Hollywood’s Hypnotist to the Stars

All those who I have met who had gone to Kerry swore by his hypnosis. They claimed their lives had changed. Could it be for real?

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

I bask in the technicolor sunshine of a Los Angeles morning. The cheerful brightness of the sun rids the city’s residents of guilt. Nothing can be ugly or bad in California’s golden light. Everything looks better. The guilt of doing something wrong only settles in during the night. And so, on this particular glorious morning, I lit my usual cigarette. I would think about quitting tomorrow.

Smoking has been a part of my life for over a decade. These days I tend to smoke less, a pack can last me three days or so. But, within me there is an internal resistance to the complete expulsion of the habit. I can never completely quit. I have tried the various patches and gum. I have tried cold turkey. A big fear of quitting smoking for me was always the quitting part. I feared the pangs of withdrawal—waves of heated anxiety coasting up and down one’s body. I feared being short tempered and testy with my friends. Recently, I began mulling the idea of quitting smoking—full stop—again. Serendipitously over a later lunch, a friend referred me to Kerry Gaynor: Hollywood’s Hypnotist.

All those who I have met who had gone to Kerry swore by his hypnosis. They claimed their lives had changed. The process was easy. No withdrawal. Just like that.

I was intrigued. Was hypnosis some bizarre West Coast solution, like psychics or mediums? Or was something real happening in Kerry Gaynor’s Santa Monica office? Was hypnosis the solution?

The Kerry Gaynor Method team was quick to respond to my request for the treatment. They promised that within 10 days I would be a non smoker for the rest of my life. Curiosity piqued, I began to prepare myself for hypnosis.

“I simply and honestly believe in Kerry Gaynor’s Method of helping smokers quit smoking… it worked for me!” A video of Martin Sheen greets me on the Gaynor Method’s home page. All the endorsements are marked with an italicized “not a paid endorsement.” There is a celebrity endorsement section, with pictures, videos, and testimonials. Joining Sheen are the likes of Eden Sassoon, Aaron Eckhart, Jerry Ferrara, and Heather Locklear. Below the celebrity endorsement section is the regular people endorsement section. A few names, no pictures and no videos. At the very bottom of the webpage in tiny gray letters: “These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.”

I was initially skeptical. I feared waking up from a hypnotic stupor and thinking I was a completely different person. I was a nervous. Los Angeles is teaming with shamans, healers, psychics, salespeople looking to capitalize on a population desperate for an instant fix. Shops of all shapes and sizes sell crystals, elixirs, talismen, and other assorted amulets promising immediate good fortune. Would this hypnotist be another local conman banking on earnest desperation?

You are two weeks away from being smoke free for life. The promise was irresistible. I have been a smoker for about 10 years. Currently, I have an occasional morning cigarette and maybe a late afternoon cigarette. If I am drinking or nervous, I smoke many cigarettes. However, a pack can last me a few days. I have tried to quit smoking many times. The longest period I had quit for was 1 year.

The Kerry Gaynor Method has two options: one is to be hypnotized by Kerry Gaynor himself in Santa Monica. That treatment runs upward of $800 a session. The other option is to use the videos, which have an 85 percent success rate according to the program. The price for the video treatment was reasonable—streaming the videos starts at $9.99, with a money back guarantee.

I decided to use the video hypnosis. I may want to quit smoking forever, but I certainly did not want to drive the 45-plus minutes from Hollywood to Santa Monica.  

The videos came with specific instructions. There are three videos in the at home hypnosis program. Each video is about an hour long (“in the same amount of time as your favorite TV program you can be smoke free for life”...). The program discourages watching all videos at once—after the first video, the program participant must wait 5-7 days before watching the next video. The entirety of the program is two weeks, and according to the celebrity endorsements, I will want to stop smoking only after watching the second video.

The history of treating addiction with hypnosis is not a new phenomenon. The Journal of the National Medical Association has an entry in January of 1972 issue regarding the then experimental treatment of barbiturate and dexedrine addiction with hypnosis. The experiment conducted was a success: “Withdrawal symptoms can be curbed by direct suggestion and the judicious administration of medication. Hypnosis is needed to eliminate the underlying neurosis.”

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The use of hypnosis to treat morphine and heroin addicts, however, was not a success. As quitting nicotine is often considered the hardest drug to quit, I became apprehensive. The study found that hypnosis only worked with heroin addicts if the patient was: well motivated, under constant supervision, the patient’s access to their drug supply completely cut off, and finally, seeing a doctor one to two hours a day until the medical staff were convinced the patient was completely clean and sober. The hypnosis (in terms of the heroin addict) worked only so much as to make the addict fear needles, and should the addict stick a needle in their arm the effect of the hypnosis would cause the addict to become wretchedly ill. The difficulty of quitting a nicotine habit has been equated with the difficulty of quitting heroin. Would the hypnosis really work?

The hypnosis treatment is supposed to work when the patient has been lulled into the delirious state between consciousness and sleep. The first video (entitled “Start Living”) encourages the viewer to sit somewhere comfortable (either a couch or a bed) while watching the videos, and not to worry if they fall asleep. There is also a disclaimer: No one in the videos is an actor. There is no memorized script. Everything is supposed to be real. There is a man named “Gary” who is experiencing live hypnosis, and represents the video viewer. The video is shot in Kerry Gaynor’s real office in Santa Monica.

