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Hypnosis As A Treatment for Smoking

Jennifer Patterson

Date: 11/15/2005



What is Hypnosis?

      Medical hypnosis, used by practicing psychologists trained in hypnotherapy, is a state of deep concentration and relaxation, in which psychotherapeutic suggestions are formulated and presented to the patient. Despite the believed effectiveness of this treatment, there are several misconceptions that hinder individuals from seeking treatment. The first is the belief that the person will lose all control during the treatment procedure. On contrary, the person is simply in a relaxed state. It is important that the patient understand that consciousness is not lost at any point of the procedure. The individual will remember the entire duration of the treatment. Hypnosis can also be used for those who have trouble focusing, so lack of attention span does not affect treatment. Fortunately the subconscious mind is always alert to external stimuli (

        According to the Trance Solutions website, hypnosis is the only treatment that helps the individual overcome all three dependencies: nicotine dependency, habitual dependency, and the psychological dependency. The nicotine dependency is described as the need for a cigarette in order to calm the addictive side effects of smoking. Habitual dependency develops when an individual smokes while performing another type of activity. Some of these individuals smoke while out with friends, while studying for a test, or while driving home from work. Finally, psychological dependency takes control when the person smokes while under great amounts of stress (

When considering hypnotherapy, it is important to understand the difference between a lay practitioner and a medical hypnotherapist. A lay practitioner has only a certificate from an organization comprised of other nonpractitioners. These individuals may have a college degree, but usually not in the medical field. They usually have training ranging from 3 to 75 hours in hypnosis. A professional medical hypnotherapist has at least a Master's degree in one of the following fields: psychology, mental health counseling, social work, medicine, or dentistry. In contrast to the lay practitioner, he/she has about 700 hours of supervised training in Eriksonian hypnosis and psychotherapy (



The Rationale:

        Smoking is an addiction that attacks the subconscious mind, refusing to retreat easily. Previously hailed treatments such as quitting cold turkey, the patch, nicotine gum, etc, tend to leave the individual moody and still craving relief. Many of its victims are so overcome with the withdrawal symptoms that they are unable to kick the habit. Hypnosis works well as a treatment because it taps into the subconscious mind. This therapy gets directly to the source of the problem in order to correct it ( 


Mechanism Of Treatment:

        Freedom from smoking can be achieved by contacting a trained hypnotherapist or buying a CD from a hypnotherapy website. However, one should be cautious when buying hypnotherapy paraphernalia online. Without the proper documentation, it is difficult to distinguish which therapies are legitimate and which are simply out to make a profit.  In fact, most the websites found on the commonly used search engines are in fact less medically related and more profit related.

        When hypnotherapy is performed, the therapist helps to induce the patient into a relaxed state. Once the proper degree of relaxation is achieved, the therapist begins to make suggestions that assist the subconscious in letting go of the addiction. It is important to remember, however, that the patient never loses consciousness and is completely aware of every step of the procedure.  The patient is then brought back from the relaxed state, and allowed to go on with their daily life (


Therapy Outcomes Based On The Internet:

        All of the sites that were visited on the internet claimed that their therapy was successful in helping smokers "kick the habit."  There are, however, reasons to be skeptical of their effectiveness. The first reason is that they are accessible via the internet, to make a profit. The sites visited usually had a CD for sale or business to promote. In this case, the individual promoting their service is not going to indicate the number of times that the hypnotherapy did not work. The amount of time for the therapy to take affect also varies from website to website. claims that their treatment can begin working within days, while claimed their treatment was really effective after 6-12 months. The problem with the web-based claims is that they are inconsistent as far as treatment outcome times. Another problem with the web-based services is that they make reference to studies that support their treatment, however specific studies are never cited. Trance Solutions claims that the British Medical Association, American Medical Association, and the American Psychological Association have research from the 1950's and 1960's to support their claims, however there is not a specific study that is referenced. It should also be pointed out that the so-called "supporting evidence" is also 40-50 years old (


Scientific Findings:

        Scientific findings seem to have inconsistent conclusions as far as hypnotherapy and smoking are concerned. There are several studies that suggest that the therapy is a success, however the time period in which the effects last vary from study to study.

