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The Hypnotherapist Who Can Help You Quit Smoking

The goop staffer we sent to try hypnotherapist Kerry Gaynor’s famous method for quitting smoking—the program involves three hour-long therapy-esque sessions spaced about a week apart—was very skeptical. He wasn’t even sure if he wanted to quit, and told himself he wouldn’t be able to actually be hypnotized at all (he was).

“It was an incredibly unusual experience,” he says. Gaynor’s office—where he’s been practicing for more than three decades—is in his home, and decidedly personal and un-clinical. “In spite of myself, I was really drawn into Gaynor’s presence—I even found myself mirroring his gestures.” Most surprising, though, was the way Kerry’s point-blank questioning and suggestive lines of reasoning (“What age are you when you die from smoking?”) transformed the way our staffer felt about smoking instantly, in a way that all the well-known facts about cigarettes never had before. What once felt like a distant danger that could be rationalized away now felt like an imminent one. The negative images that Gaynor conjured around cigarettes stuck in his mind, and could not be disassociated from the idea of smoking. “In a way, framing it as only hypnosis reduces the Method, which is really about tapping into a logical, mental process,” he says.

Here, we’ve asked Gaynor to tell us about hypnotherapy and smoking cessation, and why the method he developed in 1979 is still so powerful. (For those not in Los Angeles, there are Kerry Gaynor Method DVDs, which Gaynor says have a success rate of 85 percent.)

A Q&A with Kerry Gaynor

Q

How did you become a hypnotherapist? And why did you specialize in smoking cessation?

A

Each state sets up their own hypnotherapy certification program, which I completed in California about forty years ago. At the time, it included around 150 hours of training, and I feel fortunate to have had a gifted teacher. In addition to being extremely knowledgeable about hypnosis, he also was very hands-on, and did hundreds of demonstrations that proved more useful than anything else.

When I first learned that nearly a half million people a year in America were dying from smoking cigarettes, I was horrified. I wanted to do something to change that. I made a commitment to myself that no matter how long it took, I was going to figure out what addiction was all about, why people felt so trapped, and what I could do to help free them from this nightmare.

It was pretty clear to me that there was something wrong in the way we were approaching addiction. Armed with the tool of critical thinking and a willingness to listen carefully to my clients, I began the rather arduous process of figuring out what worked and what didn’t. It required a great deal of trial and error, and it took me years to get my program right. I launched it in 1979, and since then I have helped thousands and thousands of clients quit smoking—most without any cravings or withdrawal symptoms at all—and I have fallen in love with the work.

Q

What’s the link between hypnotherapy and quitting smoking?

A

Hypnosis is one of the most powerful tools there is to help an individual achieve a goal. It allows us access to the subconscious, which is where all the power lies for initiating change. It is infinitely more powerful than merely visualizing, which is done at the conscious level. There is a part of your mind that I call the “yeah—but” part that interferes with your ability to achieve a goal. For example, when you say to yourself, “I’d like to quit smoking but I don’t think I can”—it’s like the guard at the gate. In hypnosis, that part of your mind becomes more relaxed, and I’m able to get suggestions past it into your subconscious that compel you to quit smoking.

Q

Does the method work by first changing the way someone thinks about cigarettes (which then changes their smoking behavior)—what is the key?

A

Quitting smoking is not about willpower, despite what many people think. People relate to cigarettes in a completely inappropriate way: They’re ingesting a substance that kills a half million people a year in America and acting as if it’s no big deal.

As a group, smokers generally lack clarity. This becomes a serious issue, because it interferes with the person’s ability to commit to quitting. When I see my child running towards the street, I have clarity—I stop him. Smokers don’t have that kind of clarity. There is no sense of urgency to quit. This allows them to keep putting it off by saying things to themselves like “this is not a good time for me.”

