A Smoking Gun

Author – Richard Ingate. PHN Research Officer

In my recent blog, Caveat Emptor, I wrote about being cautious with accepting evidence at face value. Following on from this I would like to offer a brief example of where I believe hypnotherapists are doing themselves no favours. 

This appears in a hypnotherapist’s blog/advertisement: 

” ‘A wide range of studies show that hypnosis is extremely beneficial for behavior modification, including quitting smoking and weight loss,’ he says. ”
(Grossman, 2018) 

Laudably, a reference link was included in the text which I followed to another site which gave this regarding hypnosis and smoking cessation:

“What are the statistics on the effectiveness of hypnosis?

The following is an extract from
WikiAnswers: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_are_the_statistics_on_the_effectiveness_of_hypnosis

Here is a brief review of some of the research evidence on the effectiveness of hypnosis:

90.6% Success Rate for Smoking Cessation Using Hypnosis

Of 43 consecutive patients undergoing this treatment protocol, 39 reported remaining abstinent from tobacco use at follow-up (6 months to 3 years post-treatment). This represents a 90.6% success rate using hypnosis.

University of Washington School of Medicine, Depts. of Anesthesiology and Rehabilitation Medicine, Int J Clin Exp Hypn. 2001 Jul;49(3):257-66. Barber J.”

(http://www.professionalhypnotherapists.com.au 2017)

To be fair to the site mentioned above, the extract I have given is only one of the sources they offer up. However, let’s look at that source.

90.6%! Holy Moly, that is amazing! And also to the credit of the site, it supplies the full citation and being a member of the PHN I have access to this journal so I went and had a look for myself.

The article has been quoted out of context. The 90.6% refers to hypnosis being used as an adjunct treatment. Here is a rather different opinion from the same study:

“Ultimately, however, hypnotic suggestion alone is not likely to be effective in the long-term treatment of smoking addiction, because hypnotic suggestion cannot stop someone from smoking if the person wishes (or feels the need) to continue doing so.” (Barber, 2001)

Barber in fact explicitly states,

“This is not an efficacy study. No attempts were made to compare this intervention with a control group. Nor were physiological indices of nicotine consumption measured at any point.” (ibid. my bold)

So enough said. I would suggest that hypnotherapists have a responsibility to check information for themselves and be careful about what statistics are quoted to members of the public. Obviously, we want to present as optimistic a picture to potential clients as possible but perhaps we can do this in ways that do not involve (innocently) misrepresenting data.

So, what is the situation regarding hypnotherapy and smoking cessation?

Here is one article by Adam Eason you could read that gives plenty of source material to check:

What Is The Actual Evidence For Using Hypnosis For Stopping Smoking?

If you are a member of the PHN, you will also be able to read the article published last year (2017) by Green and Lynn (2017). Interestingly it is another report of hypnosis being used as an adjunct to a smoking cessation programme, and the focus is on using hypnosis to enhance motivation to stick with the programme itself rather than as suggestions to ‘become a non smoker…now…’

Here is a quotation from the study:

“We suggest that hypnosis is a viable vehicle to reduce health care costs and morbidity associated with smoking when it is embedded in a more encompassing program that incorporates state-of-the science methods to curtail smoking.”

(Green &Lynn 2017)

This 2014 study which compared hypnotherapy as a standalone approach compared with nicotine replacement therapy found hypnotherapy to be more effective, which sounds and is wonderful, however the success rate after 12 weeks was 43.9% (Hasan et al 2013).

I have done no more than a cursory survey of research and none of this is to detract from the efforts of individual hypnotherapists working out their own programmes and doing good work. It hopefully is a plea to be cautious about what rates of success are justifiable and verifiable in general and that hypnosis may also work effectively in combination with other approaches rather than always as a standalone solution. In a world where spin may substitute for integrity, let’s promote a professional honesty in what we do.


Barber, J. (2001). Freedom from smoking: Integrating hypnotic methods and rapid smoking to facilitate smoking cessation. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis,49(3), 257-266. doi:10.1080/00207140108410075

Green, J. P., & Lynn, S. J. (2017). A Multifaceted Hypnosis Smoking-Cessation Program: Enhancing Motivation and Goal Attainment. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis,65(3), 308-335. doi:10.1080/00207144.2017.1314740

Grossman, M. (2018). These 3 Self-Hypnosis Tricks Can Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Stick According to Mahesh Grossman of Berkeley Hypnosis & Pain Management. [online] PRWeb. Available at: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2017/12/prweb15045210.htm [Accessed 2 Jan. 2018].

Hasan, F. M., Zaqarins, S. E., Pischke, K. M., Saiyed, S., Bettencourt, A. M., Beal, L., . . . McCleary, N. (2013). Hypnotherapy is more effective than nicotine replacement therapy for smoking cessation: results of a randomized controlled trial. Complementary Therapies in Medicine,22(1). doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2013.12.012

What are the statistics on the effectiveness of hypnosis? (n.d.). Retrieved January 02, 2018, from http://www.professionalhypnotherapists.com.au/articles/what-are-statistics-effectiveness-hypnosis