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I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been a fan of “alternative remedies”. My medicine cupboard contains more pharmaceuticals than the European Union’s stock of Covid vaccines and I’ve never understood why anyone would want to try and get rid of a blinding headache by dripping rose water and lavender oil on to their pillow when they’d be better served by a winning combo of ibuprofen, paracetamol or even the nuclear option of a couple of codeine.

The worst offender among the raft of useless “I saw you coming” treatments has to be homeopathy, where gullible people seeking a cure are sold water which has a “memory” of a substance that has been diluted to such an extent that no molecules of the original substance remain. This is like a bloke jizzing into the Pacific, inviting his girlfriend to take a swim and expecting her to get pregnant.

[Homeopathy] is like a bloke jizzing into the Pacific, inviting his girlfriend to take a swim and expecting her to get pregnant.

But just because there are some alternative therapies which prey on the weak, needy and gullible and which are clearly useless, it doesn’t mean that every non-medical intervention is a con. Only last summer, during the brief respite from lockdown, I was so crippled by a bad back that even putting one foot in front of another was an indescribable agony. I made Quasimodo look like Usain Bolt.

On one particularly bad day, Robin Verwest, Reiki Master and Bowen practitioner, came round for a glass of wine and offered me a session. Bowen, as far as I can tell, involves minimal physical contact with certain points on the body to prompt neural signals to enable healing. I dunno – that’s what it says on the internet and, let’s face it, it sounds like utter bollocks. That said, Robin is a dear friend who I’ve known for 20 years, and I had nothing to lose.

So, I stripped down to my underwear and lay down on an exercise mat on my living room floor. For the next half hour or so, Robin applied gentle pressure to certain parts of my body, usually for just a few seconds, then left the room, only to return some minutes later for more gentle pressure followed once more by a rapid exit. Weird, but at least I wasn’t paying for it. How could this possibly work?

Well, dear reader, work it did. No ifs, no buts – I was up and about within seconds and a slight residual ache evaporated within a few hours. This was six or seven months ago and I haven’t felt the merest twinge since. And the fact that I am now leaping everywhere like a randy gazelle cannot be attributed to the placebo effect as, frankly, I went into the treatment fully expecting abject failure to such an extent that you could actually see the cynicism dripping off me. Go figure.

So, it was against this backdrop of healthy cynicism that I recently decided to get some hypnotherapy to help me stop smoking. Despite my youthful, chiselled good looks and athletic physique I’m actually in my mid-fifties and have been smoking for about forty years, since it was cool, cheap and convenient. Now it’s just a pain in the arse: it’s definitely uncool, bloody expensive and you can’t do it anywhere except in the open air which, when you live on a rainy island in the north Atlantic, isn’t great. Still, I have absolutely no will power – never have –  and, despite having stopped for up to two years on several occasions, Mr Benson and his evil henchman Hedges have always returned to defile me up to twenty times a day.

Step forward the award-winning hypnotherapist Sophie West. I knew of Sophie not because of anything to do with smoking but because she runs LGBT Wellbeing, a clinical hypnotherapy and psychotherapy practice that specialises in helping LGBTQ people, especially those who may have mental health issues as a result of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. Check her out: she’s one of the best.

Sophie is based in Bristol while I am in London but, even if we were next door neighbours, lockdown restrictions meant that our session had to be conducted via a video call. This, coupled with the fact that my only previous experience of hypnotism was watching people on the telly being convinced that they’re a banana, or Hitler or something, meant that I was not entirely persuaded of the efficacy of hypno.

This was entirely different from the kind of nonsense you see on TV and I’m not going to attempt to describe what went on in our 90 minute session. All I can say is that this time it feels different: I haven’t experienced even a scintilla of desire for a cigarette and resisting smoking doesn’t seem to involve any will power at all. When I’ve previously tried to stop the thought of a cigarette is agonisingly tempting but, as I sit and write this, I can contemplate smoking with a detachment which I guess is similar to how non-smokers might think about cigarettes. Yes, it’s early days but I am hugely optimistic.

So, to all you smokers out there who have tried and failed to stop and have convinced yourselves that you’re in it for life, do not give up giving up. If hypnotherapy can work for a world-weary cynic like me, it can work for anyone. 

Find out more about LGBT Wellbeing here.

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Rob Harkavy

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