Habits are tough to break. From overeating to procrastination, people around the world spend time, money, and effort to stop embarrassing and destructive habits. They want to fit into a certain outfit or want to become more accomplished in their field. Sometimes, they’re successful. In other situations, they fail. But people still keep trying, always striving for the self-improvement that comes from breaking a habit.
That tendency becomes obvious when applied to smoking. Smoking itself is an insidious habit, perhaps more accurately labeled as an “addiction.” There are many techniques and items that claim to aid smokers in their battle to exorcise the habit, and some seem to be more helpful than others.
Hypnosis and Bad Science
A quick internet search reveals a few techniques such as therapy, prescription pills, and even specialized magnets that claim to be efficient anti-smoking aids. It is beyond the scope of this article to evaluate each technique and its worth.
However, one technique appears often on internet searches and this is hypnosis. Can hypnosis really stop smoking?
To understand hypnosis, it will first be necessary to explain away a few myths.
A Brief History of Hypnosis
Hypnosis has a long history of being used for medical purposes. One of its first practitioners was Franz Mesmer, a German physician who practiced hypnosis while treating patients in the 18th century. He was discredited by his peers due to his lack of understanding regarding how hypnosis works but his method—named mesmerism —continued to interest professionals and laypeople alike.
Mesmerism was sporadically used by the medical community until the middle of the 19th century, when the English physician James Braid, while researching the technique, renamed the treatment hypnosis after the Greek god of sleep, Hypnos. The technique of hypnosis has been used on occasion by the medical community ever since. Interestingly, although many laypeople tend to associate hypnosis with Sigmund Freud, Freud actually discarded the treatment in favor of free association.
Also, hypnosis was used with much success to treat World War I soldiers suffering from battle-related trauma. Hypnosis was also used to treat World War II soldiers suffering from battle fatigue and is still used today to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. As a matter of fact, hypnosis is used to treat a wide variety of mental disorders, such as anxiety, depression and sleep disorders. Hypnotherapy is also used to help patients deal with grief and loss.
How Hypnosis Works to Stop Smoking?
But what makes hypnosis suitable to stop smoking? Hypnosis recreates a perfectly natural state of mind, which is usually experienced either just before someone goes to sleep or as soon as they wake up in the morning. Most people aren’t aware of it, but the drowsy, relaxed feeling that they get just before dropping off is quite similar to hypnosis. This is the effect that hypnosis sets out to achieve.
Unfortunately, getting a patient to that state isn't as easy as a layman may think. Almost 25% of all people can’t be hypnotized at all. This is one of the reasons why Freud abandoned the practice. If a patient is nervous or is merely skeptical, there is a good chance that they cannot be hypnotized, which of course will cause the treatment to fail. Also, if the patient subconsciously doesn’t truly want to stop smoking, then they will resist the stop smoking hypnosis approach and the treatment will fail. This is common sense. After all, hypnosis will not stop smoking without complete cooperation from the patient.
So, can the subconscious mind influence hypnosis? Yes, absolutely.
As a matter of fact, hypnosis is an attempt to contact and influence the subconscious mind. The “trance” is merely an attempt to bypass the conscious mind, with all its walls and protections, in order to access the subconscious, which may be more open to change.
The subconscious influences many of our daily habits and has a tendency to be a person’s autopilot. For example, how many among us have been absorbed in a conversation and have completed a chore without even realizing it? Our conscious mind was focused on the conversation while our subconscious mind finished the job. Our conscious mind may not have even noticed we were finished!
In a similar way, a subconscious mind may guide a patient to grab a cigarette and light it before the conscious mind is even aware it’s going on. The stop smoking hypnosis practitioner attempts to stop the subconsciousness’s urge to smoke by using a variety of techniques. These techniques tend to reinforce each other in an effort to guide the patient’s subconscious mind away from smoking.
A very popular technique was created by Dr. Herbert Spiegel in the 1970s. Dr Spiegel inarguably brought hypnosis to American mainstream medical culture, as well as the popular consciousness. He was known for treating the famous “Sybil,” who was known for manifesting a severe case of multiple personality disorder, as well as for his groundbreaking studies involving hypnosis.
His exploration of hypnosis started during World War II, when he found that injured soldiers who had been hypnotized required less morphine than injured soldiers who were not hypnotized. From that experience, he helped to create many hypnotic techniques that are still used today.
Dr. Spiegel’s hypnotic technique to stop smoking centers around three ideas:
All three of these ideas are explained to the patient’s subconscious in hopes that the subconscious will be more focused on achieving physical fitness and won’t be as eager to smoke a cigarette. When the patient is brought out of the hypnotic state, they are taught how to hypnotize themselves in order to reinforce the ideas their subconscious has just learned.
In this way, hopefully, hypnotism may be used to help stop smoking.
A modern hypnotherapist, in order to further reinforce the hypnosis, may also attempt to give the patient’s subconscious an aversion to cigarettes. Generally, this is done by suggesting that cigarettes smell like car exhaust or by making the patient feel extremely thirsty whenever they smoke a cigarette. This aversion may aid a patient who needs to stop enjoying cigarettes, not merely resist a compulsion.
How to Achieve the Most with Stop Smoking Hypnosis
Does hypnosis stop smoking? Most studies are inconclusive. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that it does work for some people. Like hypnosis itself, the results vary wildly from person to person, depending on the sensitivity of the patient’s subconscious. However, there are a few guidelines which can help a patient achieve their highest potential with hypnosis.
First of all, according to WebMD.com, the patient should ensure that their hypnotherapist is accredited in a related field. Unfortunately, the field of hypnotherapy is not well-regulated. Therefore, it is advisable that the practitioner also should be a physician or trained therapist. That way, the patient can be assured that the hypnosis practitioner is an accomplished professional.
In a similar vein, the use of hypnosis to stop smoking should be combined with an additional treatment. Although the successful use of hypnotherapy alone to stop smoking is somewhat random, certain preliminary studies have shown that hypnotherapy is more successful in stopping smoking when combined with a therapy such as behavioral modification or nicotine patches. One treatment boosts the other.
Finally, the patient should be comfortable with the hypnotherapist. While this may seem obvious to some, it bears mentioning here. Much of the success in hypnosis relies on the patient being able to relax with the hypnotherapist. To that end, the patient should be assertive when seeking out a provider, ensuring that the provider is personable as well as capable.
Find the Anti-Smoking Approach That Works for You
No matter which method the patient uses to stop smoking, breaking the habit will be difficult. However, it is inadvisable for the patient to attempt to stop smoking without some form of assistance. Only 5% of all patients who attempt to stop smoking “cold turkey” ever manage to completely kick the habit. All others fail.
Whether the patient attempts behavioral therapy, nicotine replacement therapy, or hypnotherapy, the chances that they will stop smoking can only increase. There is a question as to whether or not hypnotherapy can help stop smoking. Trying certainly cannot hurt, and any advantage can be crucial when trying to break this habit of death.