Each week we post here one of the questions we get asked, some frequently, some less so.

A question asked (belatedly perhaps) by a client at our Northampton hypnosis branch.

How does hypnotherapy work?

Hypnotherapy is the most popular therapy for stopping smoking in the world, and of all the many smokers who come to us for help more than ninety percent ask for it. But do all of these people understand what it is they are asking for, or do they want it simply because they have heard how good it is? Does it matter if they don’t know what they are getting? Do YOU need to know?

Well, there is a strong argument that it doesn’t matter, and indeed for most of our clients this is true. However, many people DO want to know, so here is the simple explanation we gave our Northampton hypnosis client.

The answer to how hypnotherapy works is really in the reason, or rather reasons, you can’t stop smoking. When you smoke, you quickly become addicted to nicotine. Once this has happened, you have to keep smoking, and this itself creates what is called psychological dependence.

In order to stop smoking, you need to overcome both of these problems, but paradoxically overcoming just one of them helps to overcome the other. In hypnotherapy, we overcome the dependence, and this in turn overcomes the addiction. In very simple terms, hypnosis doesn’t stop the withdrawal from nicotine; it stops you caring. It stops the brain responding to triggers for smoking. So when you see someone smoking, which might normally trigger you to want to smoke, you can just look at them and wonder why they are doing it.

So, in a bit more detail, how do we make this happen? Well, it’s all about using the power of your own brain in a way that is different from how you normally use it. You know, probably, that if you had tons of willpower you would be able to say no to a cigarette, but you also know you don’t have that much willpower. Under hypnosis, we can switch on that willpower. You can’t do it consciously but our hypnotherapist can. That is the miracle of hypnotherapy.

Here, if you like, is a simple analogy. You can imagine that under hypnosis we could prick your hand with a needle and you would see the blood but we have switched off your ability to care. You might look at the blood and think, mmm, I wonder what that is. There’s no pain, because your brain doesn’t get the message about it. Well, it’s the same with smoking. There’s no pain with not smoking, because your brain doesn’t get the message.

This naturally raises a number of questions, like does it work for everyone, and does it last, but those are questions for further articles, and you can be sure we shall be answering them at some point.

A question asked by a patient at our Cambridge acupuncture branch.

Why does therapy work better than drugs?

You will have noticed that at National Stop Smoking Centres we provide therapy, not drugs, for smoking cessation. You may also have noticed that the National Health Service, through GPs, provides only drugs, not therapy. If we are saying that therapy works better than drugs, which of course we are, this raises two questions: can we prove it, and in that case why doesn’t the NHS provide it.

In this article we’re not going to address the latter question, which deserves an article to itself.

First, let’s look at the success of the drug products provided through GPs and pharmacies. The NHS claims that it provides these products because they are the only ones proven to work. Well, we need to look at what ‘work’ means. In medical-speak, it means more people succeed with the drug than would have succeeded without it. We’re not going into the detail here, but let’s just say this is so open to interpretation as being quite worthless.

The generally-accepted statistic, published in medical journals for the success of nicotine replacement products (NRPs) is 19%. This is hailed as a good thing, because people put on a placebo product aren’t as successful. Leaving aside whether this actually makes any sense, if a therapist claimed a 19% success rate, how many smokers would go to them? Obviously, none.

So if the general public were going to smoking cessation therapists and getting an 81% failure rate, it is safe to assume those therapists would receive such appalling publicity their practices would collapse. And indeed the entire profession would collapse. No fee-paying service could continue if it did that badly.

So why does therapy work so much better than drugs anyway? Well, the answer is in the word, therapy. Think about the difference between taking a drug out of a packet and a professional spending time addressing your problems and providing solutions tailored to your needs.

Now think about how smoking cessation drugs work. NRPs work on the basis that taking nicotine is a good way to break the addiction to nicotine. This is so obviously flawed we won’t discuss it further. Psychotropic drugs, the other NHS offering, are so fraught with side-effects as to be simply too dangerous for most smokers to take.

