What is a Phobia?
We all feel nervous or scared at times. Most of us have certain things that we don't particularly like or that we find frightening. Some people hate getting injections or having blood taken because they are squeamish or have a fear of needles or blood. If they can overcome this fear and go and have the treatment anyway, that is not so much of a problem. If, however, they are unable to have a blood test or a regular flu jab because the fear is preventing it, then it becomes a more serious problem and we would define that as a phobia. I enjoy flying...until the turbulence starts and the seat belt sign flashes up. Then, I get a bit nervous. I don't particularly like the feeling. However, it would never stop me from travelling by plane. Someone else might have such a fear that they are unable to visit family or friends because their fear of flying is that extreme that they cannot step foot onto a plane. That is a phobia. If your fear is interfering with your everyday life or stopping you from doing something that you want to do, you most likely have a phobia.
Signs and Symptoms of Phobia
Some people don't even have to be faced with their fear. Even the mere thought of it can bring on uncomfortable and frightening symptoms such as breathlessness, palpitations, a churning stomach, nausea, sweating, shaking and many other physical symptoms.
I think we all agree that a large, venomous snake slithering towards us would be quite frightening. Many phobias stem from a perfectly rational and useful fear of something that could severely harm or even kill us. Our natural instincts kick in and we feel all the physical symptoms of that fight or flight response brought on by adrenaline. It is normal and perfectly natural to want to save yourself from the threat of death. Phobias, however, are described as irrational because there is usually no actual danger attached to them. The person with the phobia knows that the object or situation creating their fear cannot possibly hurt them, yet they cannot control their body's response.
What Causes a Phobia?
Most phobias start in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood. It is unusual to develop a phobia over the age of thirty, although not unheard of. Some fears are actually learned from parents. If, for example, you witness your mother breaking down every time she sees a spider, that fear is likely to be passed on to you. Other phobias start with a traumatic experience that leaves the brain connecting an object or situation with that trauma. All the experiences from the initial trauma reoccur when the person is reminded of the situation. For example, somebody who has a negative experience while swimming as a child or young person may go on to develop a general fear of water. Some people will remember exactly when a phobia started, others have no idea where their phobia came from. They may feel as though they have always had it, but there is usually an "initial sensitising event" (ISE) which sparked the fear. However, the good news is that you don't have to know where or how your phobia started to be able to treat it.
Children tend to go through phases where they have natural fears. Very young children may have a fear of strangers or separation from a parent or carer. Quite often, as they get older, these fears go and are replaced by a fear of the dark and the usual fear of monsters, in whatever form they may take. Older children and teenagers might fear failure, for example during times of stress such as when taking tests and exams or have a fear of speaking up in class. Most of the time, children grow out of these fears and they don't cause a problem. However, if your child has a particular fear that is really affecting their life, interfering with their sleep or their day-to-day activities, maybe holding them back in some way, then it is important to seek help.
How Does Hypnotherapy Help?
Hypnosis is very effective for dealing with phobias. The mind doesn't distinguish between real and imagined events and the phobic response can be brought on by imagination alone, as I am sure you know. We can tackle the phobia by using your own imagination but all the time remaining in a safe place and keeping you relaxed and calm. By using a number of different hypnotherapy and NLP techniques, it is usually possible over time to deal with it once and for all.
I often use an NLP technique called The Rewind Technique. This basically involves you visualising a screen where you watch yourself watching the ISE and/or the worst instances of the phobia happening again, but this time from a safe, relaxed place as a bystander. We then rewind the event until you are safely back before it ever even took place. We practise this over and over again until you feel totally relaxed when imagining the scenario that previously made you anxious. If this sounds a little too much to cope with we can start with an easier, less anxiety-inducing scenario to begin with and build it up over time. We decide all of that together during our first session when I will do an in-depth assessment and we will start to practise hypnotic relaxation.
Keith Guy and Nicola Guy from The Red Poppy Company say...
"Simply described, the technique works by allowing the traumatised individual, whilst in a safe relaxed state, to reprocess the traumatic memory so that it becomes stored as an 'ordinary', albeit unpleasant, and non- threatening memory rather than one that continually activates a terror response. This is achieved by enabling the memory to be shifted in the brain from the amygdala to the neocortex."
Hypnosis for Phobias
Another technique I may use is Hypnotic Desensitisation. This is a tried and tested method that has been used since the 1950s to help people overcome phobias. It is a very relaxing technique whereby I help you to completely relax your body and your mind before asking you to imagine a situation that would usually provoke the phobic response. However, this time you imagine being in that situation but stay calm and relaxed. We can start with something that only produces a little anxiety and over time, work up to tackling the worst phobic response if that makes you feel more comfortable. We then concentrate once again on relaxation and take you to a safe place in your mind before repeating the process over and over again until you feel completely calm when imagining the situation. You can then go away between sessions and experience something that would previously have made you anxious, to find that the phobia has completely disappeared or is at least a lot less powerful. Most people are pleasantly surprised to find that they experience no anxiety at all. However, if you need more help, we continue with the same therapy on a weekly basis until you are happy that you have overcome the phobia completely.
I may even use a combination of the two techniques. Each client is different and responds differently to therapy. As with all issues, you are always in control and we make all the decisions together. The main thing is that you find the experience as relaxing and comfortable as possible. This way you will get the most success from therapy.
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"Laura has such a soothing voice and her Hypnotherapy and the various sessions I have had with her have been amazing and very effective. I had some Hypnotherapy for fear of the Dentist and the visit was stress free also I had great anxiety prior to going into hospital for heart surgery which Laura helped me with and I have never been so relaxed and confident in myself. While waiting to go down for my procedure I kept thinking the nerves are going to kick in but they never did and the whole process was a complete success. I would recommend anyone that is needing help to contact Laura she is a wonderful Hypnotherapist who puts you completely at ease."
SC from Honiton, Devon
"I am really pleased with the sessions I have had. you explain it all in terms that are easy to understand . You answer willingly questions and give me time to assimilate all the information. I love the relaxation. I have not done any cliff walking but we got camp on the edge of a cliff and it was ok. I had to use techniques learned during our sessions. I would recommend your service to others."
MT from Devon