If you suffer from a phobia you will probably already be an expert on how that feels – your emotional response, and the effect it has on your ability to think clearly and the physical response. In this post I am going to focus on areas to consider and approaches in treating phobias with hypnotherapy.
The type of hypnotherapy I am trained in has its roots in NLP (neuro linguistic programming), which is basically the study of successful behaviours. There are a number of approaches which can be individually tailored for treating phobias with hypnotherapy. Many of them can also be used with clients as NLP techniques without the use of hypnosis – so there is a choice. The fears and phobias I tend to come across the most often are those around a fear of flying, spiders, water/the sea, heights, public speaking or giving presentations at work; but the list of possibilities is long and varied.
Why do we have fears and phobias?
Part of our inbuilt survival skill set is being able to sense and respond to potential and actual danger. There are a lot of “fears” that are arguably sensible to have in situations where we could be harmed, such as poisonous spiders or snakes, heights, knives/needles, etc. But does that level of fear correspond to the actual threat posed? As with so many aspects of life, it is a question of balance.
Sometimes a situation might have genuinely frightened us to the point where we respond strongly to that stimulus, and maybe anything-else that we perceive as being relevant or similar. This can snowball. It might have happened at any point in our lives, as adults or children – we might have felt terrified, unable to control what was going on.
When we are young we don’t have the experiences and resources to draw on that we do when we are older. Being able to put someone-else’s behaviour in context, knowing how to get help or support for example. For some, a little seed of fear might have been sown in childhood, which grows into our adulthood.
If you are a parent and reading this, I imagine that your child may well have sat with you, upset and afraid, and told you about a situation that felt huge, unmanageable and frightening. With your years of experience, and parental wisdom, you were able to offer support and guidance, and to be able to see that most cases, it was not the end of the world.
Healthy well-placed “fear” is a necessary and valuable part of our make-up but when this becomes out of balance, or the reaction to a frightening event stays with us long after we are safe, we can find that we experience the limiting and difficult symptoms of fears and phobias.
Why can’t I just tell myself not to be afraid?
For some they might be able to use positive self-talk and determination and that is fantastic. For many they have tried a number of routes and are still stuck, and may well wonder why. There are a number of reasons to consider and the following are useful because they might help you to become “un-stuck”!
• Our memories, fears, habits, and much more live in our unconscious; the lower part of the iceberg of our minds that sits under the water. This is where our “stuff” lives, and is also a great source of positive resources for personal growth.
• The unconscious does not always respond to logic and factual input from our conscious minds. This accounts for some of our difficulty in changing behaviours around smoking, drinking and eating, etc. We might know and understand all sorts of information on a conscious logical level but still feel stuck in our unhelpful habits.
• Finding ways to access the unconscious mind and update, such as hypnotherapy, creative processes like art or writing, might then be helpful here.
Three important questions to ask yourself now
1. What is good about this fear or phobia?
That might sound like a rather odd question to ask but it is very important to consider because it may be an ingredient in the glue that holds the fear or phobia in place. This fear was generated by a part of you that was reacting and trying to do something useful and important at that time. This needs to be acknowledged and worked with otherwise it will be hard to update your choice and range of responses.
2. Is there any good reason why it would be bad for me not to have this fear?
This can be another ingredient in that glue. For example, when working with a fear of heights, as hypnotherapy and NLP practitioners we would build in a healthy respect of heights, and not aim to “cure” someone 100% – you need to be mindful of your safety and that of those around you. Another example would be a fear of flying and wanting to explore treating phobias with hypnotherapy for an upcoming trip abroad to visit relatives. If that person does not have a good relationship with those relatives, the fear of flying might be serving a “useful” purpose. If that is not acknowledged and in some way addressed, it will be harder to treat the phobia.
3. How much do I want this to change?
Consider your level of motivation – is this a fear or phobia that really limits your life choices and creates difficult symptoms. Are you ready to change? Rate both your fear/phobia and how much you want to change out of ten. Above 7 will usually align with a higher motivation, and if the answers to questions one and two seem unclear, often a practitioner can help you work with these.
The Rewind Technique
I really enjoy working with the rewind technique – you can find examples of the various ways people use it online. Like all approaches, it will not work for absolutely everyone but I find it to be a very useful resource in my practice. It is usually a kind and quick process and can be done with people of all ages, either as a NLP technique or in hypnotherapy. For more detailed information about this process you can visit the websites listed at the end of this blog post , .
My own personal experience was when I was being trained in using this approach during my NLP practitioner training. I was the demonstration subject because I had a significant fear of dental work. It had been getting worse; to the point where I was virtually shaking myself right out of the chair and out of the door. Like a lot of people’s dental phobia it had its roots in a bad experience at the dentist as a child. As an adult I knew that my kind and gentle dentist would not hurt me and would stop if asked, but as soon as my system and its survival instincts kicked in, I was beyond logic as my mind and body responded as if I was in mortal danger.
After having the NLP Rewind Technique I was significantly better, enough for my dentist to notice, and I imagine it was much easier for her to do what she needed to without trying to work on a moving target!
Over the years I have also brought in other techniques to use in the dentist’s chair and whilst I don’t actively relish the experience, I can manage it far more calmly and, as a result, the toll it takes on my whole system is far less.
Other approaches in the mix
Both NLP and hypnotherapy offer ways of working with fears and phobias and part of my remit as a practitioner is to work out which approaches offer the best chance of success.
Sometimes it is valuable to go back in time, to visit ourselves, maybe gain greater clarity and understanding and to give ourselves the resources or perspective we didn’t have then. It can also be very helpful to go forwards in time to work out how we would like to be, the response that we would like to have and explore those possibilities.
We can also use techniques that may help us to change how we “code” the experience and therefore our emotional reaction to it.
I find a future focused approach helpful. Sometimes we need information and understanding about our past. We do need to understand enough about where we have been, but often there can be great value in also actively focusing on the future – where we are heading, how you want to respond, how you want your life to be?
No one therapy or technique will work for everyone with a phobia – each and every one of us is different, how we developed our fears and phobias and their nature will vary. This is not about making any claims for NLP or hypnotherapy but simply to offer some practical and hopefully useful information to help you in finding a way to explore your options.
If you have any queries about treating phobias with hypnotherapy please contact me. You can also subscribe to the Chantry Health Newsletter for updates about my practice and details about workshops. Thank you.
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