Applications of Hypnosis in Habit Control
A number of studies demonstrate the efficacy of hypnosis as a tool to facilitate control of smoking, with success rates in cigarette abstinence after treatment with hypnosis ranging from 13 to 64%.
There are several mechanisms by which hypnosis may contribute to success in smoking cessation. The ritualistic proc-ess of the hypnotic exercise may provide a kind of substitute physical relaxation for the “breathing exercise” that accompanies the act of smoking; the positive affirmations in self-hypnosis provide positive reinforcement for behavior change and promote positive self-image; its use enhances self-observation and self-monitoring; and finally it can facilitate cognitive restructuring of the smoking habit.
The single-session method developed by Spiegel (1970) emphasizes teaching patients self-hypnosis rather than having multiple sessions with a therapist. It uses a strategy that is in-trinsically self-reinforcing and meaningful to the patient. It can be practiced whenever the urge to smoke comes on the patient. This method of cognitive restructuring involves emphasizing that the act of smoking is destructive specifically to the patient’s body and thereby limits what the patient can do with his or her life by shortening the life span and deteriorating the quality of life. Hypnosis is used to emphasize the patient’s commitment to protect the body from the poison in cigarettes. This approach gives the patient the ability to examine priorities and to balance the urge to smoke against the urge to protect his or her body from damage. Smokers are instructed to focus on what they are for – protecting their bodies – rather than what they are against – smoking. This reduces the amount of attention they pay to smoking or its absence and provides immediate internal rein-forcement for attending to care of the body (Spiegel and Spiegel, 1978).
There is no evidence that treatments employing hypno-sis are more effective than other interventions for smoking. Nevertheless, they may be more efficient because they enable patients to employ a self-administered treatment strategy (self-hypnosis) to reinforce a more adaptive cognitive restruc-turing while providing patients with an exercise in physical relaxation.
Seldom will the use of hypnosis alone be sufficient for the treat-ment of weight problems. It is usually employed as an adjunct to a comprehensive dietary and exercise control program for weight reduction and management. Similar to the use of self-hypnosis in the control of smoking, the purpose in dietary control is to restructure the patient’s experience with overeating. Patients are asked to examine their excess food intake and to pay attention to the damaging effects to their body. This then translates into an exercise about learning to eat with respect for one’s body. Once again, the emphasis is on what the patient is for, rather than being against food.
Unfortunately, long-term outcome studies on the usefulness of hypnosis for weight control are lacking. Clinical experiencesuggests that those within 20% of their ideal body weight may obtain some benefit from such restructuring techniques with self-hypnosis, combined with a regimen of a balanced diet and exercise.