Claustrophobia

Written by Emily Whitton
Emily Whitton
Hypnotherapy Directory Content Team

Reviewed by Neil Brown
Last updated 30th April 2024 | Next update due 30th April 2027

Claustrophobia is the fear of enclosed spaces. It can have a huge impact on the lives of people living with the phobia, as many will avoid doing certain activities or visiting places for fear they might have to navigate a small space. Thankfully, there are treatment options available, including hypnotherapy, which can help make it more manageable. 

Hypnotherapy for claustrophobia 

Hypnotherapy is the combination of talking therapy and hypnosis. It works with the subconscious mind to uncover the root cause of your claustrophobia. Once the cause is identified, your hypnotherapist can work with you to help change the way you approach your fear. This shift in perspective can help you move forward in day-to-day life, equipped with techniques to help you manage your reaction to confined spaces.

What to expect in hypnosis for claustrophobia

Following an initial discussion where your hypnotherapist will try to uncover the cause of your claustrophobia, your hypnotherapist will place you in a controlled, relaxed hypnotic state. Under hypnosis, your hypnotherapist can communicate with your subconscious mind and it becomes more open to suggestions. They will suggest more positive ways to approach your fear of small spaces, with the help of techniques such as visualisation, so that you begin to recognise that you are in control of your reactions. For many people, this feeling can be extremely empowering.

Hypnotherapy is thought to be most effective if you approach your sessions with an open mind.

The number of sessions needed to help overcome claustrophobia will differ from person to person. No matter how many sessions it may take, you’ll be on your way to facing your fear whilst the hypnotherapist keeps you calm and relaxed. Approaching this fear knowing you are in a safe, controlled environment is one of the many reasons why hypnotherapy is a popular choice of treatment for claustrophobia. 

Find out more about how hypnotherapy can help with phobias

Therapists who can help with claustrophobia

Understanding whether you may be experiencing claustrophobia can help you decide if hypnotherapy is right for you. 


Do I have claustrophobia?

Claustrophobia is the fear of confined spaces. It’s one of the most well-known phobias, thought to affect around 10% of the population. People with claustrophobia can experience a range of symptoms, from mild anxiety to panic attacks. Because of its symptoms (like with many other phobias), it is deemed to be a type of anxiety disorder. Claustrophobia can present in any closed-off space or, for some people, it might only surface in certain situations, like when being in a lift, tube tunnel or public toilet. 

The fear of confined spaces is generally diagnosed as a phobia when it affects a person’s daily life. If you suspect you might have claustrophobia, speaking to a GP is the recommended first step. They, or another mental health professional, will usually compare your symptoms against an assessment tool such as the DSM-5 or International Classification of Diseases (ICD).

Claustrophobia can prevent people from taking public transport (such as a tube or plane) or visiting certain places. This may significantly limit a person’s social life as they might feel unable to see family or friends. 

Perhaps most crucially, claustrophobia can also have a real impact on a person’s physical health as it might stop someone from getting the hospital treatment they need, due to the fear of having to have an MRI scan. 

Claustrophobia and MRI scans

For many claustrophobia sufferers, the thought of having to have an MRI scan can send them into a state of uncontrolled panic. This might stop someone from visiting the hospital, even if they are concerned for their health. It is therefore important that you seek support for claustrophobia to ensure you can receive medical treatment, should you ever need it. 

If you are claustrophobic and are worried about having an MRI scan, there are some things you can do to help ease your anxiety:

  • Tell the person doing the MRI that you have claustrophobia - they’ll be able to support you throughout the process.
  • Enquire about medications or alternative MRI scans - in some cases, healthcare professionals can offer medication to help you relax and feel more comfortable in the MRI scanner. Some places even have open or upright machines, which can be used instead.
  • Shut your eyes - shutting or covering your eyes with an eye mask before you go into the machine will stop you from seeing the confined space and prevent your thoughts from taking over.
  • Practice calming techniques - slowing down your breathing and shifting your focus to something else in the room can help you ease your anxiety. 

Whilst there is more research needed to establish the effectiveness of hypnotherapy for claustrophobia, research from European Radiology suggests that self-hypnosis in particular may greatly reduce a claustrophobic response for people having an MRI scan.

Read more about how to overcome your fear of MRI scans with hypnotherapy

Signs and symptoms of claustrophobia 

There are several signs and symptoms to look out for if you suspect you may have claustrophobia. Learning some of the following signs will also allow you to recognise when you’re entering a panicked state and implement early intervention techniques to work through it. 

Claustrophobia can cause physical symptoms when being in, or thinking about, small spaces. These symptoms include:

  • sweating 
  • shakiness
  • shortness of breath 
  • feeling sick
  • dry mouth 
  • feeling faint or dizzy
  • numbness or pins and needles

It can also display psychological symptoms, with the most commonly noted claustrophobic response being feeling out of control. Others include:

  • fear of fainting
  • fear of dying 
  • feelings of dread or impending doom

What causes claustrophobia? 

Typically, the fear of confined spaces is caused following a traumatic experience in childhood. For example, someone may have got trapped or stuck in a small, enclosed space away from their parent or caregiver which caused them to panic. A person may be more likely to develop claustrophobia if they have a parent with a fear of small spaces or have learnt from the reactions of people around them. You may or may not be able to pinpoint an experience that might have knowingly or unknowingly contributed to your fear. This is where hypnotherapy can be especially helpful. 

Because claustrophobia usually has its roots in the subconscious mind, hypnotherapy is particularly helpful in treating this phobia as it allows the therapist to safely work with the client on accepting emotional reactions and rehearsing/creating resilience strategies to manage these reactions.

- Anne Millne-Riley BA, UKCP, NRHP, MICHT

How to overcome claustrophobia

Hypnotherapy is thought to be most effective when used alongside other treatments. If you suspect you or someone you know is experiencing claustrophobia, it’s really important that you seek treatment for it to prevent it from inhibiting your daily life. There are various treatment options available so you can find the best approach, or combination of approaches, for you.

Exposure therapy

One of the most common treatments used to overcome claustrophobia, exposure therapy (also known as desensitisation therapy) involves slowly increasing your exposure to the situation that causes your fear to set in. It is recommended that you undergo this with the support of a professional, so you can learn ways to control your behaviour and manage your fear safely. 

Desensitisation therapy is often carried out in a step-by-step way. Generally, your therapist will start by asking you to describe the situation that makes you fearful, followed by slowly increasing your exposure to it through images or videos and then, eventually, facing your fear in real-time. This will always be done at a pace that suits you. 

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

This is a type of talking therapy that aims to challenge how you think feel and act around your phobia. In CBT sessions, you’ll often describe how you feel when you find yourself in a confined space and how you would typically respond. Your therapist will then work with you to try and change the way you perceive your fear. They'll usually encourage you to problem-solve and help you learn techniques that you can practice to allow you to face your fear, rather than flee from it. 

If you’re ready to take the first step in facing your fear of small spaces and take back control of your claustrophobia, you can reach out to a qualified professional on Hypnotherapy Directory. Using the advanced search tool, you can find a hypnotherapist who can best work with you and your fear to help you on your journey.

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