A case study of a client who tried using online hypnosis to quit smoking (and sadly failed): part 2

A closer look at potential obstacles to the stop smoking process

A case study of a client who tried using online hypnosis to quit smoking (and sadly failed): part 2

A closer look at potential obstacles to the stop smoking process

Recap: Billy didn’t seem to be responding to the online hypnosis to quit smoking process. I wanted to find out why…


Billy is looking amused, but also a little vacant. I wonder if I’ve bored him and he’s checking out of the session.

“So you’ve said none of this stuff is really news to you and you know all of it. But you carry on smoking anyway. When that happens, it might mean your smoking is about something fundamentally different: something deeper.”

There is a pause and he is quite still. We’re online, maybe the broadband’s gone. Dicey internet connections are the main problem with online hypnosis to quit smoking. But I keep going anyway.

“So, would you mind if I ask you a bit about your past and childhood?”

He looks unphased.

“Um, yeah all right. What do you want to know?”

“First, is there anyone in your life who you think wouldn’t be thrilled, or at least happy, to see you stop smoking?”

He considers and I feel, for maybe the first time in this session, that he is really thinking.

“Well actually, when I stopped for a while before, I remember feeling like my brother wasn’t pleased for me. He was the only one though. My kids were pleased. My wife certainly was.”

“Why not your brother?”

He rearranges himself and screws up his face in thought.

“Well, I think he saw me doing something good for myself and he just didn’t like it. He smokes as well and I think that maybe we’ve always kind of bonded over the fact that neither of us can stop.”

I’d like to know a bit more about this.

“How does that make you feel? Could this possibly be the obstacle that stops you smoking even though you say you want to?”

He considers again, but not for long.

“Not really. He’s always been a miserable bastard. Let him be miserable, I say, it doesn’t affect me.”

“So why do you think your brother’s such a miserable bastard?”

Billy chuckles.

“He’s always been like that. It’s just how he’s become because of the way we grew up, I guess.”

“And how was that?”

“Well, to be completely honest, I don’t like to think about it much.”

Here’s an alarm bell. It is a sad fact that many children do not grow up feeling loved, safe and supported. And if they then become smokers, I find those people are less likely to respond immediately and dramatically to treatment – to either online hypnosis to quit smoking or in-person hypnosis. Put simply, deep trauma can cause tangles which make those people more complicated puzzles to solve. Their smoking may be a part of their tangle of unresolved trauma and a part of the mechanisms they’ve developed to cope with it. Perhaps this is what has happened to Billy.

He carries on: “Well, my parents were pretty bad, honestly. Not good people.”

And then he summarizes the whole issue succinctly. His childhood was truly terrible.

I wait.

He adds: “If I actually stopped and really thought about what my parents were like when we were kids, if I remembered everything, then I wouldn’t ever be able to speak to them again. I just have to put it all out of my mind so we can go on.”

He’s telling me about his sadness. But something’s interrupting the usual stream of empathy. I’m just not sharing his sadness. I cannot seem to go to the deep emotional place that would allow me to feel truly sorry for Billy. My brain seems to be respecting the walls that Billy has built around his own past. It’s important that I’ve noticed this. Now I must use other skills to carry on the work effectively.

I ask: “So you and your parents are still in touch, regularly?”

“Yeah, we are. They’re a part of our lives. Sometimes my wife asks me why we put up with them after everything they’ve done, but she knows that we don’t really have a choice. It would be too messy to go there.”

And yet, I think, in order for Billy to stop smoking, this is where he must go. But can he?

I say, gently: “That all makes sense to me. Where would you even start with something like that? It would be like driving down a fast, busy highway at speed and then screeching to a halt and trying to U-turn the car to drive against the traffic!”

“That’s right, that’s exactly right!”

Is he just agreeing to be polite? I’m not sure.

“Can I reflect something about that back at you?”

He nods.

“So you just said – and, correct me if I’m wrong – that in order for you to go on with your life as it is with your parents, you have to actively choose to push all that stuff right to the back of your mind. You have to forget about it, or anyway ignore it, just so nothing changes.”

He nods again.

“I’m struck by the similarity in the language you used earlier to describe what happens when you smoke cigarettes. You know it’s bad for you, it makes your wife sad, you don’t actually enjoy it or even want to do it. But you somehow forget all of that and do it anyway. That’s exactly what you’ve just said about your parents.”

Billy watches me in silence.

