Get to Know Cathy Simmons
Interviewed by Tina Shaw
Before Cognitive Hypnotherapy, Cathy’s background was in Investment Banking and IT in the City where the challenges that go along with the work environment and lifestyle can mean that drug and alcohol use is only too common. Pressures are high and so is availability!
After training at The Quest Institute and qualifying in 2007 with the HPD, DipCHyp and NLP Master Prac., she continued her research and studies into the nature of addiction through countless trainings, including a post-graduate Certificate in Psychology, where she was first introduced to Psychobiology and got interested in the neuroscience of addiction.
Cathy now runs The Simmons Clinic, offering gentle help to professionals for a life beyond drug use and addiction; working with smoking, alcohol, cocaine, cannabis and other drugs in addition to running regular live and online trainings for therapists to ‘Get Complete Confidence working with Smokers’.
Cathy is also an NCH Accredited Hypnotherapy Supervisor and Specialist Advisor on Addictions to the NCH.
What made you decide to specialize in smoking cessation?
Helping people get free of addiction is my passion. I can see how smoking, although much more socially unacceptable than it used to be, is still not really seen to be the devastating killer it is. Conversely I see that society (as with so many addictions) so often labels smokers as weak-willed, or in some way morally deficient.
Having studied the neuroscience of addiction I know absolutely that it is not their fault; nicotine has hijacked their natural survival systems and has ‘fooled’ the brain into thinking that smoking is essential for life!
I, myself smoked for many years, and hated the slavery to the weed. When I finally stopped with hypnotherapy and NLP I begun to be fascinated by how this had worked, when other attempts hadn’t, and before you know it I had signed up with The Quest Institute to train in Cognitive Hypnotherapy and find out more about how it all works! This was the beginning of a long journey of learning and discovery into the world of addiction.
How is Cognitive Hypnotherapy different to all the other hypnotherapists out there who specialise in smoking cessation?
The Cognitive Hypnotherapy training with Quest is, in my opinion, one of the best hypnotherapy trainings out there. A Quest Cognitive Hypnotherapists knows the importance of tailoring each session specifically for each client and has been encouraged to understand as much of the science behind the issue as possible.
Before I finally stopped smoking myself, I went to a number of hypnotherapists who asked me to close my eyes and then just read out, what I can only imagine now, were standard scripts. Suffice it to they didn’t help me to stop smoking.
A Quest Cognitive Hypnotherapist will also look at the whole person and take their time to understand what else may be going on in their client’s life that might impact their smoking and their getting free.
For a therapist who wants to take it further and study to specialise in smoking cessation (or any other speciality, come to that) I cannot imagine a better grounding than Cognitive Hypnotherapy.
For a lot of people the idea of therapy is daunting, not to mention stopping smoking, so could you tell us what someone might expect during a session? As one person I know put it “What are you going to do to me?”
Great question! What a client can expect is an interesting, informative and empowering session. I might spend between 2 ½ – 3 hours with my clients to ensure that we cover absolutely everything we need for them to walk out free of the smoking for good, and although it may sound like a long time, it goes by really quickly, and the clients really know they have done it as they leave.
I will spend a bit of time letting them know a bit about how nicotine addiction works – after all, why shouldn’t they understand what has been going on? Many clients find it a great relief to know that it is nothing to do with a lack of willpower or any moral shortcomings and to understand how it is possible to break it permanently.
We will work on any specific emotional or environmental triggers, so that they know they can go into any situation (and more importantly, don’t have to avoid any situations), and still be completely cigarette free – in fact they often go into situations where they used to smoke, almost celebrating the feeling of being free!
I will also teach them tools that they can use in all sorts of areas of their life to be more in control and remain smoke-free.
We will end with a lovely relaxing hypnosis session, where we reinforce everything that we have done in the session so far and when the client happily makes a decision at an unconscious level and finally becomes a permanent non-smoker!
Do you ever use aversion techniques?
