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Using Hypnosis to Quit Smoking

In 1974, at Hypnosis Motivation Institute, one of the biggest clinics of its type at the time, and even bigger today, I was certified by Dr. John Kappas, PhD as a Master Hypnotist.

I subsequently joined Chapter 473 of the AFL-CIO affiliated Hypnotist's Union and became a Charter Member of the American Hypnosis Association.

During my time as a practicing hypnotist, I can honestly say I had three major successes. First, my daughter stepped into a scalding tub of water and received third degree burns to above her ankles.

The doctor who treated her in the emergency room said she would eventually need grafts, as the skin was completely damaged, and likely the tendons were severely damaged as well.

Using nothing but hypnosis, I helped her heal those feet completely in seven days. No scabs were there when the bandages were removed, no scars were event. A doctor who'd examined her at the emergency room and again a week later called it, "miraculous".

The second event was with a girl who'd been crippled in an auto accident. She could barely walk with the assistance of elaborate braces and crutches. She had two doctors and a physical therapist working on her full time for two years, with no discernable recovery.

During the only session I was allowed with her (the doctors immediately put a huge block between us, threatening legal action) I discovered that her paralysis was totally psychological.

I won't detail the reason, but it was totally guilt-based. Her fiancé died in the wreck. She felt responsible.

Through hypnosis, I got her to break through the guilt barrier and walk out of the clinic without the crutches or braces. Hence, the doctors freaking out. (It probably meant the end of those insurance payments.)

The third was a man who'd had a brain surgery to stop his Parkinson's disease from killing him. After the surgery, he could only talk in a whisper. I have a cassette tape  of him yelling out during a session, "Mother, can you hear me?" We both cried.

So I believe I do know something about hypnosis.

At HMI, I specialized in smoking cessation. Although I was good at it, I could not seem to get past the fact that I was not able to hypnotize myself (all hypnosis is in fact, self-hypnosis) into quitting my "pack a day" habit.

The truth of the matter was that many of the hypnotists that worked with me were also smoking, although attempting to hide it from their clients, as I was.

What was wrong with that picture?

For several years, I did theatrical "comedy hypnosis shows". Often someone who had volunteered would ask for a suggestion after the show, most for one to quit smoking. I would always oblige.

I remember one fellow who came to several shows and volunteered every time. He was an excellent subject, and we had a lot of fun.

He was, at the time, a three pack a day smoker. I gave him the suggestion that he would no longer desire to smoke, and a week later at the next show, he told me that he'd not had a cigarette since that night. I was pleased.

I saw him again perhaps three or four weeks later. He'd gone back to smoking. I asked why. He said something about some event that had triggered the smoking.

Ultimately, I quit doing the shows and quit the clinical practice. I had accomplished those few wonders while I practiced, but I was done. I'd never wanted to be a "doctor", but only the entertainer I was when on stage.

But I still wondered about how to quit smoking. I had tried "cold turkey" three times and knew I was never going to make that stick. So I asked myself this question.

How can I quit and smoke every cigarette I wanted to while I was doing it? Even the question sounded foolish to me. How could I quit doing something while I still did it all I wanted?

The answer was and is simple. I had to figure out how to stop wanting to smoke.

First, I had to figure out why hypnosis didn't last. Why did it work, but only for a while?

I came up with this. Smoking is both a chemical addiction and a psychological habit. I'd always heard, even to this day, that the addiction to nicotine is more powerful than that of heroin or cocaine.

But then if that was true, then couldn't someone be hypnotized away from either of those addictions, just as I had done with so many smokers?

The answer seems to be a resounding NO.

I never even hear of anyone being hypnotized away from a truly serious drug addiction. Or even trying.

Seems to me that if nicotine is more addictive than heroin, then it should be as simple to get someone to quit the addiction, even for a few weeks, as it is to get them to quit smoking.

But apparently it is not.

So I decided that the addiction to nicotine was not the demon drug it is portrayed to be. In fact, it did not even seem to be the driving force behind the smoking habit/addiction.

I gave a lot of thought to what we were doing when we hypnotized someone to quit smoking. What I decided was that we were instilling a habit of denying a habit. We were building a psychological wall between the smoker and their cigarettes.

Building a habit of denying a habit. Two habits in opposition. A wall between them. No wonder one gets a little "testy" during those first few weeks.

Then, when some event in their lives became so traumatic that they were psychologically "shaken", the wall crumbled. They returned to their former behavior, often very quickly to the same level of consumption they were at before they were hypnotized.

A woman told me recently that her father had stopped smoking for over twenty years. Then one night in a bar, he picked up a cigarette, lit it, and went back to his over a pack a day habit within a week.

So he never truly quit smoking, he just stopped for a while, a long while. Just as those who'd been hypnotized had done. He'd built a habit of denying his habit until one day, he decided, for whatever reason, to cast the capping habit aside.

I am not saying that hypnosis cannot work. I am saying that it must be applied in a very specific way to work. It cannot be used to simply block the habit, it must be used to uproot it at its core.

Most people who have quit smoking, should they even pick up one cigarette and smoke it, would revert to their old habit quite quickly.

Just as an alcoholic should never take even that one little drink, as it is likely to start them on a "bender", someone who's quit cold turkey should never pick up that first cigarette.

Using the system on myself that eventually evolved from my constant desire to quit while I still smoked all I wanted, I did eventually arrive at that place I so strived to achieve. I no longer wanted to smoke.

I had uprooted the psychological mechanism that I had created for myself when I was fourteen years old. I no longer am a smoker on any level.

If I was forced, for whatever reason, to smoke one cigarette, it would certainly NOT put me back on the path to that pack a day. I am certain of that.

Most hypnotist, in my experience, do not understand the concept of uprooting a psychological addiction. They use blocking methods.

To my mind, this is not only a waste of time and money, it damages the credibility of hypnosis, and it damages the belief of the smoker that they can ever truly quit smoking.

August, 2006
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