Nat­u­ral Fixes

How hyp­no­sis can help smok­ers quit


What is hyp­no­sis, and how can it help some­one stop smok­ing?

NOAH KASS: Dur­ing hyp­no­sis, a ther­a­pist uses men­tal im­agery and sug­ges­tion to elicit pos­i­tive change in the client’s feel­ings, thoughts, and be­hav­iors. He or she will guide you to a re­laxed and fo­cused state where you’re re­spon­sive to sug­ges­tions and able to vi­su­al­ize goals. Those who suc­cess­fully quit smok­ing learn to rec­og­nize the un­der­ly­ing rea­sons why they smoke and re­place cig­a­rettes with a health­ier be­hav­ior.

OK, what ex­actly hap­pens dur­ing a ses­sion?

KASS: Hyp­no­sis typ­i­cally takes place in a tra­di­tional psy­chother­apy of­fice. The ther­a­pist asks ques­tions to un­der­stand your smok­ing his­tory and what’s held you back from quit­ting. As hyp­no­sis be­gins, mu­sic is played to guide you into a re­laxed state. You’ll close your eyes, fo­cus on deep­en­ing your breath, and re­lax your mus­cles. The ther­a­pist will then cre­ate im­agery in the form of a per­sonal metaphor, story, or anal­ogy that re­lates to your life. Per­son­al­ized im­agery makes you more open to change and lets you build an aver­sion to smok­ing and cre­ate re­wards for not smok­ing.

How many ses­sions does it take?

KASS: For smok­ing, gen­er­ally just one. If smok­ers are told that treat­ment re­quires ad­di­tional ses­sions, it in­di­rectly gives them per­mis­sion to keep smok­ing un­til the last one is com­pleted. The dead­line cre­ates an ur­gency to stop. How­ever, when clients stop smok­ing cig­a­rettes, is­sues such as de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety can sur­face. It takes sig­nif­i­cantly longer to re­solve

those deeper is­sues, which may re­quire ad­di­tional ther­apy tech­niques.

So that’s it—one visit and you’re off cig­a­rettes?

KASS: Many clients stop smok­ing right af­ter their ini­tial hyp­no­sis. Oth­ers de­crease their smok­ing over the next few days and then quit al­to­gether. But they have to proac­tively re­duce stress and sur­round them­selves with peo­ple aligned with their goal. I also en­cour­age re­vi­su­al­iza­tion of im­agery from their hyp­no­sis ses­sion as well as rep­e­ti­tion of a per­sonal mantra they dis­cover through our work to­gether. This will help sep­a­rate smok­ing from com­mon trig­gers such as hav­ing a cig­a­rette with a cup of cof­fee. In fact, it will seem strange to do so af­ter treat­ment.

All right, what makes some­one a good can­di­date for hyp­no­sis?

KASS: Are you gen­er­ally able to re­lax and let your mind wan­der? Re­search shows that hyp­no­ti­z­abil­ity is of­ten re­lated to creativ­ity and ex­plo­ration. In­di­vid­u­als who are able to lose them­selves in a book or movie are also of­ten able to achieve a hyp­notic state more read­ily.

Is hyp­no­sis as ef­fec­tive as con­ven­tional nicotinere­place­ment ther­a­pies?

KASS: Sev­eral stud­ies demon­strate the ef­fec­tive­ness of hyp­no­sis over the patch, gum, and other nico­tine-re­place­ment treat­ments. The rates of re­lapse were also sig­nif­i­cantly lower. Hyp­no­sis helps you sum­mon the strength to with­stand with­drawal af­ter quit­ting. And when car­ried out by a li­censed men­tal health pro­fes­sional in a car­ing and re­spect­ful man­ner, hyp­no­sis doesn’t have any neg­a­tive side ef­fects. I would look for a ther­a­pist who is li­censed by the state as a so­cial worker, men­tal health coun­selor, or psy­chol­o­gist and who has had train­ing in Erick­so­nian hyp­no­sis.

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