Hmm, I think that will probably depend on what you mean exactly by aversion. I am not a great believer in scaring people into stopping smoking. We all know this
doesn’t work and sometimes it means that the stubborn part of us clings on even tighter! However, everyone deserves to know what the tobacco companies are doing and so I will explain exactly what is in cigarettes and, scarily, what the tobacco companies are legally allowed to add to cigarettes to make them more palatable, to suppress coughs (yes – it’s true, they really do add a cough suppressant!), to open the airways for more efficient nicotine delivery and even additives to ‘freebase’ the nicotine – meaning that they can be far more addictive with even lower levels of nicotine in the cigarette. Everyone has a right to know this. Certain visualisations can be very effective in reminding someone of the truth about smoking to help them in times when they might otherwise have been tempted and so, I will absolutely use these visualisations if they are going to ensure the client is free from the deadly smoking permanently.
If a person has tried patches and other methods without success how is Cognitive Hypnotherapy going to be more effective?
This is another great question, and an important one. Before I answer that, I will say that I do think there is a real place for NRT (Nicotine Replacement Therapy) in helping people get free. Done correctly use of nicotine products can be very effective. The emphasis here is on the words ‘done properly’, and mostly their lack of success is due to (controversially) not using enough! But that is a conversation for another time!
In answer to the question I will say that nicotine is only one factor that contributes to keeping the addiction in place. It may be the initiator of the addiction, but the motivation/reward system, the stress system and the memory/learning systems get involved to keep the addiction in place. As one example, NRT cannot address is the importance of triggers in keeping an addiction in place. Environmental triggers, for example, cause a physiological change and can massively increase the desire for a drug, even after months of years of abstinence, which makes it essential that the session is completely tailored for each client. Indeed, there many other aspects, other than nicotine itself, that contribute to keeping an addiction in place. The beauty of hypnotherapy is that we can address every one of these factors.
What do you think of e-cigarettes?
Like other forms of NRT, I believe e-cigarettes have a part to play in helping people get free and, contrary to the scare stories often see in the press, the evidence to date shows that e-cigarettes are not a gateway to smoking for ‘never’ smokers.
All forms of NRT deliver nicotine in a much slower and less concentrated dose, meaning that the ‘rush’ of dopamine that occurs in the mid-brain as a result of smoking doesn’t happen with an e-cigarette. This in turn lessens the impact and after time, the brain can unlearn the importance that it has previously attributed to nicotine. All good news, and without the carbon monoxide and horrendous chemicals that are in the tar in cigarettes. However, this all takes time and still costs the client money. So much better for them to get free of all forms of nicotine once and for all.
What about cravings if a person stops will they still get them or do they go away?
The great news is that, if your therapist has an understanding of the neuroscience of addiction and therefore targets your therapy accordingly, cravings can turn into just tiny little niggly feelings, that only last a few seconds and are gone in a few days. In fact they can be hardly noticeable!
How can you help clients manage life after they stop?
I know that not all therapists do this, but I offer a service that includes full support for an entire year. Most clients don’t need it, but in the case that they do, I am there for them as much as they need, whether on the ‘phone, email or coming back into my clinic as often as they need. It matters to me that they get free for good.
In addition, as part of the session, we would have learned a number of tools to allow them to stay in control whenever they need.
I remember being told ‘Once a smoker, you will always be wanting one’. Let me tell you – this is absolutely not true! Since I stopped I have never wanted one, never once felt that I was missing out on anything at all, other than ill health and slavery.
Would clients need to give up other aspects of their lifestyle in order to stop permanently?
Just the opposite! By going back into the situations that used to mean reaching for a cigarette, the client is constantly celebrating their success and freedom.
Many clients worry about gaining weight, how does Cognitive Hypnotherapy help prevent this?
Quest Cognitive Hypnotherapists are trained to work with the ‘whole’ client and if this is something that a client is concerned about, they will address this, again in a way that is tailored to that particular client.
The unconscious mind is quite amazing! Sometimes, just by strongly believing something and expecting it, our unconscious can make it happen. Therefore, by dealing with any underlying beliefs, it no longer becomes necessary to gain any weight at all. Any (very minor) change in metabolism can be more than compensated for with the increase in energy gained by stopping smoking, getting the oxygen flowing properly around the body again and the lowering of stress hormones in the body. People quite naturally want to get more active.
