Getting professional help for quitting
Does counselling work?
Yes. Getting advice, counselling, and support from a doctor, nurse, or trained counsellor can help you quit smoking. Pregnant women who smoke and smokers who are admitted to the hospital are especially likely to benefit from advice and counselling.
What is counselling?
Your doctor, nurse, or counsellor may suggest that you quit smoking, explain why, and give you a few tips on how to do it. Or you may take part in group sessions that are part of a stop-smoking programme. There are many different types of counselling. Here are some examples of what counselling can mean:
- Your doctor tells you about the benefits of quitting and gives you some leaflets with useful advice and helpline phone numbers in them
- A weekly session with someone who has been specially trained to help people quit smoking (this could be a nurse, psychologist, or counsellor)
- Group therapy with a counsellor, where you and other people in the programme may talk through the problems of quitting and share tips on how to cope when you’re tempted to smoke. Sometimes these programmes include breath tests to make sure nobody is cheating. The tests measure the amount of carbon monoxide you breathe out.
You may want to get counselling in addition to another type of treatment. For example, if you’re using nicotine replacement therapy, you may also want to take part in group therapy. Ask your doctor about what’s available in your area.
How can it help?
Getting advice and support from healthcare professionals seems to help people quit smoking. And the more support you get, the more it helps. For example, if you’re in a group of people who all want to quit, and you all meet regularly with a nurse to talk about quitting, you may be more likely to be successful than if you just get a leaflet about quitting from your doctor.
Without any advice, about 4 people in 100 quit smoking for at least a year. With advice from a doctor, nurse, or counsellor, about 6 in 100 manage to quit for at least a year.
It may not sound from these figures that counselling improves your chances of quitting a great deal. But the research shows that counselling helps many thousands of people to stop smoking every year.
Why should it help?
Getting practical advice from a health professional about how to quit can boost your willpower. The same goes for staying stopped once you have quit: it helps to get support. Getting advice on stopping from a doctor or counsellor who knows your medical background may make it count more because they can tell you how smoking is harming you.
Can it be harmful?
The trials we looked at provided no evidence that advising or counselling people to help them quit smoking is harmful.
Some patients don’t like being told by their doctor that they ought to quit smoking. A few patients might be so annoyed that they won’t go back to a doctor who keeps advising them to quit. But a study of almost 3000 patients in Minnesota found that they were generally glad that their doctor advised them to quit smoking. This was true if patients wanted to quit or not.
Zosia Kmietowicz in BMJ VOLUME 327 13 DECEMBER 2003 bmj.com