Hypnotherapy when used to quit smoking is more likely to be effective for men than women.
A research project that reviewed 18 separate studies of hypnosis based quit smoking programs has found that around 30 percent of men who used such a treatment successfully quit smoking, compared to 23 percent of women.
But the reasons may have more to do with gender differences in quitting smoking in general than reasons associated with hypnosis, said Joseph Green, associate professor of psychology at Ohio State University’s Lima campus.
“My suspicion is that the gender differences are not unique to hypnosis, but are connected to difficulties women have in trying to quit smoking in general,” Green said.
Green reviewed 18 previous studies of hypnosis-based smoking cessation programs, all of which examined gender differences in success. The 18 studies included more than 5,600 participants.
Of those 18 studies, only three of them found significant differences between success rates for men and women. In all three cases, men were more successful than women.
“But when I started combining participants across studies, a much clearer picture emerged in terms of a male advantage,” Green said. “When you have a 7 percent advantage for men, that is important, particularly when success rates after a year are often in the 20 to 30 percent range anyway.”
None of the studies Green reviewed examined why hypnosis worked better for men than women. But Green said research has not shown any real difference between men and women in their ability to be hypnotized. If anything, women may have a very slight advantage in hypnotizability, he said, so that shouldn't’t be an issue.
“There’s no theoretical reason why hypnosis should work better for men than women in smoking cessation,” according to Green.
Because of that, Green said he believes the reason women do not fare as well is because of gender differences in smoking cessation overall. While there is some controversy, Green said many experts do believe that women have a harder time than men quitting smoking. One reason may be that nicotine replacement therapy (such as nicotine gum or patch) is not as effective for women as it is men. Experts also say women are concerned with weight gain associated with stopping smoking, so they are more reluctant to quit or may relapse if they experience weight gain.
But that doesn’t mean hypnosis won’t work with women, or that they shouldn’t try to quit smoking, Green emphasized. The key is to find the right combination of treatments that will help boost the chance of success.
In an earlier study in 2000, Green found that hypnosis was generally as effective as other smoking cessation treatments.
“Given that most of these smoking cessation approaches have similar success rates, it is really up to the consumer,” he said.
“It depends on which treatment a person is most likely to use. There is nothing about hypnotic treatments that women should shy away from. If a smoker – a man or a woman – is strongly motivated to try a hypnotic approach, he or she will probably be as successful with that approach as any other.”
However, Green said he recommends steering clear of hypnosis treatments that guarantee success with just one session.
He said it often takes multiple sessions, and a combination of approaches, to reach your goal. Hypnosis could be combined with cognitive behavioral strategies, an awareness of nutrition and exercise, and an avoidance of smoking triggers to help make smoking cessation successful.
“Regardless of which treatment you use, smoking cessation requires motivation and social support and often times several attempts before it is successful,” he said. “But all of the benefits of quitting smoking are clear and it is a worthwhile goal.”