Mary Gossi had been a long-term heavy smoker when she was told by her doctor that if she didn't quit she'd be looking at some major health problems. She had tried before, both cold turkey and with the nicotine patch, but nothing stuck. Until a worried friend told her she'd read hypnotherapy might help. Although a little reluctant to try what she thought of as a drastic measure, she remembered the words of her doctor and decided to give it a whirl. She looked around for a trustworthy practitioner, someone who would help her understand why she had such a hard time living without the "comfort and calming effects" cigarettes afforded her and who would also put her nervousness about the process at ease. To her surprise she found that after only a couple of sessions with her hypnotherapist, she began to think it might work. "I started to feel I could actually live without cigarettes." A few more sessions and she had quit altogether. Her friends and family couldn't believe it; they didn't think she could actually leave the nicotine, and particularly the habit of smoking behind. That was three years ago.

This kind of scenario is not unusual for Certified Hypnotherapist Ashley Freeman who sees clients in her North Toronto practice who are dealing with any number of life changing stressors when they come to her for help. "I had a client who smoked a pack and a half a day for thirty-six years," she says. "We all fall into habits and attitudes that can create a negative lifestyle and poor self image. Hypnosis takes us back to our core to a place where we can reframe the experience and then change the behaviour."

Statistics shows hypnosis to be extremely effective for smoking cessation. A 2001 University of Washington School of Medicine study revealed a 90.6% success rate, with those participating abstaining from tobacco for between 6 months to three years. A more recent 2005 study conducted by the Journal of Nursing Scholarship in California showed that people who quit with hypnosis were twice as likely to remain smoke-free than those who quit on their own. Similar studies have been conducted on weight loss with hypnotherapy as well as chronic pain management.

The word "hypnosis" comes from the Greek word hypnos, meaning "sleep." Hypnotherapists employ various exercises that encourage deep relaxation to bring the client to a place of profound focus. That may seem counterintuitive but as Ms. Freeman explains: "Usually people understand focus to be stress related and relaxation to be without focus. But success through hypnosis requires calm, collected focus on an outcome." That outcome can be anything from quitting smoking, losing weight, getting over heartbreak or the loss of a loved one to overcoming phobias or managing physical pain.

So, how do you choose a good hypnotherapist? Ms. Freeman suggests looking for a therapist who can help you easily identify root causes; who follows a good initial protocol and who makes you feel immediately at ease about the process. As a client you should be eager to hone the skill of hypnosis and be open-minded toward the real change that is bound to come to your life.

In the introductory session the hypnotist and client discuss the concept of hypnosis; what it is, how it works and what to expect. The hypnotist usually conducts a relaxation exercise to determine the client's receptiveness to hypnosis. Then the direction and frequency of the treatment is established. Ms. Freeman, who has been practicing since 2004, believes that a good hypnotherapist cares not only about their own results track record but also about the comfort and welfare of their clients. "I have a strong empathic sense that helps me get to the core issues quickly; I've been through years of therapeutic experience myself which keeps me open to all possibilities. I truly care about the success of my work and the well-being of my clients"

So, what happened with her client who smoked heavily for 35 years? "She quit after only four sessions! I loved seeing her pride in her accomplishment."