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How hypnotherapy helped overcome a fear of flying - case study

Alan (not his real name) was a successful executive whose work involved regular flights to all parts of the world. He’d never been a confident flyer but had devised various coping strategies which had proved reasonably effective. Then, on a flight to Moscow, he had a panic attack on the plane just as the door was being locked shut. Alan was so distressed that both he and his luggage had to be removed from the plane - much to the annoyance of his fellow passengers who were seriously delayed by proceedings. 

Whilst Alan’s employers were fairly understanding on this occasion, their patience was stretched when, before his next overseas trip, he had a panic attack in the departure lounge and was unable to board the plane. His bosses insisted that international travel was a key part of his job and asked that he get help to manage the problem. 

When Alan started therapy, he explained that flying was just part of the issue. He didn’t like being in enclosed spaces with no immediate means of exit and had been unable to travel by tube to his Central London offices for years. 

However, after further discussion, it transpired that Alan (without realizing it), was actually okay in some enclosed spaces as long as he was (a) on his own or (b) with a few people he knew and trusted. What Alan was really scared of was not being trapped, but making a fool of himself in front of other people. This is very common. 

Alan was due to attend an important meeting in South America in a few weeks. It was agreed that his immediate goal was to make the flight that would take him to the meeting. 

A cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy (CBH) approach was discussed and agreed, allowing Alan to challenge and replace powerful negative thoughts about being in an enclosed space with lots of people. A hypnotic visualisation technique was also used. This allowed Alan to ‘see’ himself coping in difficult situations. 

Just before his South America trip, Alan met his therapist in Central London and travelled with him on the tube during the rush hour. He had the option to stop at any time. During the journey, Alan practised implementing the strategies they'd discussed. Whilst he didn’t enjoy the experience (who does enjoy being on a packed tube carriage?), he realised he could do it. 

Lesson: just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean you can’t do it. 

The following week, an email was received from South America. Alan had completed the journey successfully and had experienced only mild discomfort. 

Alan had 3 sessions of hypnotherapy and was given a recording to listen to between sessions.

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