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“If a client says they are stressed should one first help them gain control, prior to helping them stop smoking?”

My answer to this question asked in a course Q&A session

This podcast is a clip from the Live Q&A teaching sessions which are part of our online homestudy course How To Stop Anyone Smoking, where therapy practitioners from all over the world learn the Uncommon approach to smoking cessation. Here’s the question from one of our students on the group Q&A phonecall…

“If a client says they are stressed or have a very stressful job should one first spend as much time as is necessary to help the client to gain control over their stress level, prior to helping them to stop smoking?”

Listen to the answer by clicking the play button below:

In this podcast, I discuss:

  • Why for some smoking is a ‘full stop’, a way of punctuating the day, and how to help a client find other healthier habits to help them do it.
  • How to explain to a client that it’s not smoking which calms them down, by using a metaphor that draws on workplace rivalry.
  • The time I gently suggested to a weeping client that now wasn’t the time for him to quit smoking, and what I did instead.

Read about ‘How To Stop Anyone Smoking’, my online homestudy course »

Full transcript:

Okay. I have one more question here and this is also from Tony in Wellington, New Zealand. It’s another good question. They’ve all been good questions. “Hi Mark, if a client says they’re stressed or have a very stressful job, should one first spend as much time as is necessary to help the client to gain control over their stress level prior to helping them stop smoking.”

That is a great question. Certainly people use smoking as a way of punctuating the day, as a way of stopping and slowing down. I’ll talk about punctuation. People will do a bit of work, then have a cigarette. The cigarette is like a comma. Then they’ll complete a bit of work, or they’ll complete a meal or lovemaking session, and the smoking is a full stop, it’s a capital letter. They start smoking, they maybe smoke before they start something. They’re punctuating the day.

I will, excuse the pun, stress to somebody it’s important that they continue punctuating their day because I punctuate my day without smoking by having tea or coffee or sitting and looking out the window at the view or going for a walk. The idea that you’re losing punctuation in your day to slow things down to manage stress, okay, needs to be dealt with I think or can be dealt with if people are particularly stressed. Okay. Also we teach them relaxation techniques, okay. Also will come to mind the erroneous idea, okay, this ingenious idea that smoking calms you down because of course it doesn’t. We might talk about some people, not you of course, not you the client, but some people even have been led to believe that smoking somehow calms them down when in 8 seconds the nicotine has gone through the mucus membranes in the mouth up to the brain, is producing adrenaline and raising blood pressure and all this. It’s doing all that.

Smoking Cessation Client Session

Discover How to Stop Anyone Smoking

Read more about Mark's approach to smoking cessation.

Click here to find out more

What’s calming you down is the way that you breathe when you smoke. You bring out for longer than you breathe in, then you calm down. If you have a type of cigarette where you’re sucking in all the time because you’re rushing it then it’s going to rev you up even more. If you can breathe out for longer than you can breathe in without the cigarette, then you get proper relaxation, everything really calms down. Even that’s a lie that smoking takes credit. It’s like a work colleague that takes credit for your work all the time. Smoking takes credit for the relaxation response because you do it in conjunction with having a break or in conjunction with breathing out for a long time, for longer than you breathe in, which mobilizes the parasympathetic nervous system response. We talk about that but also definitely addressing the stresses in the smoker’s life. We don’t want them to come along for smoking and then we just talk about other stuff. I remember certainly a couple of times with smokers, I have simply suggested that we don’t even work on the smoking this time around.

One guy came to see me, and he was crying in the session, and he didn’t talk about smoking. He’d come along for smoking, but he was talking about his relationship had ended and how terrible he felt and how awful he felt. He needed to talk about that. I gently suggested that he could come back next time or in a couple time sessions and then we’d deal with the smoking, that we would just get him feeling better. He was at risk of becoming depressed because he worried so much, and he was constructing extremely pessimistic scenarios in his mind making him extremely stressed. His sleep was all out of whack. It wasn’t the time to make changes stopping smoking. With him in particular, I made that judgment call. Indeed things did straighten out in the rest of his life and then we got around to the smoking, and he stopped smoking.

Most people don’t start like that, but some people it might be they just need to calm things down a bit first before we make the change of smoking. Of course, being a hypnotherapist or knowing all about how to relax people, then we can deal with them but also looking at their basic needs in life and helping them meet those and so forth. If you think, smoking is quite ingenious because it pretends to meet needs that it doesn’t really need. People smoke when they’re lonely, when they’re stressed, when they’re too relaxed, and they want to be alert. Smoking takes credit for all of that. People smoke when they’re doubtful, when they’re ashamed, when they’re happy, when they’re celebrating, when they’re commiserating.

Somehow smoking has insinuated itself within all these natural life situations. It’s a little bit like a person you don’t know pretending to be your best friend and coming along to all your family gatherings and all this kind of thing and pretending that they’re … and actually all they’re doing is taking from the situation. Looking at the person’s general health, physical health as well as their general emotional health can be an important part, important thing to do. Sometimes you have to take control and say, I really think that for now we need perhaps to sort these other things out before we address the smoking. That might be a judgment call you have to make on occasion. As I say, it’s very rare that that’s ever happened, but it might be something that you need to be aware of.

Smoking Cessation Client Session

Discover How to Stop Anyone Smoking

Read more about Mark's approach to smoking cessation.

Click here to find out more

Mark Tyrrell

About Mark Tyrrell

Psychology is my passion. I've been a psychotherapist trainer since 1998, specializing in brief, solution focused approaches. I now teach practitioners all over the world via our online courses.

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