to write Self-Hypnosis and Other Mind Expanding Techniques (Westwood Publishing), which is available to this day.

Eventually Mr. & Mrs. Tebbetts moved to Washington State to establish their own hypnosis training institute, as well as a state chapter of the American Council of Hypnotist Examiners. At his school in Edmonds, Washington, Charlie actively taught and promoted parts work to other professionals and to advanced students of hypnosis.

During the late 1980’s Tebbetts reached the height of his fame throughout the entire hypnosisprofession. Inducted into the International Hypnosis Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement, Charles Tebbetts is best remembered for his work with parts work.

In the early 1980’s, Tebbetts wrote Miracles on Demand, now out of print. Although this book contained a brief summary of his basic hypnosis training course, he devoted the majority of the book to scripts of actual hypnosis sessions facilitated in the classroom. Most of those sessions incorporated parts work. I personally witnessed a couple of the videotaped sessions that he included in his book.

When I attended his school in Edmonds in 1983, most of Charlie’s demonstrations in the classroom involved either the use of regression work or parts work, and often both. Charlie liked parts work because of its ability to quickly help a client discover the core cause of a problem, which he called hitting pay dirt. In his opinion it was difficult to know what cause to release unless or until that cause was discovered (rather than diagnosed). He openly admitted that he borrowed techniques from other professionals, and adapted them to his own hypnotic style. He taught that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis, and our job is to empower the client.

Charlie sometimes got controversial, joining the Washington Hypnosis Association (WHA), while at the same time criticizing it for “inadequate training requirements.” The WHA eventually increased their training requirements to match the course that Tebbetts taught.

Charles Tebbetts praised the work of many: Ormond McGill, Gil Boyne, Dave Elman, Milton Erickson, Fritz Perls, and others. Boyne was the one he spoke about the most in his classroom (even after parting paths over a personal dispute), because they were on the same page regarding their beliefs about comprehensive training in the art of hypnotism. Tebbetts taught regression work the way he learned it from Boyne; but Charie also continued his research with parts work, recording most of his sessions on videotape.

In 1988, Charles Tebbetts spoke at the first NGH convention, and returned quite encouraged with “this new growing organization back East…” Apparently he did not know that the NGH was actually born 38 years earlier. However, the conflict from both the ACHE and the WHA towards the HECI eventually distracted him from being successful at his practice and his school. His involvement with running the HECI and publishing a newsletter became very time-consuming, leaving even less time to devote to generating income; and his stress was compounded by conflicts on his HECI Board that I personally witnessed.

At the end of 1989, Charlie told me: “Hunter, I’ve had my fill of hypnosis politics, and I want to turn the HECI over to you.” Since the NGH had already openly expressed a policy of building bridges with members of other hypnosis associations, I contacted Dr. Dwight Damon about merging the HECI with the NGH.

Charlie was skeptical when I invited members of the WHA and the ACHE to our NGH chapter meetings. However, this proved to be successful; and resulted in the strongest local chapter of the NGH in 1990 with over 50 in attendance at many chapter meetings. When we held a local Pacific Northwest Convention jointly sponsored by our new NGH chapter and the WHA, Charlie said: “The impossible became possible…I never thought I would see this type of professional unity in my lifetime!”

Up until 1988, Charlie spoke exclusively at only ACHE functions. However, he traveled to several hypnosis conventions to teach parts work to experienced hypnotists during his latter years. Then, while attending the annual convention of the National Guild of Hypnotists in August of 1992, he suffered a heart attack right at the convention site. He asked me to teach his parts work workshop in his behalf that day, and passed away during my presentation.

Called a grandmaster teacher by Dr. John Hughes of the National Guild of Hypnotists, Charles Tebbetts taught thousands of students who came to him from all over the world. Out of the thousands he trained either at his school or in workshops over the years, I consider it an honor and a privilege that he asked me to continue his work.

Charles Tebbetts rarely showed emotion; but the night he was inducted into the International Hypnosis Hall of Fame he had tears streaming down his cheeks. He thanked me for taking over his organization; but I thanked him for all that he contributed to our profession. During all my years of friendship, that was the only time I ever saw him cry…and they were tears of gratitude.

We all owe him a debt of gratitude for his dedication to our profession…and especially for his profound work pioneering and developing parts work.

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