A case study of a client who tried using hypnosis online to quit smoking (and sadly failed): part 1

A closer look at potential obstacles to the stop smoking process

A case study of a client who tried using hypnosis online to quit smoking (and sadly failed): part 1

A closer look at potential obstacles to the stop smoking process

Why write about someone who wasn’t successful with their hypnosis online to quit smoking process? Is it because it’s not as effective as doing it in person?


Good hypnotherapy is known for its high success rate in helping people stop smoking, so it might seem counter-intuitive to blog about the clients who don’t get the result they want. However, I thought that for anyone considering undergoing treatment, this might help to demystify the process, give some idea of what hypnosis online to quit smoking can be like (for both me and my clients) and explore some reasons why the process might not be successful in some cases. (It isn’t because the session was online!).


The beginning of Billy’s process


Billy got in touch with me much earlier in the year. We spoke on the phone. He said that he’d be interested in hypnotherapy and told me plainly he had ‘no will power’. Fine, I said. You don’t really need it for the way I approach this, anyway. He told me he’d tried hypnosis before and it had been a complete waste of time: he smoked as soon as he left the session. I hear this quite a bit and it always makes me wince: it’s sad when someone spends their money on something they think will help them but turns out not to – whether one of my own clients or someone else’s. Still, Billy likes the sound of what I’ve said and tells me he’ll be in touch soon. But I don’t hear from him for months.

The weather is much warmer when we speak again. He hasn’t forgotten me, he says. He’s just been busy. He’s still interested, though, and tells me he called to let me know that. He’s going on holiday soon and will get back to me. Another few weeks go by and eventually, he calls me to arrange a session. He is reasonably local (West London) so I offer him an in-person session. Maybe, he says. I say he can also do it online if he wants and after a pause, he says sure, he will do his hypnosis online to quit smoking. He says he really wants to stop smoking, and I believe him. Although I do notice that I haven’t felt any of the brittle intensity I feel from some people: that will it work, won’t it workOh God, I really need to stop this intensity that seems to burn a hole in my phone. He says he ‘really wants to stop smoking’ the way someone might say they really want to watch the new Marvel film.

I learned from his screening form that he is in his mid-fifties. I speculate, from the name in his ‘next of kin’ box, that he is married. He stresses, again, on the form, that he has no will power at all. I find myself quite liking Billy. He seems conscientious and sensible and able to handle things his own way. I can imagine people at his work deferring to him if they were overwhelmed, knowing he’d always handle the problem without breaking into a sweat, and that he’d probably make them laugh a bit too.

A few days later, Billy’s face appears on my screen. The picture is out of focus, but I can still see him well enough. I say it’s good to finally meet. He agrees. He is good-looking and his voice is gravelly and easy to listen to. He is also well-dressed: his clothes are casual but sharp. I notice all these things because they are clues – clues about who the person in front of me really is. I ask if he is comfortable. He says he is, and I really feel that he is.

I start the session the usual way, beginning what will ultimately be a deluge of information: context about how nicotine works in the body and why it tricks smokers into thinking they need it and can’t live without it. It doesn’t do what you think it does, I tell him. He agrees with me. After every point I make, in fact. Some people hide themselves from me in sessions, and I assume from the world as well: they hunch over, trying to minimize the space they take up or they speed up what they say to get it all out. Other people are keen to assert themselves, quickly processing, regurgitating, deflecting everything. This is hiding too, of a different sort. The striking thing about Billy, though, is that he is very evenly pitched. He doesn’t seem to be hiding anything. He agrees with the things I say thoughtfully, and it is soon clear that I’m not saying anything he hasn’t already worked out for himself. The problem, he says, is that he knows all this and he still just can’t stop.

This is a red flag. I have the sense that our session isn’t going to work for him. It can be quite a scary feeling, as a hypnotherapist, to experience this red flag, although I’ve developed pretty good resilience to it over the years.

‘I know all this! I really do, he says. There is a pause. I wait. Then he says: ‘I think about all that sometimes. I think about it and then I just forget it and smoke again. As if it never mattered.’

I watch him carefully. He chuckles. He asks: ‘Am I going to be a difficult case?’ He is genuinely funny. Charming. I tell him that I am confident and that we need to keep going.

Everything I throw at him is just met with more of the same: I can’t seem to break through this wall. I would like to see that something I’ve said is biting him a little bit and that the tide is beginning to turn. But I never do. Billy, no matter what I say or how I say it, repeatedly tells me he just can’t stop smoking.

Finally, I have to ask myself if I can help this man. If I can’t, then there is no point in us proceeding. I feel that something inside him means he has resolved to be a man who cannot stop smoking. But as I think this, I hear in my head the voice of the person who taught me hypnosis. Your feelings as a therapist are not always a reliable indicator of the outcome of a process. Trust the techniques. Doubtfully, but with a renewed sense of professionalism, I decided to ask Billy just one more question…

This is part 1 of a 2-part series about Billy’s attempt to use hypnosis online to quit smoking with me. You can read part 2 here. For confidentiality reasons, the subject’s identity has been disguised. So if you think that you recognize anyone here, I assure you, you are mistaken!

All best,

Leo Thomas

Both Feet on the Ground

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