        Spiegel, Frischholz, Fleiss, and Spiegel's study helps to confirm that hypnotherapy does, in fact, aide those whom wish to quit smoking. A sample of 226 subjects were offered one session of self-hypnosis treatment. After the therapy was conducted, the subjects were followed for two years. The experiment was a success after one week, with 52% of the subjects achieving total abstinence. Unfortunately the rate declined as time progressed to only 23% once the 2 years was concluded. The study is important because it compares the effectiveness of hypnotherapy to that of other smoking cessation methods. The study shows that smoking therapies do not have a lot of variation as far as effectiveness is concerned (Spiegel, Frischholz, Fleiss, Spiegel, 1993).

        Elkins and Rajab's study on hypnosis and smoking confirm that hypnotherapy has a successful retention rate. In this study, 21 subjects were pooled from an HMO group and treated for habitual smoking. Out of the 21 subjects, 81% experienced a successful result from the hypnotherapy, and 48% retained their results 12 months after treatment (Elkins & Rajab, 2004).

        Other studies, such as Sorensen, Beder, Prible, and Pinney's study on smoking and the workplace, combine hypnotherapy with other factors that enforce the treatment. Seventy-one percent of the participants took part in both a smoking ban and hypnotherapy. It was concluded that out of those that participated in the 90-minute hypnotherapy session, 15% remained smoke-free after a year posttreatment. This finding implies that hypnotherapy in conjunction with other measures can be very effective (Sorensen, Beder, Prible, and Pinney, 1995).

        Unfortunately not all studies found hypnotherapy to be a successful treatment. The first of these studies was conducted by Valbo-Annelill and Eide-Terje in 1996. They found that in a sample of 138 pregnant women in Norway, that there was no effect of hypnotherapy on smoking cessation. In fact, the success rate for those using hypnotherapy was 42% and 31% in the control group (Valbo-Annelill & Eide-Terje, 1996). This study provided evidence that other measures may treat smoking, or that other factors may be involved. Another example related to hypnotherapy is that work of Myles, Hendrata, Layher, Williams, Hall, Moloney, and Powell. In their experiment they had a sample of patients who wanted to quit smoking. These patients were played a suggestive tape while under anesthesia. Overall, 56 claimed to have quit after 2 months, and 29 claimed to have quit by 6 months. It is important to note, however, that the researchers state that this does not mean that using a tape during anesthesia is an effective treatment for smoking (Myles, Hendrata, Layher, Williams, Hall, Moloney, & Powell, 1996).


Should Those Who Want To Quit Smoking Try Hypnotherapy?

        Due to the fact that the scientific evidence is inconsistent, it cannot be stated that hypnotherapy is an effective treatment for smoking. It can, however, be stated that in some circumstances smoking cessation was achieved and that individual results could vary.





Elkins, G.R., Rajab, M.H. (2004). Clinical hypnosis for smoking cessation: preliminary results of three-session intervention. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 52(1), 73-81.


Myles, P.S., Hendrata, M., Layher, Y., Williams, N.J., Hall, J.L., Moloney, J.T., & Powell, J. (1996). Double-blind, randomized trial of cessation of smoking after audiotape suggestion during anesthesia. British Journal of Anesthesia, 76(5), 694-8.


Sorensen, G., Beder, B., Prible, C.R., & Pinney, J.(1995). Reducing smoking at the workplace: implementing a smoking ban and hypnotherapy. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 37(4), 453-60.


Spiegel, D., Frischholz, E., Fleiss, J., Spiegel, H. (1993). Predictors of smoking abstinence following a single-session restructuring intervention with self-hypnosis. American Journal of Psychiatry, 150(7), 1090-1097.


Valbo-Annelill, Eide-Terje. (1996). Smoking cessation in pregnancy. The effects of hypnosis in randomized study. Addictive Behaviors, 21(1), 29-35.




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