Hypnosis Works To Help Smokers Quit

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Smokers who want to quit the habit and try nicotine patches may find that the patches aren’t helping to control their craving for tobacco. The effectiveness of patches, unfortunately, varies from individual to individual. However, a study completed in 2008 indicates that the usefulness of nicotine patches can be improved if they’re used along with therapeutic hypnosis (a similar improvement in patch effectiveness has been shown when they’re combined with professional counseling). The study found specifically that hypotherapy worked just as well as standard behavioral counseling in combination with nicotine patches, to aid quitting smokers in staying off cigarettes for one year.

The study’s lead author, Timothy Carmody, said, “This study provides much-needed evidence that hypnosis is indeed a very helpful treatment.”

Carmody described the hypotherapeutic method, in which the patient is guided into a relaxed state by a therapist, and then inculcated with mental training skills meant to help them deal with the desire to smoke and with withdrawal symptoms. Patients also receive an audiotape of the training session to use at home when needed. The looked-for result is an increasing confidence that they can and will stop smoking, and stay off tobacco for good. This method is among several alternative therapies that top hospitals and research institutes have increasingly been accepting and using.

The study was done at San Francisco VA Medical Center and the University of California-San Francisco, and its results published in the May 2008 issue of Nicotine & Tobacco Research. The 286 subjects were split randomly into two groups, one receiving standard behavioral counseling and the other hypnotherapy. In behavioral counseling, discussions were conducted between patient and therapist about the dangerous effects of smoking and the benefits of smoking cessation. In both groups, the patients had two hour-long therapy sessions and then received 20-minute follow-up calls from their therapists, reinforcing the ideas that had been conveyed either through standard counseling or during the hypnotized state.

It was discovered that patients who reported having been depressed in the past found the hypnotherapy especially helpful. Carmody said that this finding may point to the usefulness of using hypnotherapy with quitting smokers who have a history of depression and perhaps other psychiatric problems.

This research was characterized as encouraging by Brian Hitsman, assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, who said that hypnotherapy like that used in the study may prove to be a non-pharmocological therapy for quitting smokers that is as helpful as standard counseling. He cautioned that the question of hypnosis’ effectiveness if used alone is still open, saying, “This study says nothing about the potential effect of the hypnosis intervention in the absence of a nicotine patch.”

The field of smoking cessation therapy is evolving rapidly. Future questions for research will center on the effectiveness of counseling and/or hypnotherapy if the patient stays with them for a longer term, more than one year, according to Prof. Hitsman. In his opinion, nicotine addiction ought to be treated like a chronic condition, similar to the way a disease like diabetes is approached. “For most people, smoking begins in adolescence and persists across the life span, with multiple periods of remission and relapse. Acute care is the current model, with treatments typically given up to 12 weeks. For many, successful cessation will require ongoing intervention.”

Robert Galarowicz ND
Stop Smoking Professional
Bergen County New Jersey

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