Hypnosis for quitting smoking – does it work?

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We’ve all heard of hypnosis. We’ve seen the mystical, suited professionals on the adverts who promise to free us from addiction forever. We’ve seen Chandler Bing successfully stop smoking (for at least a few seasons of Friends) just by falling asleep to some tapes calling him a strong, confident woman.

Yet, most of us are not quite sure what hypnosis even is. Where did the idea come from? Is it anything to do with snake-charming? And most importantly: can it help break a smoking habit?

We at Quit Genius have dug a little deeper into the subject of hypnosis so that we can help our readers to separate fact from fiction.

The Origins of Hypnosis

Sigmund Freud, the founding father of psychoanalysis, brought hypnosis into the limelight back in the early twentieth century. He was not the first to come up with the idea. However, he was a figurehead for the role hypnosis has played in modern medicine and psychology.

Freud used hypnosis to help his patients access the desires and fears in their unconscious mind. Patients would enter a trance like state and allow their deepest feelings to surface while in conversation with the psychoanalyst. Freud theorised that this would allow them to release debilitating emotions and recover from their distress, or hysteria.

Now, Freud was actually a pretty poor hypnotist (and smoked like a chimney). Still, modern health professionals have found Freud’s ideas about hypnosis to be useful. This is because hypnosis provides an altered state of awareness. This can allow access to the subconscious mind. The person can then channel and address underlying desires and fears to help them work towards important goals.

How Hypnosis Works

Hypnosis experts often help people with goals to improve their health. Quitting smoking is a common health goal. We all know the benefits of being a non-smoker: healthier skin, a longer life-expectancy and significantly reduced risks of a heart attack or lung cancer.

You are likely to have some misgivings about the concept of hypnosis and how it works for smoking cessation. The idea of being seduced into a trance by a stranger is rather daunting. Hypnosis in the media doesn’t help. You think of it as something entertainers like David Blaine might do to embarrass audience members at magic shows.

If you are considering hypnotherapy, we are here to assure you that Derren Brown isn’t going to rock up and trick you into drinking a bottle of vinegar. Professional hypnotherapists don’t aim to make you do things you don’t want to. In fact, evidence suggests that hypnosis does not work unless the subject has existing intentions to achieve something.

So, hypnosis involves amplifying existing desires – like the wish to quit smoking!

Now, what actually happens during a hypnotherapy session?

There are several methods of inducing hypnosis, none of which involve swinging a watch in front of the eyes (this is a Hollywood myth). This rapid movement would be distracting. Hypnosis is all about focus.

Hypnotic induction techniques are meant to quiet the conscious mind and achieve a trance like state. Therapists use combinations of suggestions and words to have this effect on clients. Hypnotic induction can occur within guided sessions or through the use of administered tapes (self-hypnosis).

Entering a hypnotic trance is not the same as being asleep. It is a very deep state of altered awareness. Scans have show that people actually experience more brain activity during hypnosis. This heightened brain activity is meant to allow a person to focus in on their specific goal.

Psychologists have proposed that some individuals frequently enter trance like states. Have you ever been so in the zone with a project that you forgot to get lunch? This intense concentration or ‘flow’ is known as a spontaneous trance, whereas a hypnotic trance is induced and much, much deeper.

Therapists introduce ‘hypnotic suggestions’ to clients once they enter a trance. These are statements encouraging goals for control, confidence and a life free from smoking.

The client is often asked to visualise certain things. These could be positive aspects of a future as a non-smoker. They could also be unpleasant sensations associated with current smoking habits.

Some therapists will follow standardised scripts for these tasks. But hypnosis sessions can vary a lot. Hypnosis does not share the same evidence base as other treatments for smoking addiction. This means that there are not the same established protocols as methods like cognitive-behavioural therapy.

Does Hypnosis Work for Quitting Smoking?

The evidence for hypnosis as a successful smoking cessation method is a mixed bag.

Some studies have seen high success rates, whilst others are more modest. A review of 59 different trials found that hypnosis is often better than no support at all. However, researchers did not find hypnosis to be any more effective than the other available addiction treatments.

We also don’t know why hypnosis works in the first place.

A study by McNeilly and colleagues found that hypnosis may help quitters to focus on their own resources to curb cigarette cravings. Other researchers have suggested that success rates are caused by the relaxation effects of hypnosis. These might allow people to cope with nicotine addiction and nicotine withdrawal. So, would yoga be just as useful?

Psychologists Spiegel and Greenleaf also point out that around one in four people cannot enter a hypnotic trance (these are the people Derren Brown doesn’t pick for his TV shows). Is it fair to advocate a smoking cessation method not everyone can benefit from?

The Alternatives

As we have mentioned, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) has a lot more scientific support than hypnosis. CBT involves consciously moving towards goals. This is done by considering thoughts, feelings and behaviours that might be keeping a smoking addiction going. Being aware of these triggers allows people to systematically work towards being smoke-free.

Still, seeking out CBT treatment may be significantly more effort than sticking on a hypnosis tape. NHS clinics have long waiting lists and private therapy is expensive.

The good news is, there are digital apps, like Quit Genius, that follow a program founded on supportable CBT methods. These offer a cheap and convenient way of receiving one-to-one coaching through the difficult process of quitting smoking.

Take home message

So, does hypnosis work for quitting smoking?

Basically, it can work, but it’s not clear why. Staying curious is good, so thanks for taking the time to read this post. Who knows? Hypnosis could be just right for you.

What we can tell you is that our Quit Genius app follows the gold standard CBT methods for tackling addiction. We have helped over 35,000 people quit smoking and we aim to help many more. Start your journey ->

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