The method is a transformative process. The challenge I face as a hypnotherapist is to help clients change how they feel about cigarettes in a deep and profound way. For example, say you’re dating somebody for two years and you think they’re a nice person. One day, you observe them murder twenty-five people. Your opinion of them changes immediately. Can you get your original opinion back six months later? Absolutely not—the change is permanent. Smokers don’t normally experience that kind of shift unless they become ill. My job is not to break their addiction, but rather to help facilitate a profound shift within them.

Again, I believe we have completely misunderstood addiction. We’ve spent sixty years teaching people about the power of addiction when we should have been teaching them about the power that lies within. Your instinct for survival is a billion times stronger than your addiction.

Addiction is not what people think it is. It is real, but the important power of the addiction doesn’t lie in the body’s craving of nicotine; rather it can be found in the individual’s seemingly infinite capacity to deceive himself. The method works because it helps people to become open, honest, and truthful with themselves about the eminent nature of the threat. That honesty eliminates the individual’s capacity to rationalize his behavior, and encourages him to take immediate action.

Q

How immediately do people quit smoking and what is the long-term success rate?

A

The Kerry Gaynor Method is a three-session program. The sessions are one hour long, and spaced out every five days. In the second session, I take people off cigarettes, which means you quit smoking five days into the program. In the third session, I reinforce it and address issues about the future, so people don’t go back to smoking—this is when you quit for life.

Both the in-person sessions and the DVD sessions have proven to be very successful. (Of course, the in-person sessions have the advantage of being interactive.) The initial testing we did with the DVD showed an 85 percent success rate, 6 months and a year following the completion of the sessions. Personally, I get calls all the time from people who haven’t smoked in ten, fifteen, or even twenty-five years. I have never advertised, marketed, or promoted my practice; I get about fifteen hundred new clients a year.

Q

After the three sessions, do you have any recommendations for remaining smoke-free? What about other commonly used methods?

A

One of the major reasons my program is so unique is that I teach people how to quit smoking. Almost everything a person typically does when he tries to quit smoking causes an immediate increase in his withdrawal symptoms. By teaching my clients how to quit the right (sustainable) way, we either reduce their withdrawal symptoms, or eliminate them completely. When a client does have withdrawal symptoms, I listen to their description of what happened, figure out what went wrong, and then we work to correct it.

I do not recommend other methods to remain smoke-free like the nicotine patch or gum, which pump nicotine into people with a nicotine addiction. (Would we give alcohol to alcoholics?) Chantrix, a drug prescribed to quit smoking, has horrible side effects including seizures. None of these methods address the addiction in any way, and they don’t transform how the person feels about his addiction to make sure he never goes back to it.

Q

Do you have to want to quit smoking before you begin? Can the method work for people who are skeptical of hypnosis?

A

People often ask me if you have to want to quit smoking—you don’t. Almost all my clients come in conflicted. They generally say, “I don’t really want to quit but I know I should.”

I had a client say to me after he quit that he didn’t think for one second that this was going to work. Yet he had no withdrawal symptoms, no cravings, and found it very easy to quit. Even when people are skeptical about what I do, it can still work.

Q

Beyond smoking, are there other applications of hypnotic suggestion that you support?

A

In addition to helping people to quit smoking, I work on a variety of other issues, including addiction to drugs and alcohol, weight loss, sleep problems, and fear of flying. I also use hypnosis to help clients boost their confidence and prepare for big events like auditions. Hypnosis is a powerful tool that can empower people to overcome many obstacles and achieve their goals—indeed, for many it seems miraculous.

Inspired by a guest hypnotist’s demonstration in a college lab, Kerry Gaynor graduated UCLA and started an apprenticeship with an LA hypnotist, earned his certification from the American Council of Hypnotist Examiners (ACHE), and was registered in the state of California as a certified hypnotist and hypnotherapist. In 1979, Gaynor started his own private practice in Santa Monica, using a self-created method designed to end addiction, with a particular focus on helping people to quit smoking. To make an appointment with Gaynor, email stopstart@kgmethod.com.

The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of goop, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

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