I understand smokers,” says hypnotherapist Max Kirsten. “I’ve smoked in the cold and rain, I’ve smoked through flu … I’ve had those blind panics when you run out of cigarettes late at night.” A reformed addict turned therapist, Kirsten is credited with helping a host of celebrities quit smoking including actor Ewan McGregor, who had a 40-a-day habit.
McGregor was so impressed that he now endorses Kirsten’s quit smoking iPhone app. The 51-year-old Knightsbridge-based practitioner, who uses hypnotherapy and relaxation techniques to beat cravings, is even the man (it is rumoured) who David Cameron turned to when he decided to conquer his nicotine addiction.
All Kirsten will say is he has treated “a few” politicians “from various parties”. Any he wants to name? “Not really.”
In his twenties and thirties Kirsten had serious recreational drug addiction issues. He grew up in Chelsea, on the King’s Road, where “getting high was the thing to do.” Cannabis, speed, cocaine, heroin – he tried them all. After two stints in rehab, he finally “got off everything” 14 years ago. Except for his 40-a-day cigarette habit, which is when he discovered hypnotherapy.
“People had told me to look into hypnosis. To my amazement, I discovered I became more relaxed in a trance state, and then I just quit smoking. Just like that.”
His positive experience of hypnotherapy inspired him to retrain and help others tackle their addictions and anxieties, from smoking to sleep disorders. Paul McKenna was one of his mentors. Hypnosis has suffered a bad press, I point out. But Kirsten says he doesn’t make patients do anything they don’t want to. Instead, he puts them in a light trance then takes them through a “mental rehearsal” of their daily life – but without cigarettes. Breathing techniques are key to the method. It usually takes only two hours for Kirsten to turn a nicotine addict into a non-smoker. For chronic smokers, though, it can take an extra session.
“Most smokers love smoking. There’s part of giving up that scares them. If you think you can stop, you’re right, and if you think you can’t, you’re right. It’s about a belief system and some people can’t imagine life without a cigarette.”
Kirsten is now happily married with a son of four. Transforming lives is now his “passion”, not drugs.
“It’s a thrilling feeling to think you’ve contributed to the quality of someone’s life. And to be saving [smokers’] lives. It’s an honour.”
STUB IT OUT: SIX TIPS TO HELP YOU QUIT
- Get the facts: find out what’s in a cigarette, such as thousands of toxic chemicals. Face up to what your habit really involves.
- List the benefits: positives include getting back your sense of smell and slowing down the ageing process.
- Be determined: nicotine takes three days to leave your body but the cravings only last for a few minutes.
- Face your fears: many people won’t quit for fear they’ll get fat or have cravings. Decide to switch your addiction to something
positive, like drinking more water.
- Learn stress management: many addictions are fuelled by an underlying anxiety. Learning to relax is important in quitting.
- Become a non-smoker, not a former smoker: retrain your way of thinking to quit successfully.