Useful interventions for phobias
Phobias are problems that can have a very detrimental effect on an individual's well-being. They are often irrational in nature though some do stem from a bad experience in the past with the object of the phobia.
In this article, I am going to briefly explain what a phobia is and the different interventions that can alleviate the distress they cause. If you or someone you know suffers from a phobia, I hope this article is insightful in helping you understand it better and perhaps consider a way to approach treating it.
What are phobias?
Sigmund Freud compared the unconscious mind to an iceberg with the part that we use in our daily lives our conscious mind accounting for the small part of the iceberg that is visible above the surface, with the unconscious mind making up the vast majority of the iceberg that is submerged under water. The main role of the unconscious mind is to keep you safe and protect you. This in our daily lives may present itself as avoidant behaviour. This is true of how our unconscious minds process a phobia.
In my time spent treating clients' problems, phobias are probably the most common thing that people come to hypnotherapy for. The response to a phobia can be overwhelming and promote anxiety when an individual is exposed to the trigger whatever that may be. This occurs when perhaps there has been a negative experience associated with the phobic object in the past which your brain has logged, and in order to avoid it happening again your unconscious mind then associates all subsequent exposures to the object to be the same as the first to keep you safe.
The other thing that sometimes people mention in relation to phobias, is the fear of the reaction itself, they might be afraid of spiders but it is the anticipation of that dread feeling that they know inevitably will come over them. It is a conditioned response and sometimes can even be learned behaviour. For example, my mum is terrified of wasps and has been for as long as I remember and so am I, often we absorb hypnotic suggestions from the world around us without even knowing it.
The most common phobias that people present with and which I have sound experience in treating are arachnophobia (a fear of spiders), claustrophobia (a fear of enclosed spaces), acrophobia (a fear of heights), and pteromerhanophobia which is a fear of flying. So what can be done about this? Well quite a lot really: here is how I work with phobic clients.
Working with clients with phobias in hypnotherapy
It was taught to me that there are different aspects to a phobia, like cogs in a machine to make it function, and it is best to ascertain through a thorough assessment just what aspects are the most significant.
For example, a person with a wasp phobia may find the sound they make to invoke a slight fear but it is the proximity they can get to you or the thought of one getting close to you which is the worst thing. This is why it is prudent to go through all the different aspects of the phobia and the distress level that results from them and rate them using a SUDS (subjective unit of distress) scale. It is then logical to work through each aspect that troubles someone starting from smallest to biggest.
I always demonstrate the utmost empathy and regard for phobic clients and I want to emphasise that any phobic client I have will always have the utmost understanding from me no matter how small or irrational they may have been told by others it is. It is important to show empathy and understanding not just for the obvious reasons of being respectful but because a person may be ashamed or embarrassed about their phobia. They perhaps have just been told to "get over it" or told they are being "dramatic" which contributes to negative feelings. If it could just be dismissed with resilience then nobody would have phobias.
In certain situations where the anxiety is very high, I may use what is called an anchor and this is a term you may hear if you come along to an appointment and it is a technique to invoke a feeling of reassurance. For example, before formally beginning the hypnotherapist may get you to imagine a time when you felt very safe and calm and get to touch your thumb and forefinger and anytime you feel nervous you will be asked to touch your thumb and forefinger to elicit those feelings of well-being.
In my hypnotherapy practice, I often use a technique called systemic desensitisation. This basically means gradually exposing a person to the thing which they are phobic about and after giving re-assurance and encouragement and congratulations in having the courage to fear their fears bringing the object closer to them. For example, if it is someone with a spider phobia I may get them whilst in a trance to see themselves watching a television programme with spiders then having a spider on the far side of the room, then finally have the spider a few feet from them. This is done at a very gradual pace and with regular reassurance in the trance state.
It is also very important to sometimes take the emotion out of the situation when we are nervous we over-estimate threats and catastrophise but if you take the emotion out of the situation you can see it in its true context. For example, an airport is not a threatening place simply a building you go to in order to leave the country, and planes are by and large not dangerous just another mode of transport and subject to the strictest safety measures. If you can take the emotion out it is easier to see things for how they really are.
You may also want to know that if you go and see a hypnotherapist about a phobia, you may still have a little fear in the end depending on what the problem is. This is basically because in certain situations it is not wise to take the anxiety down to zero. I mean if someone has an extreme fear of wasps you would want a slight amount of apprehension to remain for obvious reasons. This is something that can be discussed in the initial appointment when discussing treatment goals and just what you may want to feel by the end in regard to the issue.
In conclusion, I hope this article has been helpful for anyone currently suffering from a phobia and although phobias can be scary and debilitating for some people, they are very treatable. It is important to know that no matter what you have been told before it is a normal response to a stressful event and is your brain's way of keeping you safe from harm however there are many things that can help alleviate the distress and get you on your way to overcovering your phobia and leading a more stress-free life.