In April 2003, Goen Seminars ran advertisements in the Florida Times Union emphasizing the power of hypnosis to help you lose weight and stop smoking. The advertisements claimed that their 2 1/2 hour sessions could "transform from a fat storing container into an efficient fat burning machine" and "destroy your desire to smoke" for only $59.99. A NBA star, US Congressman and several satisfied customers all sing its praises. Goen Seminars has an impressive advisory board where PHDs and MDs abound. If you are still not satisfied, you can get a refund plus six bucks! How could you go wrong?
Excuse my skepticism. But things that sound too good to be true usually are. Let us look at these seminars more closely.
According to WFTV in Orlando, the seminars do not live up to their hype. Seminar participants found that hypnosis was only a small part of the seminar. Instead, the main focus of the seminar is selling diet pill supplements manufactured by other Goen businesses. According to one seminar participant, Suzanne Bolle, the supplements that were sold at $450 for a six month supply made her and her husband so sick that they thought that they would need to go to the hospital. Despite the claims of the newspaper advertisements like the ones mentioned above, the participants interviewed by WFTV apparently did not lose weight or stop smoking.
WFTV also interviewed a past Goen employee who claimed that he was not trained as a hypnotist, but was only expected to sell diet pills. He eventually quit because of his concerns about dissatisfied customers like Suzanne Bolle.
In January 2000, the state of Oregon filed an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance against Goen Seminars for making false claims in its newspaper advertisement. The company claimed that its seminars would enable its participants to lose "20-60 pounds in three months, up to 120 pounds in one year" and would "destroy attendees' cravings for fattening junk foods". Goen Seminars paid a $5,000 fine to the state of Oregon.
I might be willing to ignore all of this if Goen Seminars could provide one peer reviewed medical study that substantiates its claims. Despite repeated e-mail requests to the company, it has yet to produce such evidence.
The only scientific evidence provided by Goen Seminars is a 1996 meta-analysis supporting the usage of hypnosis in weight loss treatments.  Meta-analysis is an attempt to quantitatively integrate individual research findings. The Kirsh meta-analysis (Kirsh, 1996) was written to counter another meta-analysis which was far less supportive of the effectiveness of hypnosis in weight loss treatments (Allison and Faith, 1996). The Allison and Faith meta-analysis itself was critical of a previous meta-analysis by Kirsch and others supporting the usage of hypnosis in a variety of clinical situations including weight loss treatments (Kirsch et al., 1995). While I am not qualified to determine which of these dueling meta-analyses is the most scientifically valid, it does suggest the lack of scientific consensus on the effectiveness of hypnosis in promoting weight loss.
One should carefully evaluate the findings of any meta-analysis. University of Oregon psychologist Ray Hyman has argued that the proper usage of meta-analysis is to formulate new hypotheses which should lead to new experiments. Meta-analysis should not be used for conclusions on existing data.
Even if we accept the 1996 Kirsh meta-analysis as the final word on hypnosis and weight loss, we should use caution in applying its findings to the problem of obesity and to the effectiveness of Goen Seminars. First, the mean weight loss difference between those hypnotized and those not hypnotized is only 8.85 pounds. One study (Bolocofsky et al., 1985) included in the meta-analysis does indicates a weight loss difference between those hypnotized and those not hypnotized of 15 pounds, but this does not occur until two years after the start of the treatment. It appears that with hypnosis, you can only expect modest weight loss that would still leave many people obese. Therefore, as acknowledged by Kirsh, hypnosis is no panacea for the treatment of obesity (Kirsh, 1996 p. 519).
Second, Kirsh acknowledged that hypnosis should be used in conjunction with sound cognitive-behavioral treatment (Kirsh, 1996 p. 519). It is difficult to see how the seminars constitute cognitive-behavioral treatment. In the Bolocofsky study, each study participant met weekly with a therapist for nine weeks which is certainly more extensive treatment than what the Goen Seminars appear to provide. The study treatment involved goal setting, techniques to improve eating habits and progressive relaxation. I have quizzed Goen Seminars about this issue and have yet to receive an answer.
What about the 110 percent guarantee? Carefully reading the guarantee reveals that you must take advantage of the guarantee by the end of the seminar. Of course, you will not know if the seminar works until long after the seminar has become a distant memory. By that time, it will be too late.
Finally, Goen Seminars states that its smoking cessation program is patented. The implication is that it must work if it is patented. However, the purpose of a patent is to protect intellectual property. It does not guarantee the extensive testing of the claims made by the patent holder. This is why drug companies spend considerable time and money on medical trials that will prove the safety and effectiveness of their patented products.
As with any unproven claim, you should approach these seminars with caution and consult a doctor before considering any weight loss or smoking cessation program like Goen Seminars. As for me, I will wait patiently until Goen Seminars provides better evidence for their claims
 The reference to this meta-analysis used to be at the Goen Seminars website. However, this reference has been removed and now there is only a 1-800 number to get more information about Goen Seminars. The copyright on the original web page prevents me from making any cached version of this page available to everyone. However, any reference in their ads to a University of Connecticut study supporting the usage of hypnosis in weight loss treatment is referring to this meta-analysis.
David B. Allison and Myles S. Faith. 1996, Hypnosis as an Adjunct to Cognitive-Behavioral Psychotherapy for Obesity: A Meta-Analytic Reappraisal. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 64, 513 - 516
David N. Bolocofsky, Dwane Spindler and Linda Coulthard-Morris. 1985, Effectiveness of Hypnosis as an Adjunct to Behavioral Weight Management. Journal of Clinical Psychology 41, 35 - 41
Irving Kirsch. 1996. Hypnotic Enhancement of Cognitive-Behavioral Weight Loss Treatments-Another Meta-Reanalysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 64, 517 - 519
Irving Kirsh, Guy Montgomery and Guy Sapirstein. 1995. Hypnosis as an Adjunct to Cognitive Behavioral Psychotherapy: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 63, 214 -220
© 2004 Curtis Wolf