Unlocking the science of smoking cessation

For years, the health risks of smoking have been well documented. Smoking has been shown to cause heart disease, lung disease, diabetes and strokes. Smoking can also increase your risk of developing many cancers.
And if you’re a cancer patient, having an ongoing smoking habit can jeopardize your treatment and prognosis.
For smokers, letting go of this potentially deadly habit can improve your health and change your life for the better. At City of Hope, there are programs to support you.
When trying to eliminate a smoking habit, there isn’t one quick fix. Successfully stopping smoking usually requires a combination of techniques and tools, which is why City of Hope offers a robust Smoking Cessation Program, available to all patients who need it.
City of Hope’s Smoking Cessation Program employs a variety of methods to help patients stop smoking, including support groups, tobacco use assessments, individual counseling, Rapid Action Plans for relapses and same-day phone counseling for new patients and at-risk patients. 
One exciting new addition to the Smoking Cessation Program is a self-hypnosis audio-guide.
If the only kind of hypnosis you’re familiar with is the kind used for entertainment purposes at magic shows and in movies or television, know that this use of hypnosis is quite different. And yes, it really can be effective.
Jaroslava Salman, M.D., assistant clinical professor, Division of Psychiatry, Department of Supportive Care Medicine, is excited to bring this technique to City of Hope.

What is hypnosis?

Hypnosis is a state of mind in which the participant experiences a heightened level of focus and concentration. In this state, a person can more readily and easily absorb suggestions that are intended to help the person in hypnotic state change their unhealthy behaviors.
“Another term for this state of mind is being in trance, which is something that we all can experience naturally at different times, without even realizing it. If you ever catch yourself driving in your car lost in thought and yet still able to drive and respond to what’s happening on the road, you may be in a state of trance — as if on an autopilot," Salman explained.
“Children can enter into that state of mind very easily. If you’ve ever observed them playing, you see how focused and deeply absorbed they are in what they’re doing. Adults can experience this too, becoming deeply absorbed in a piece of music or an exciting sporting event so you don’t even notice how time passes or what’s happening around you, for example.”
Let’s say you’re a smoker who wants to stop smoking. In a hypnosis session, a licensed therapist would help you reach a state of deep concentration and focus, and then suggest a change in behavior, like reaching for something other than cigarettes when you have an urge to smoke.
 “What happens during hypnosis is the subject’s mind will take in a suggestion and incorporate it, so that even when that person leaves the office, the suggestion that was accepted will become part of their unconscious mind and will continue to drive their new behaviors,” Salman said.
“When hypnosis is done in an ethical and proper way, it really helps to enhance people’s strengths and motivates them to engage in healthier behaviors. It is one of the ways to harness people’s natural healthy inner resources and motivations.

How does self-hypnosis work?

Self-hypnosis allows for people to give suggestions to themselves, without a hypnotherapist there with them.
To start, a participant can reach a state of heightened focus using deep relaxation or guided imagery. Once in that state of mind, you would then remind yourself what you want to do (incorporating healthy behaviors, e.g. become a non-smoker).  For example, to quote Dabney Ewin, M.D., a surgeon who became a proponent of medical hypnosis: “Let it be impossible to put a cigarette in your mouth without first looking at it, and making a conscious choice about protecting your lungs.”
Step 1: State your goal. What is it that you want to achieve?
Step 2: Access your unconscious mind by reaching a state of deep relaxation.
Step 3: Use your self-suggestion. Tell yourself what you want to do or change about your behavior, or how you want to feel. Visualize that. How will it look when you achieve your goal? How will you feel?
Step 4: Behave as if that suggestion is true in your daily life.  These steps, when practiced consistently, can help patients become non-smokers.
“When you do this on an ongoing basis, it becomes part of you and part of your unconscious mind. So when you go about your day, you don’t even have to think about it,” Salman said.

How can I start doing self-hypnosis?

City of Hope has created an audio-visual tool that instructs people on how to do self-hypnosis. Similar to a guided meditation, this tool helps people access a trance state where they can listen to suggestions to help them stop smoking.
“This tool is a great way for us to reach and help as many people as possible. They don’t even have to be City of Hope patients. Anyone who is highly motivated to stop smoking can use this information,” Salman said.
Get started with your own self-hypnosis practice by clicking here. And if you or someone you know is interested in becoming a non-smoker, visit our Smoking Cessation Program  page for support and resources.