“So what I’m speculating about is whether, actually, you’re not smoking because you really want to, but because you feel that you somehow have to. You carry on smoking and pushing your real feelings about what you’re doing to the back of your mind in the same way that you carry on forgetting what your parents were like and how messed up things were for you as a kid.”

He nods.

“Maybe you need to keep smoking to keep forgetting?”

Billy looks away for a moment and then says: “Yeah. There must be some connection.”

Fact: Billy’s chances of stopping smoking are a lot lower than I’d hoped when we started this session.

“Some people have complex reasons for smoking. It’s become stuck to bigger, deeper things about them and who they are and the things that have happened to them. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible to resolve – but it can take longer and it means all the other stuff has to be addressed. The mind is weird like that.”

That’s such an understatement that I suddenly want to laugh. I suppose different professionals would posit different theories about Billy’s smoking – and about what is happening between Billy and me at this moment.


What is really happening in Billy’s online hypnosis to quit smoking session?


Some would say that Billy is profoundly motivated to smoke because this is part of his personality. That he’s leaving me a made-up trail of breadcrumbs to follow, exaggerating stories about his past for me to follow frantically while he runs circles around me, smoking all the while. This has definitely happened to me before, when less experienced (before I even started offering online hypnosis to quit smoking) – it took me years to fully understand it.

Others would say I am wasting time, should stop all this nonsense and give him techniques that he can practice every time he wants to smoke – counting to ten and taking deep breaths, perhaps.

Probably some other practitioners would agree that there is a connection between Billy’s continued smoking and his childhood trauma, but they might not agree about exactly what this is.

Has Billy’s sub-consious chosen the problematic, dangerous behaviour of smoking in his otherwise happy and stable life as a way of representing the duality in his childhood which saw him being physically looked after but emotionally mistreated? Or does he smoke because it ensures he is constantly physically and mentally occupied, meaning he never has to sit still and allow unpleasant memories and feelings about his past to emerge – effectively swapping huge, unpleasant and potentially dangerous feelings for lesser, more manageable versions of them? Does his lack of enjoyment, guilt and dislike of his own habit take him to a place he knows well, where he is comfortable to remain? The answer could be one or a mixture of these. Or none! But unfortunately, we don’t really have time to find out today.

Billy is still engaged and so I carry on.

“If your smoking is tangled up with unresolved childhood issues then it could take longer to help you, and it could mean examining things in your past. Is that something you’d be willing to do?”

Billy considers this, but bounces back with his answer the same way he’s answered most of my questions so far.

“No. I don’t think so. I’d end up like my brother, upset all the time. Messed up. He lives with this stuff at the front of his mind, all the stuff they did to us. For me, it’s at the back. I can get on with things.”

It’s sad that, for many, childhood was something they had to survive and escape – to overcome. But the medals for this enormous achievement can weigh them down, sometimes for the rest of their lives. I tell Billy that I still have faith the process can work for him.

And so we continue. And there are times during the process that I feel Billy is really connecting and that he is involved. Times when I feel that I may, despite our earlier conversation, have actually managed to get past his defences. Times when I believe we will be successful. And times when I don’t.

We complete the process and when we finish the call he looks positive enough. Fingers crossed! he says. I smile back. The screen goes blank. I feel Billy’s sudden absence almost as if he had been in the room with me and his online hypnosis to quit smoking session had happened right here in my office.

A few days later when I call Billy to check in, he tells me he is smoking again. In fact, he lit up almost as soon as our session ended. I am not very surprised. I remind him that if he wants to, we can arrange to work on the stuff we talked about. I can’t promise it will give him success – but I emphasize that it could be worth trying. It’s not over until the fat lady sings, I say. He laughs and says that this fat man just can’t stop lighting up. I laugh because he is far from fat. He thanks me, but tells me he isn’t going to take me up on my offer. No surprise. No hard feelings. We part company warmly.

I look out of my window at the busy street below. It is summer, people are walking slowly in the heat, much more slowly than usual, as if they’re all thinking hard about something. I consider my feelings about Billy. Yes, I am sad for him. But I also respect him immensely for the way he handles things. He hasn’t called again.

This is part 2 of a 2-part series about Billy’s online hypnosis to quit smoking process. You can read part 1 here. As always, the subject’s identity has been disguised. So if you think that you recognize anyone here, I assure you, you are mistaken! If you’d like to find out more about hypnosis online to quit smoking or how the process works then book a Discovery call with me to see if we would be a good fit to work together. As well as online, I run my smoking cessation hypnosis service in Central London and Camden.

All best,

Leo Thomas

Both Feet on the Ground

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