Can Hypnotherapy Cure My Phobias?
The good news is that hypnotherapy can cure your phobias, and help you to lead much more fulfilling lives. It’s important though to make sure that your hypnotherapist has experience and success specifically in dealing with phobias. The search function and profiles on welldoing.org allow you to do this very easily.
However, before we look at how phobia cures work I’ll answer some of the common questions that people ask me about their phobias
- I’m not sure if it’s a fear or a phobia – how can I tell?
- Is it normal to feel like this?
- I know it’s irrational, so why can’t I stop it?
- I don’t know why it’s started – will that stop the hypnotherapy from working?
I’m not sure if it’s a fear or a phobia – how can I tell?
Fear is not just a natural in certain situations, it’s valuable as well. It’s part of our “fight, flight, or freeze” response, and it’s what prompts us to avoid or overcome danger. Phobias, in contrast, are generally learned responses to events and objects that aren’t themselves threatening. In that sense phobias are irrational and exaggerated fears.
The definitions might be important but a much more useful question is “How is this affecting my life?”. Is your anxiety, whether it’s a fear or a phobia, preventing you from achieving or enjoying certain things? Ask how much it is affecting your quality of life - that’s the best test of whether to do something about it.
Is it normal to feel like this?
As a practicing hypnotherapist I make it a rule never to use the word ‘normal’. Instead I’d say that phobias are very typical behaviours and ways of thinking. Estimates of the proportion of the population that have phobias range to as high as 60%.
As learned responses to particular stimuli, phobias are an unwanted by-product of how our brains work and learn. In that sense phobias are ‘normal’ – they are part of the normal working of our brains.
I know it’s irrational, so why can’t I stop it?
Some people are disappointed with themselves, because they can’t use their intellect to overcome their phobia. In fact that’s yet another by-product of how our brains work. All of our sensory inputs to the brain travel first through the limbic system, where we attach emotional responses to them.
These emotions are already present when we start to use our frontal lobes to think rationally about the situation. If we bear in mind that phobias are learned emotional reactions we can see that they need to be resolved emotionally rather than through reasoning.
I don’t know why it’s started – will that stop the hypnotherapy from working?
It certainly isn’t necessary for you to know why or when your phobia started or worsened. As we will see, there are techniques that don’t need you to look back at all. Instead they focus on how you are now, and how you want to be in the future.
Now that you’ve chosen your specialist hypnotherapist, and your questions have been answered, what can you expect in the session? Broadly there are three techniques that tend to be used when dealing with phobias.
- Rewind technique
Regression involves you being taken back in time to the point where your phobia was triggered. The aim in this approach is to allow you to re-experience this event safely. This might include imagining your older self accompanying your younger self while they re-experience the event.
If you cannot remember a specific event then the therapist has choice. They can take you back to the first time you can remember feeling that phobia, or they can ask your subconscious to search for and reveal that triggering event. Sometimes people ask to find out the triggering event because they believe that alone will clear their phobia. Unfortunately, it’s another case where insight into the cause doesn’t result in an improvement in wellbeing.
The first stage in exposure involves teaching someone to achieve a strong sense of positive mood at will. Normally this is based on a memory, or a fantasy, of a situation where they felt whatever they want to feel instead of phobic. This might be calm, strong, relaxed, confident, or many other states. We teach people a very simple technique to invoke this state using an anchor – a word or gesture of their choice.
Once the person is confident that they can attain this state at will we start to expose them to the phobia through mental rehearsal. Normally we start at the lowest point – for instance in fear of flying that might be when looking through holiday brochures and feeling slight apprehension.
Using the ‘anchor’ the person learns to dissipate this apprehension and feel how they wish to. With this established we move onto the next point – perhaps booking the flights online. The same technique is repeated through the entire process, systematically reducing cumulative stress. In this way people learn to expect to feel fine and so behave appropriately instead of phobically.
The rewind technique is a very popular NLP technique. It’s popular because it doesn’t require hypnosis, and because it can have instantaneous results. It involves the person imagining themselves sat in the projection room of a cinema, looking at themselves simultaneously sat in the front row. On the screen is a still from their trigger event.
The film then starts to be shown, and is rewound and reshown at different speeds, and in different forms such as cartoons or old black and white films. Once the person feels comfortable they move to the front row, where the showings are repeated. Then when the person feels ready they step into the film and relive the event, but his time with all of its emotional associations erased. With these gone the phobia collapses, giving the technique it’s other name – fast phobia release.