Can Quit Smoking Hypnotherapy Help You Quit?
Hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness that is not very well-understood, and quit smoking hypnotherapy seems to be even more mysterious. Therapists who use hypnotherapy to help people quit smoking believe that hypnosis allows them to access a level of consciousness that is not normally available, and that is much more flexible and amenable to change. However, there is a very broad range of responsiveness to hypnosis from one person to the next: some people are very 'hypnotizable' while others cannot be brought 'under' at all.
When it comes to the effectiveness of quit smoking hypnotherapy, the research is all over the board: Meta-analyses which combine high-quality studies report no overall effect for quit smoking hypnotherapy, but also report significant 'heterogeneity' in the included studies. [See A Note About Meta-Analysis below for more details.] In other words, when they combine the outcomes of all of the studies, there is no evidence that hypnotherapy to quit smoking is effective at all. However, several individual studies show a strong effect, while others show no effect whatsoever.
Abbot NC, Stead LF, White AR, Barnes J. Hypnotherapy for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 1998, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD001008
So, is quit smoking hypnotherapy effective, or not? Unfortunately, the available research doesn't offer a clear answer. See below...
If you've ever done research on anything at all, you already know that you often find conflicting information. It doesn't matter if you're reading reviews on Amazon to see whether people like a particular brand of HDTV, or examining the scientific evidence to find out whether a smoking cessation technique is effective. One person or study will say 'yes,' another will say 'no.' If you're smart, you look at all the information, filter out the bits that may not be very reliable, and then try to make sense of the rest.
This is essentially what meta-analysis does: It is a research technique that is designed to examine only the highest quality studies about a particular topic, combine the findings in a way that makes sense, and draw a conclusion on the basis of the best evidence available.
Meta-analysis is a very strong research tool for getting at the truth when the topic of the research is well-defined and has consistent effects. For instance, meta-analytic conclusions about drug therapies and medical procedures are very reliable.
However, using meta-analysis to explore and combine research findings on techniques that are more highly variable and/or not particularly well-defined can oftentimes lead to a 'non'-conclusion. In other words, a meta-analysis may fail to find an effect even if some versions of the technique or therapy are effective, because the act of combining non-similar studies muddles the overall outcome.
Meta-Analysis and Quit Smoking Hypnotherapy
Meta-analysis of hypnosis techniques to quit smoking show no evidence of effectiveness overall. But because hypnotherapy techniques can be very different, and different practitioners are likely to have different levels of skill, it is difficult to conclude that quit smoking hypnotherapy never works for anyone. In fact, some individual studies show a good effect for quit smoking hypnotherapy.
The most likely conclusion is that some hypnotherapy practitioners and/or approaches are better than others for smoking cessation. Unfortunately, there is very little research comparing specific hypnosis techniques to help quit smoking, so there is no clear way to choose between a method that may be relatively effective and one that is likely to be a dismal failure.
Ultimately, any method that does not show a strong meta-analytic finding of effectiveness is going to be a bit of a crap-shoot: either the method is truly not very effective, or it is highly dependent on getting lucky and finding the right practitioner. In either case, unless you have some strong reason to use that method, I recommend going for an approach with better evidence supporting it.
Mechanism of Action
The idea behind hypnosis for smoking cessation is that it is a way to access a part of the brain that is not usually available, and that this part of the brain or mind plays a special role in the desire to smoke. Quit smoking hypnotherapy is intended to both weaken the desire to smoke, while also increasing the desire to quit, all in the subconscious part of the mind.
Pros and Cons
What are the pros and cons of using quit smoking hypnotherapy?
There are typically no side effects of hypnotherapy.
Hypnotherapy to quit smoking can easily be combined with other components of a quit smoking plan, including a behavioral plan, nicotine replacement therapies like the patch or gum, and/or prescription quit smoking medication.
The big 'con' about choosing hypnotherapy as a quit smoking technique is the fact that there is no clear evidence for its effectiveness overall. You might get lucky and find a practitioner or a course of recorded hypnotherapy sessions that is effective, but there is very little reliable scientific information to guide you in your choice.
Right now, it's hard to recommend quit smoking hypnotherapy as a primary quit smoking strategy, because the evidence for its effectiveness is all over the board: Some studies show a good effect, many show no effect at all. That probably means that whether or not hypnosis will help at all in your attempt to quit smoking depends entirely on which hypnotherapy practitioner or approach you select, with no clear evidence to help you make a good choice. Unless you have inside information that a particular hypnotherapist or recorded program has a successful track record, I'd steer clear, or at the very least include hypnotherapy only as a supplemental part of a more comprehensive approach that includes a good behavioral program.
In the future I plan to do more research to identify some specific hypnotherapy approaches, and/or hypnotherapy cassettes or CDs that are likely to be beneficial, so keep an eye out here for future recommendations.