The long and short of this is that we don’t here need to address how successful smoking cessation therapy is. We just need to see how unsuccessful smoking cessation drugs are, and take for granted that no therapy could survive if it were that bad. So, aside from all the good things about hypnotherapy and acupuncture, which are popular for the simple reason they work, and the bad things about the NHS’s drug products, which are popular because they are free and also because they are pushed by GPs, the true answer to the question our Cambridge acupuncture patient asked is that it is self-explanatory.

A question asked by a client at our Cheltenham hypnosis branch.

Why can’t I stop smoking?

Interestingly enough, most clients don’t ask us this question. In fact, it’s more common for us to have to ask them why they can’t stop. And very few smokers know the answer, which brings us back to this particular client, who did want to know.

If you look at the NHS smoking cessation model, which is based on nicotine replacement products and psychotropic drugs, you would assume they have decided that the reason is nicotine addiction. And they are right. Sadly, it’s the one and only correct answer they have. Their model falls apart when they say you can use nicotine to overcome the addiction (incorrect), or you can change brain chemistry (way over the top).

Anyway, this isn’t about the NHS, it’s about smokers themselves. So are we saying that addiction is the beginning and end of the problem? No, we are definitely not saying it’s the end. We are saying it’s the beginning.

Let’s explain that statement. If tobacco didn’t contain nicotine, or if nicotine were not addictive, no-one would smoke. You smoke to get the drug. That is the beginning, but where do we go from there? Well, if you become addicted to a drug you also, over time, become dependent on getting that drug. This dependence is psychological. That means you are effectively afraid of not getting it. This fear creates the contradictory belief that even though you want to stop smoking you can’t bring yourself to do it. You come to believe that it helps you with stress, or boredom; the list of fallacies goes on.

How we overcome both the addiction and the dependence is explained in other articles, but for now be assured that these two issues are the sum total of why you can’t stop smoking.

And, sadly, they are the reason that most people don’t try to stop, or don’t believe they want to, which isn’t true. And, equally sadly, it’s the reason the NHS smoking cessation model is so unsuccessful, because it is based on the wrong assumptions, which our Cheltenham hypnosis client had learned for herself.


A question asked by a client at our Liverpool hypnosis branch.

Why do I fail to stop smoking with nicotine replacement products?

In fact this was not exactly the question we were asked, which was why do I fail with nicotine replacement therapy. Notice the difference. Therapy and products. Something that is done to you by a therapist is therapy; something you buy over the counter and take out of the packet is a product. Nicotine replacement is the latter.

So before answering the question, why does everyone, including doctors and pharmacists, call it therapy? Well, largely because they don’t even think about it. That’s what they have heard it called, so that’s what they call it. But imagine a pharmacist selling therapy in a box. If they stopped to think about it, they would immediately realise it’s silly.

And in fact this leads us to the answer to our Liverpool hypnosis client’s question. Therapy always works better than drugs. Of course it does. A therapist addressing your personal issues with stopping smoking is of course going to be far more successful that something you take out of a packet, isn’t it?

So much for why therapy works better than drugs, but why don’t the drugs work? Well, we cannot say they don’t work, because obviously some people do stop smoking with them, although despite the number of smokers using them the overall success rate is very low. The answer to this question is in two parts, because there are two product ranges on offer. The first, nicotine replacement products as such, are based on the assumption that taking nicotine is a way to stop being addicted to nicotine. This sounds wrong because it is wrong. The theory there is that you can wean yourself off nicotine. No, you can’t. Either you are addicted or you are not. There is no such thing as a bit addicted. If you are, you need to smoke, if you are not, you don’t. It really is either or, it’s not a matter of degree. So the theory of NRPs is wrong.

The other product nowadays is of course the electric cigarette. And before discussing the theory behind these, let’s say first that you will notice we call them electric, not electronic. Why is that? Because they are electric, not electronic. They contain electrical components, not electronic ones. Why does everyone call them electronic cigarettes? For exactly the same reason everyone says nicotine replacement therapy. In this case, the makers called them electronic to make them sound highly technical, and everyone just repeated the fraud without thinking.

