Often the people who come to me in my Toronto (Ontario, Canada) Hypnosis Smoking Cessation clinic have tried just about everything to quit. How does hypnosis help a smoker quit for good when numerous other methods failed? Here's what I've learned over the years.
The three key elements responsible for smoking behaviour in increasing order of significance are: Nicotine, Habit and "Secondary Gain". Unfortunately the least important "the nicotine" is the one that gets all the attention when it is really the last two that are the biggest obstacles to a successful quit.
I've had the opportunity to interview many people who have used stop smoking medications. A common theme among them is unpleasant side effects and that many users face a long hard struggle to remain smoke free after they come off the drugs. This is why the long-term quit rate (1 year) is not that much better than cold turkey. Smoking cessation drugs do not properly address the secondary gain and habit issues that are such an important part of smoking behaviour. All the drugs do is make smoking highly unpleasant and unsatisfying. Unfortunately in rare cases they make all of life seem unsatisfying which is a possible explanation for why some users have committed suicide while on these drugs. Life just does not feel worth living.
We have 2 minds, a conscious mind and an unconscious mind. Our conscious mind is the logical, rational mind that we use to think with, plan with, and that we would love to believe is in control. However, it is the unconscious mind that really controls our behaviour because it stores our memories, it stores our emotions, it stores our habits. So even when we think we are making a conscious decision, we are really making an unconscious decision because we must go into the data in the unconscious mind to make that decision. Is this right? Is this wrong? Should I, or should not I?
If you are a smoker who is at the point that you are ready to quit, then these two minds are in conflict. Your conscious mind knows that smoking is bad, but when you think about it, it does not really feel bad. Cigarettes may feel comforting, or like a companion or a crutch that you need to get through the day. These feelings of "perceived benefits" or "secondary gain" are the strongest drivers of your smoking behaviour. That's why nicotine patches, gums and inhalers fare so poorly in the war against smoking. They do not provide the secondary gain. They just are not satisfying. Unless the secondary gain issues (which are most often erroneous unconscious beliefs) are dealt with, you may initially succeed at quitting, but substitute another undesirable behaviour like eating or simply just start smoking again after a short period of time.
It should be noted that until you reach the point of internal conflict, hypnosis is likely to be unsuccessful because you have no motivation to change. People who do not want to quit are looking for all the ways that hypnosis will not work rather than cooperating with the process to get results. Motivation is important because hypnosis does not remove free will. You could still smoke after hypnosis, but if you have a desire to be a non-smoker, and nothing driving you to smoke, why would you? The answer is – you would not.
Hypnosis is the only modality that can address all three of the elements responsible for keeping a smoker smoking. A skilled hypnotist can help you to identify, isolate and transform these feelings so that your conscious and the unconscious minds are aligned on being a non-smoker. Once this occurs your drive to smoke is greatly reduced. Many people could quit at this point, but a good hypnotist will then layer in techniques to prevent nicotine withdrawal and give you the feeling that you have already quit. This makes smoking feel more like something you used to do, but do not do anymore. This helps to break down the habit and make you feel like "I can do this".
Hypnosis is not magic, but for many who have struggled for years attempting to quit, it often feels like it.