Kerry is a petite man, dressed tidily in a sweater and a button up shirt and offsetting a tan exclusive to those who live near the sea. His hair is coiffed. His manner is timid, quiet, and gentle. He sips from a glass and calmly surveys Gary, a large older man seated comfortably in a La-Z-boy chair. The office, in the video, is bare.

Gaynor proceeds to ask Gary a series of questions using a variety of metaphors. “In real life, opinions shift. What if a woman you were dating murdered 25 men? Would your opinion of her shift?” Although usually very dramatic hypotheticals, the effect of Gaynor’s words is logical and rational. In terms of addiction, one must be blunt and speak the truth. Gaynor’s rhythm of speech is never loud, and is never unkind. He speaks like a kindly therapist, if that therapist was also a poet. Repetition is key. He asks Gary questions that are answered with an easy yes or no, and Gary must reluctantly agree with Gaynor based on the logical manner in which Gaynor asks Gary questions.

“People are not bringing their power to the table,” Gaynor explains to Gary about quitting nicotine. “The patch doesn’t teach you how to not like smoking,” he continued. Gaynor isn’t wrong. I finish the first hour.

The video ends with a change in screen—Kerry Gaynor’s voice speaking and instructing the viewer to close their eyes as they are now ready for the hypnosis. He counts down from different numbers, lulling the viewer into a sleep, so that he may speak to the viewer’s subconscious. He reiterates the most important points from his back and forth with Gary. Finally, he leaves the viewer with homework after they have awoken from their trance. The first is to meditate every day, and open up emotionally to “face the threat [of smoking]” and to feel the “urgency” for quitting smoking. Between session 1 and 2 is when the viewer mentally prepares to quit smoking. After session 2, Kerry Gaynor’s voice assures me that I will be smoke free for life.

While watching the first video, I became drowsy during the conversation between Kerry and Gary. Kerry’s use of repetition lulled me into a sleepier state. During the second half of the video, where Kerry speaks directly to the viewer, and the viewer is instructed to close their eyes and listen, I tried to fight the drowsiness to listen to what Kerry was saying. Instead, I dozed.

After watching the first video, I found myself fairly smoke free. I went three days without a single cigarette. I felt calm. I had no withdrawal symptoms, and no desire to smoke. Session 2 was much like session 1. It followed the same format of Kerry and Gary having a chat, and then a second segment where Kerry speaks directly to the viewer. I dozed off as I watched it, and fell asleep again during the hypnosis segment.

However, after the second session I smoked 3 cigarettes in one day. I wasn’t sure if this was a sign of progress or not. I rewatched session 2, hoping for different results. I did notice that I was less driven to smoke cigarettes in general. I felt more indifferent to my addiction. I stopped having a cigarette with my morning coffee, purely because I found myself not wanting the taste of the smoke. I was able to drink cocktails without any tobacco pangs. Surely this was progress?

A week or so later, I found myself cruising down the 10 to Kerry Gaynor’s office in Santa Monica on a particularly cerulean morning. Birds chirped cheerfully to each other, and I felt hopeful that maybe meeting with the hypnotist to the stars would in fact change my life just as he had changed Martin Sheen’s and Heather Locklear’s. On my way to Kerry’s office, I realized I hadn’t smoked any tobacco in a few days. I realized—I hadn’t been reminded by withdrawal pangs and pain. It occurred to me that I hadn’t been smoking, and I simply wasn’t interested in smoking either.

Kerry greeted me outside of his office. When I tell him I believe his hypnosis may have worked in my favor, a look of pure elation crosses his face. “That’s fantastic, congratulations!” He means it.

Sci-fi action figures sit atop a tabletop. A sofa, cluttered with papers and boxes covering its cushions, rests against a wall covered in posters: the inspirational kind (sunsets) and also movies (Pirates of the Caribbean). Since Kerry Gaynor is the hypnotist to go to in Los Angeles, I wondered if the movie posters were connected to possible past clients: In addition to smokers, Gaynor also helps actors prepare for auditions with hypnosis.

“What’s the problem with an audition? Stage fright. Hypnosis can be used to help anybody with anything they want to improve.”

But Gaynor’s true passion is lies in saving the lives of cigarette smokers. “So many people are dying,” he said, sipping a glass of water. “Nobody should be dying in the year 2017. We’ve known about [smoking related deaths] for over 60 years now. Nobody should be dying anymore.”

I noticed that during the weeks of actively watching the hypnosis videos—I didn’t smoke. I wouldn’t buy cigarettes, I wouldn’t throw a few in my purse when I left the house (“just in case”), I never had a lighter on my person. And the shift was simple. I wasn’t rude to my friends, or short with my family members, and I experienced no withdrawal anxiety. I didn’t have any negative symptoms. It was easy and effortless. As an initial skeptic, I was surprised by the results. Hypnosis might not be such a kooky treatment after all.

Before I left his office, Kerry told me, “The power lies in the subconscious. As a hypnotist, I can help you connect to that power through your subconscious. And that power can enable you to overcome what seems like a very powerful addiction.”

Whatever force is at play here—hypnosis or placebo effect—so far, so good.