Phobias and how hypnotherapy can help
A phobia is an extremely distressing problem for an individual to experience. Often people know there is no rational basis for their fear, but they cannot help but be distressed by it and soon dread the resulting feelings whenever faced by it.
What is a phobia?
Well, it can be described as an irrational fear or aversion to a situation or object. There is a school of thought that argues that people have been conditioned to be “phobic” to certain situations by a negative past experience with the problem initiating a fearful response and the brain applying “one-trial learning”, which means universally assuming that this same response will occur for future scenarios. This school of thought was influenced by a study of an 11-month-old infant in the 1920s and a laboratory rat.
Initially, it was discovered that the boy was not fearful of the rat but that he would get distressed by a loud noise. So every time the boy touched the rat or the rat went near the boy, the psychologist would bang an iron bar. This in time, elicited a response whereby the boy was fearful of the rat even without the loud noise; he had basically been conditioned to be anxious. In some cases, people can also be more fearful of the reaction than the actual trigger, for example, if someone has a blood phobia and the sight of blood makes them sick they then begin to be fearful of nausea coming on.
There is a range of common phobias, all of which are treatable with hypnotherapy, such as arachnophobia - a fear of spiders, acrophobia - a fear of heights, trypanophobia - fear of needles, mysophobia - the fear of germs or dirt to name but a few.
In hypnotherapy, a therapist will often try to find out the most distressing, to the least distressing aspect of the phobia by carrying out a subjective unit of distress scale (SUDS). They will ask you about the various aspects of the phobia, perhaps recalling a recent incident and what you would consider on a scale of 1-10 from slight distress to un-manageable distress for each aspect. In hypnotherapy, you would focus on the least distressing aspect first and there are a variety of helpful approaches you could use tackling the phobia.
In my experience using systematic de-sensitisation is a useful approach whereby once trance has been induced you are very gradually exposed to the fear more and more until they find that it has no impact. This is often done by getting clients to visualise the object of their fear far away then gradually bringing it close to them sometimes into the palm of their hand depending on what it is, all the while congratulating them on managing so well.
The other way is to get clients to view the problem differently to “reframe” it. For example, if someone has a fear of flying get them to focus on the holiday, and how fortunate they are to be visiting another part of the world as opposed to the flight. In these situations visualisation is also very powerful so if someone is imagining the confines of the aircraft and things going wrong, get them to think of the destination and of family members accompanying them on the journey instead and picture what they will do when there, and how they will feel.
If they feel that the seat belt sign going on is a time normally of panic, then that can be replaced with the signal that now it's time to relax as they are going on holiday. In conjunction with hypnotherapy, it can be useful to learn diaphragmatic breathing techniques to slow the heart down and help them relax, as well as mindfulness techniques to focus on the present, instead of catastrophising the future.
The simple approach of building trust and fostering confidence from the therapist to the client is very important as often the person may feel mistrustful, lack confidence due, perhaps to feeling silly or previous bad experiences when discussing the problem. However, a good therapist should instil a feeling that if the problem rears its head they will cope with it and that very rarely, does the worst-case scenario of what we envisage ever happen.
Phobias are a very common problem experienced by all sections of society and as a therapist, I feel it is important to remember that although the problem may seem irrational the fear is very real for my clients and to acknowledge this.
In my experience sometimes people with phobias can be embarrassed about their problem. They know that there is no logical reason behind it. However, this can be helped by a therapist validating their fears, then explaining a clear treatment plan once a thorough assessment has been carried out. A therapist may also highlight that the client may have to initially feel slightly uncomfortable to begin with but that they are perfectly safe. The client can from there, then start to plan - with the help of hypnotherapy - the life they want to lead, free from their phobia.
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