So why did our Liverpool hypnosis client, who had also been on an electric cigarette, fail with that product as well? For the same reason as above. E-cigarettes are essentially just another NRP, and people fail to stop smoking with them for exactly the same reason.

A question asked by a client at our Worthing hypnosis branch.

How can I break the habit of smoking?

There is a lot of mythology around the subject of habit.In fact smoking, like all drug taking, is so often referred to as a habit that users come to believe that is their problem, which it is not.

You can prove this for yourself. Habit means something you do for no other reason than that you always do it. So, for example, you smoke with a drink, or when you make a lonmg phone call. In fact, many people donm’t even think about when they smoke. They just smoke. So for this reason they think it’s ‘just a habit’ they have got into. This is nonsense.

If you think this is you, try this experiment. Throw your cigarettes away. Now, try smoking ‘just because it’s a habit’. You won’t be able to. Why? Obviously, because you don’t have any. Well done; you have now broken your smoking habit. It’s really that simple. You cannot do anything out of habit that you can’t do at all. You can’t smoke out of habit if you don’t have cigarettes.

If you are now thinking that you would just go out and buy some, you are right, in which case read on.

Why, if you have just successfully broken your smoking habit because you don’t have any cigarettes, would you go and buy some? Yes, that’s right. Because you need them. And why do you need them? For two reasons. Because you are addicted to nicotine, and because this addiction has vreated psychological dependence. So you buy some cigarettes for these two reasons, which have nothing to do with habit.

And now, what do you do? Yes, you smoke. But by now you understand that the reason you smoke has nothing to do with habit. You smoke because you need to smoke. Indeed, you can then smoke habitually, and you can smoke because of an association between certain actions, like drinking or making a long phone call, and a cigarette. But association is not habit.

Why does this matter. Aren’t thsee just semantics. Yes, without the ‘just’.

What our Worthing hypnotist can certainly do is help you do break the association between certain actions and smoking, but she is not going to help you break the habit, because habit is irrelevant.

A question asked by a client at one of our Birmingham hypnosis branches.

Am I addicted?

Surprisingly, this is a question that few smokers ever ask themselves. Sometimes this is because the answer is so obvious it doesn’t need to be thought about. But for many smokers the question doesn’t occur because they are used to looking for ways to stop smoking without ever asking themselves WHY they can’t stop.

Our starting point here is that if nicotine were not addictive no one would ever smoke tobacco. Think about that. When you smoked your first ever cigarette was it so wonderful you just couldn’t resist doing it again? No. And yet here you are, unable to stop doing it. And by the way, we’re talking here about why people keep smoking, not why they start, which is a different question.

Claire, a client at our Birmingham hypnotherapy branch, assumed that what hypnosis was going to do was to help her to break the habit of smoking. This is not correct. It is not what hypnosis is for. It’s for helping you overcome the addiction, the thing that creates the habit. Every smoker is addicted. In fact you could not smoke if you weren’t, because tobacco smoke is so unpleasant you simply would never try it a second time having experienced it.

We’re not going to go here into what addiction is and how it works, because that’s a very complex explanation, and it’s not relevant to Claire’s question. The point our Birmingham hypnotist made to her was that she WAS addicted to nicotine, and that was what had created the psychological dependence that she had always thought was her real problem.

So why is it, then, that a hypnotherapist she had asked this question of previously had said no, she was not addicted? Well, we can’t speak for independent hypnotists, but we have a pretty good idea. Some hypnotherapy training is based on the myth that addiction doesn’t exist or that if it does it doesn’t matter. The reason for making this claim is that the people doing the training don’t understand the science. This was exactly what the late Allen Carr said in his books on stopping smoking. What he SHOULD have said, instead of saying addiction doesn’t matter, was that he didn’t understand it so let’s all pretend it doesn’t matter.

The problem with that approach, which might have worked a long time ago, is that almost all smokers do in fact know they are addicted. They might not know just what that means, but they know that if a hypnotherapist tells them they are not that therapist probably doesn’t know their job.