Much like battling food addictions, quitting smoking usually involves a roller-coaster ride of successes and repeated relapses. Maybe you've even given up trying to change altogether. As a certified hypnotherapist, I’ve worked with many clients who have turned to hypnosis for smoking cessation as a last resort to finally break their cigarette habit. I have witnessed firsthand that by using hypnosis for smoking cessation, it is possible to stop the cycle of defeat before the unhealthy behavior becomes a matter of life or death.
Why Hypnotherapy Works When Other Methods Don't
Hypnotherapy, in a nutshell, is a way of reaching your subconscious mind to reprogram how you think, act and respond in certain situations. As noted in the Mayo Clinic's description of hypnosis, hypnotherapy helps open the mind to suggestions that can help improve your health.
As we age, we develop filters based on the way people in our environment behave. We begin to categorize things in our subconscious minds as good or bad. Our choices are greatly informed by those subconscious thoughts. As Childbirth Educator and Hypnotherapist Karen Miller notes in a speech given at Indiana University, very young children begin by expressing their every desire rather crudely, but even as we age and grow more subtle in our demands, it is still the subconscious mind that is running the show. Once the subconscious decides it wants or needs something, it doesn’t matter that we consciously say we want something different.
Say, for example, you had a grandmother that you were very close to who was a smoker. As a child, you may have spent a lot of fun times with her while she was smoking, and, subconsciously, you create a positive association in your mind about cigarettes that stays with you until adulthood.
As much as you tell yourself that you'd like to quit smoking, your subconscious mind has already cemented the thought that smoking is a pleasant activity associated with good memories. This conflict is what keeps you saying one thing ("I want to quit") but doing another ("I just can't seem to stop!").
As noted by the University of Maryland Medical School, a trained hypnotherapist can help you separate the memory from the original reaction that led to the learned behavior. Through the process of hypnosis, you can replace your negative responses with healthier ones.
For years, I struggled with weight issues, despite living a mostly healthy lifestyle by average standards. The association my mind made with fun family time and sugary, fatty foods, however, kept me stuck in "yo-yo" dieting mode. The goal with hypnotherapy is to address the subconscious mind and begin to change the association it has with the unwanted behavior or feelings.
The Mayo Clinic offers hypnotherapy as "complementary and integrative" medicine to treat a variety of conditions and ailments, such as severe anxiety and chronic pain.
Contrary to what you might think, hypnosis for smoking cessation does not yield immediate results. As with diet and exercise for weight loss, changing a subconscious behavior takes time and effort. The reason hypnosis can be so effective, however, is that the change you are making is not only a matter of exerting willpower.
Through hypnosis for smoking cessation, you are changing the way your subconscious mind thinks and feels about smoking, so you are working toward a point where you will no longer have any craving whatsoever for the tobacco.
The effects of hypnosis can be longer-lasting because you are not just powering through and erasing the unwanted desire; you are, at a core level, changing part of who you are. As noted by the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in a study of the effects of hypnosis on gastrointestinal problems, hypnosis works effectively because it facilitates self-understanding, which, in turn, leads to an increased ability to adapt successfully to new ideas of self-identification and behavior.
The US National Library of Medicine reports that in a smoking cessation study conducted by San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, it was determined that hypnosis yielded significantly higher results than standard treatments when both treatments were paired with a nicotine patch. This was especially true for participants struggling with depression.
Find a Reputable Certified Hypnotherapist
A certified hypnotherapist can help you make a healthy transition to becoming smoke-free, but it's important to find one that is not only a good fit for you, but that is also knowledgeable enough to know how to achieve optimal results.
According to a report by Senior Attorney John Kasprak, of the Office of Legislative Research in Connecticut, only four states require an actual license or certification to practice hypnotherapy or hypnosis. Consequently, there are quite a few for-profit associations that set themselves up to act as a licensing board for hypnotherapists but with no official government or academic credentials. There are also certificate weekend courses that will charge a fee for people to "become a hypnotherapist" in as little as 2 weeks! You should, of course, avoid these types of organizations.
As with any purchase, finding a good, reputable and legally certified hypnotherapist requires a bit of shopping around. Check the Better Business Bureau listings for your city or browse through alternative therapy forums online for hypnotherapists or hypnotherapy schools in your area. You can also probably get a recommendation from your personal physician, as, according to the Mayo Clinic, many doctors are increasingly referring patients to alternative health care providers for stress relief, chronic pain and other ongoing physical or emotional issues.
It's important to have a rapport with your hypnotherapist, but equally important to feel comfortable asking questions about his or her particular techniques and their prognosis for how long it will take to help you reach your goal.
Stay clear of therapists who claim that they can have you completely "fixed" in a matter of days, as it is not realistic to think that you can break a lifelong habit in mere days with the snap of a finger. Hypnosis for smoking cessation is a journey, in which you partner with your therapist for weeks or months to work together toward a personalized solution that will yield lasting results.
Make sure that you find a hypnotherapist who is confident in their approach, but who is also open and eager to hear your thoughts and feelings about the process.
Start Meditating Daily & Learn Self-Hypnosis Techniques
Meditation can be a very helpful complement to hypnosis treatment. I have found it extremely beneficial for not just changing certain behaviors, but also to my overall daily well-being and happiness.
Once you find a hypnotherapist that you feel comfortable with, you might be tempted to just sit back and let the therapist do all the work. As mentioned, however, the journey of hypnotherapy is a partnership with your therapist, and as such, it requires a lot of work on your part as well.
Ask your hypnotherapist to show you some self-hypnosis for smoking cessation techniques, and outside of your sessions with him or her, use the techniques daily, or at least several times a week in conjunction with meditation. Doing so will not only help you stay focused on your goal, but it can also help to relieve some of the stress related to making such a big life change.
According to a 19-week study at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, first-year medical students practicing self-hypnosis reported less distress and anxiety than their non-intervention counterparts during preparation for exams.
Know Your Smoking Triggers & Find Replacement Behaviors
As you begin to understand the associations your subconscious mind makes, you'll notice trigger patterns. Triggers are situations that cause you to turn repeatedly to the negative behavior.
In an article from the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, researcher DL Nathanson notes that "Cognitions locked to unpleasant emotions can become disturbingly resistant to change until trance work alters the affective environment of the participant".
Your hypnotherapist will talk to you about these triggers and help you to choose other possible reactions to these situations. You, of course, want to choose healthy and balanced alternative responses, but they should also be things that are not too difficult for you to do.
Instead of a "quick fix" behavior to replace reaching for a cigarette, try to find something that will create a longer-lasting return, like reading, taking up a hobby you've always wanted to get involved in or doing light exercise.
Quitting smoking can be one of the most challenging things you ever have to do, especially if you've been smoking for many, many years. You may have tried several methods unsuccessfully and think that it's going to be impossible for you to quit. But, as I have seen in many cases, giving hypnosis for smoking cessation a try may just be the change you need to help you kick your smoking habit for good.
*Photo by John Caroro on Unsplash