What tend to be the biggest or most common motivators for stopping?
Of course, everyone is different, but there do tend to be some patterns. For the majority of people health plays a big part in their motivation, either because they are still young and reasonably fit, and want to stay that way, or because they are already experiencing some health issues. For others it is about money. Did you know that a 20 per day smoker could be spending £3,500 per year on cigarettes? That is a lot of money (and an amazing holiday!).
Recently I have had clients who are turning their lives around; getting fit, doing sports, eating healthily, and smoking is the last thing to deal with – in order to be congruent with their otherwise healthy lives.
A more surprising motivation is about smell. More and more people are aware of just how that smell lingers on their breath, clothes and hair and how people can tell they smoke as soon as they walk into a room. I would say that 99% of my clients give this as one of their main reasons for stopping!
Do you have any plans for the future in terms of developing your work with smoking cessation?
I am always looking for more knowledge in the area of smoking and other addictions and am constantly refining my practice as I learn more. Because I have done many specialist trainings addiction, and have researched widely, I have brought all of this together and am sharing it with other therapists in the form of a specialist training in Smoking Cessation, which is available both as a live and an online training. I am pleased to say there are already over 60 therapists who have already taken the specialist smoking cessation training, at the time of writing.
When you are not focused on Smoking Cessation, what is your biggest passion?
Gosh – that is a hard one! Firstly, I seem to have developed an insatiable appetite for learning (Why didn’t I have this when I was a lot younger?) and so my passion is to understand more and more about what makes us tick, both from a neuroscience and even a spiritual perspective and to apply this understanding to the eradication of addiction.
Outside of the therapy field completely I have to admit that I am a bit of a techie and I love anything to do with technology (I’m afraid I can be quite a geek at times)! I am also passionate about Hampstead, where I live and preserving the history of the area and the ‘village’ community that we have here.
Finally what advice would you give to those reading who are considering stopping smoking? And what advice would you give to friends and family who desperately want a loved one to stop?
Firstly, if you are considering it for yourself then congratulations! This could be the beginning of a healthy and happy smoke-free life for you. If there is someone you love who smokes, then be kind to them and support them. Remember, that it is not their fault – It is not about willpower. The smoking has hijacked their natural survival systems and any form of pressure can cause more stress which can make it worse! (Even though you are doing it because you love them). Many Cognitive Hypnotherapists who specialise in this area would be more than happy to talk with you about it and explain more, so that you can support them better.
Take your time to call around different therapists to ensure that they are experienced with working with smokers, and get a good feel about whether they are tailoring the sessions specifically for you. You also want to be working with someone you feel completely comfortable with, so feel free to ask them all the questions you want to, and speak to a few, before you decide on the person who will finally help you get free for good. Just think about how your life will be different once you have stopped, the health benefits, the new energy, being able breathe easily again and smelling fresh! If you wanted to get in touch directly I would be more than happy to explain more and to find someone close to you who could help.
You stopped smoking and help many others to do the same? What difference has it made to your life, and what differences do your clients report?
Stopping smoking myself heralded a complete turnaround in my life, leading to my passion to help as many other people to get free as possible, so in that sense it has changed my life!
Apart from that, I would say the biggest thing was the complete freedom. I never again had to make decisions about where to go, or not to go, based on whether I could smoke. My health massively improved, not to mention my skin. I felt much more in control and I still remember the feeling of *knowing* I would never have another one again – amazing feeling! Not only that, I had the feeling that if I could crack that one, I could do absolutely anything, and this is something that my clients also report.
It is empowering for them, and they start to look after themselves in a new way and most report that they are becoming much more healthy and happy. A number of them also tell me that it is like they never smoked, that they can’t easily look back and think of themselves as ever having been a smoker.
If I were to sum up what I hear from the majority of clients who have stopped smoking for good, it would probably be in the phrase ‘I am FREE’!!