The American Cancer Society doesn’t exactly recommend hypnosis as a reliable way to quit smoking. “For the most part, reviews that looked at controlled studies of hypnosis to help people quit smoking have not supported it as a quitting method that works,” it says on the ACS website. “Still, some people find it useful.”
Hypnotist Rich Guzzi, 50, would argue a lot of people find it useful. A hypnotist of 30 years, he’s utterly convinced of the power of hypnosis as a method to quit (plus, celebrities like Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, andCourteney Cox have said hypnosis has helped them cut cigarettes).
Guzzi is even launching a tour on Nov. 21,, which happens to coincide with the ACS’s “Great American Smokeout,” and will travel around America, entertain audiences with his hypnosis show, and spread the word about this method for kicking the habit.
“You don’t even have to believe in hypnosis to make it work,” Guzzi says. “You just have to be willing to say, ‘I really want to quit smoking. Let me give this a shot.’ It’s worth trying.” Anyone who comes to one of Guzzi’s shows will get a free CD copy of his stop smoking program, he says. His goal is to help 100,000 people quit.
Guzzi spoke to Parade.com about how hypnosis works to help people kick the habit and what he says to skeptics.
How did you get into hypnosis?
“I was a comedian first. One day, I was doing a really terrible show—it was one of those tough nights where nothing’s going right. And I had learned hypnosis from reading a book when I was a kid, and I used to practice on my friends. During this bad show, I brought some people on stage, hypnotized them, and made them do goofy stuff. And then people started really laughing at it, and I thought, ‘I’m onto something here.’ So I kept on doing it, made it more elaborate, and as time went on, it really grew into something pretty good.”
So what training do you have in hypnosis?
“I went to school for it later on. I became a certified clinical hypnotherapist. I am trained formally, but most of the stuff I do now is my own techniques that I’ve learned over the years.”
How did you transition your hypnosis comedy show into helping people quit smoking?
“I realized that in my comedy shows, I could make the volunteers do pretty much anything with hypnosis as long as I made the scenario real enough. Hypnosis is actually so powerful that you can actually do what are called ‘post-hypnotic suggestions’ for people to do good in their lives after the hypnosis is over—to get people to lose weight, to stop smoking, reduce the stress in their life, and maybe cure some fears and phobias. Eventually, the show evolved into not being a comedy show anymore. After the shows, people would come up and tell me they want to try it, so I’d be hypnotizing people at the bar and helping them quit smoking and lose weight.”
What motivates you to help people quit smoking?
“When I was a kid, my dad was a car mechanic, and he taught me how to be a car mechanic as well. I thought I was going to go into the family business. But my dad was a smoker. He was an old-school guy and he had some bad habits. My dad was my hero—we were like two peas in a pod. And he was never sick; he was always a healthy guy. And then one day, he said, ‘Man, I’m not feeling so great.’ It started to get really bad—he was sweating; he was in bad shape. We got in the car to go to the hospital, but we never even make it to the hospital. It was New York traffic at five o’clock in the afternoon—and he died right in the car.
“It was a brutal experience. I was 20 years old. It was life-altering. I didn’t want to do the car stuff anymore. And that’s why I turned to comedy; to get me out of the funk. It was almost like my therapy. Now I’m in a position to help a lot of people, and I still dedicate every show to my dad, every night. This is a way for me to give back.”
Many people don’t believe hypnosis works. How do you deal with those perceptions?
“Hypnosis is almost like a dirty word, like it’s a card trick. There are still a lot of people who don’t accept it or don’t believe in it. And I know I’m partly at fault for that for doing hypnosis shows in comedy venues. But I see the people I help every night at my shows.”
So what do you say to the skeptics?
“Believe it or not, I turn skeptics around and make them my biggest fans. What happens is that we have fans that come to the show, and they’ll bring their friends. And some of the friends think it’s nonsense. They’ll come to the show, and the skeptic thinks, ‘He probably knows all these people.’ So they come back the next night to see if they use all the same people—and of course, it’s different people because I always use volunteers. So the guy goes, ‘I’m coming back a third time, and I’m going on stage, and I’ll find out it’s fake.’ So he goes on stage and he gets hypnotized, he wakes up an hour and a half later and doesn’t remember anything, and goes, ‘Holy mackerel, this is real!’ Then he brings his friends the next night, and the cycle keeps continuing.”
And that happens often?
“It happens all the time, it’s so cliche at this point. That’s how my fan base has been built up, from all the skeptics saying, ‘This can’t be real so I’m going to try to debunk it.’”
How does your quitting smoking hypnosis program work?
“A person who smokes erroneously puts files in their subconscious mind next to each other that are wrong—like if they have a cup of coffee, they have to have a cigarette, or if they had a great meal, they have to have a cigarette. They’ve associated pleasurable experiences with the habit of smoking. I go into the subconscious mind and put in the files that are supposed to be there—that smoking can make your clothes smell bad, give you nasty breath, cost you a lot of money, and hurt yourself. By putting those new thought processes into your subconscious mind, you don’t smoke anymore, because your subconscious mind will be in unison with your conscious mind.”
It sounds like this is pretty rewarding for you.
“I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. If I can put hypnosis on the map as not just a carnival trick and something that’s really good that people should be using, I guess I did my job for the day.”