Emirati psychologist uses the power of hypnotism to help patients quit smoking
Emirati psychologist Nasser Al Reyami can rattle off plenty of examples of research that concludes hypnotherapy has strong results in and helping smokers to quit.
However, he has more success convincing the sceptics who walk into his clinic about the effectiveness of the method when he tells them how he kicked the habit within three months after he consulted a hypnotherapist in 2013.
On May 31, World No Tobacco Day, al Reyami – a psychologist and hypnotherapist at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City – will take on the challenge of rehabilitating another smoker using the power of subconscious for www.enritsch.com, a UAE-based online wellness portal.
A 2007 US study at North Shore Medical Centre in Massachusettsfound that hospital patients who smoked were more likely to quit through hypnotherapy than those who tried other methods. While the jury is still out on the treatment’s full impact and effectiveness at treating addiction, Al Reyami says it succeeds in three out of five of his clients.
He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Aukland University of Technology in 2013, but it wasn’t until he moved back to UAE that he became interested in the use of hypnotic techniques in psychotherapy. He says that, initially, he was the biggest cynic of the practice.
“When I started reading about the way hypnotherapy was being used for pain management for amputees and during childbirth, my first reaction was: ‘Yeah, right’,” says the 28-year-old.
“In the world of psychotherapy, you are often trained in classical methods and it is only recently that there has been more evidence on the cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), or ‘talking therapy’ approach, which is what hypnotherapy is,” he says.
He met US-trained hypnotherapist and life-management coach Beryl Comar, who was based in Dubai at the time, and began learning the technique from her.
“It was as part of her class that I quit smoking,” says Al Reyami, who also runs Change Works Human Resource Consulting, which provides personal and professional development coaching and wellness programmes in Abu Dhabi.
“I was a guinea pig in one of her sessions,” he says. “She said she wanted to try something and asked me if we could work on my habit of smoking. Though I wasn’t there to quit, the session helped me give it up, eventually.”
Comar used the instant induction technique, in which the therapist immediately puts the patient to sleep and then reverses strongly held beliefs to treat addictions.
“She installed the suggestion that I was a non-smoker and that I would remain one for the rest of my life,” says Al Reyami.
Though he admits that one session did not rid him of the habit, it did help in the process.
“I relapsed a few times but this was probably because I hadn’t started out determined to stop,” he says. “But I had a new awareness after the session – the smoking was different now, not pleasurable anymore. And then I just stopped.”
Al Reyami says that although it took him a few months to give up, it doesn’t always take that long – for some people, a 20-minute session is enough to overcome a compulsive habit.
“These habits stem from our subconscious mind, where you store things you have learnt through experience, association and attaching emotional quality to them,” he says.
A smoker is motivated by that even when the act itself is a counterproductive.
“The emotion is positive and you want to gain something, like to feel cool or comfort,” he says. “Any smoker will tell you that the first smoke is disgusting but they continue because of peer pressure.”
The repeated act causes a generalisation, where the mind triggers a sense of satisfaction and recalls that emotion when the smoker is happy, bored or stressed.
Hypnosis, Al Reyami says, can break that behaviour by entering the subconscious and reworking the associations between the meaning and experience.
“A good session will involve installing the idea that you are a non-smoker and then taking the patient through replacing the act of moving the cigarette to their mouth and inhaling it with things like sipping water or breathing for comfort instead,” he says.
Treatments can range from a single session to a six-week programme.
Al Reyami suggests starting with a single session and then a follow up, between which he asks clients to test the information given during the session.
“If I tell you that you can go to a restaurant and have a good time without smoking, you need to put yourself in that situation and test it,” he says.
Al Reyami has helped to treat addictions, weight-loss issues and phobias for more that 30 clients through hypnotherapy, but still finds resistance to the method in the UAE.
“There is a general lack of knowledge on the subject,” he says. “This is compounded by the misconception that it is associated with stage art and cultural associations to magic.”
He starts a session by addressing common questions.
“The first one is whether the hypnotist will control the patient’s mind, followed by whether there is a possibility that they will never awaken from sleep during the session,” he says.
“Both are untrue. Finally, people are often worried that they will end up revealing their deep, dark secrets.
“But the fact is you aren’t sleeping because I need your awareness and this is a participatory therapy. You may choose not to answer.”
Updated: May 31, 2016 04:00 AM