Hypnosis not a proven treatment: doctors
Concerns have been raised by the government and doctors over the trend of using hypnosis to help lose weight and quit smoking.
Rene Pius Lien Zun, president of the Hong Kong Guild of Hypnotherapists and Psychotherapists, which represents 70 members, said that more heavy smokers were eager to find an 'easy way' to quit smoking as it became inconvenient to light up with smoking banned in most public places.
But a spokesman for the Health, Welfare and Food Bureau said: 'Hypnotherapy is regarded as complementary or alternative medicine, not conventional or mainstream medical care. It is noted that hypnotherapy is widely promoted as a method for aiding smoking cessation. Nonetheless, scientific evidence on its effectiveness is inconclusive.'
The effectiveness of this 'alternative therapy' was also questioned by medical experts, who insisted that it lacked scientific backing. Meanwhile, Consumer Council deputy chief executive Connie Lau Yin-hing expressed concern over the possible mental and physical health risks of using hypnosis for slimming.
Mr Lien, who opened a hypnotherapy clinic seven years ago, said about five smokers a month sought treatment from him, compared with only one a month a year ago. They were all heavy smokers, on between 15 and 40 cigarettes a day, he said.
He claimed that all his clients had quit smoking after just one session of hypnotherapy, which lasted three hours and cost $1,800 - compared with a 30 per cent success rate in conventional smoking cessation clinics with methods taking between a week and a month. Mr Lien also said that some beauty parlours and weight management companies hired hypnotherapists to run slimming programmes.
He said: 'I have heard that some hypnotherapists are using a very negative and unhealthy way to help their clients shed pounds within the shortest period of time, such as making their clients lose their appetite or vomit after eating - that is not encouraged in our trade. Instead, we try to help people change their eating habit by picking the right food and eating proper amounts.'
Lam Tai-hing, chair and head of the Department of Community Medicine of the University of Hong Kong and vice-chairman of the Council on Smoking and Health, queried the effectiveness of the 'alternative treatments', including hypnotherapy, that did not have medical evidence to support them.
'Taking smoking cessation as an example, whether smokers can successfully quit the habit depends heavily on how determined they are,' Professor Lam said.
'Of course, additional support would increase the chance of success ... some people also claim praying to God can make them feel better.Therefore we are not sure how much those alternative treatments such as hypnotherapy help with smoking cessation.'
Professor Lam said that counselling by medical workers, combined with the use of nicotine replacement and/or an antidepressant, were the only proven treatments in stopping smoking.
Chinese University psychiatry professor Lee Sing, also the director of the Eating Disorder Clinic, was also sceptical of the effectiveness of hypnotherapy. No treatments for weight reduction had been proved to be long-lasting, he said.
'But for bulimia, which is a major kind of eating disorder, cognitive behaviour therapy is the only treatment which is scientifically proven to be effective,' he said.