What are fears & phobias?
A phobia is an irrational fear, literally a fear without good reason, or a fear of something that may not happen. People with phobias often experience unwanted responses to animals, objects, insects, actions or places.
This physical response is known as a stress response; people often describe their reaction to something as being “paralysed with fear” or “having butterflies in my stomach”, “just wanting to run away” from whatever is triggering the response.
People with phobias often know their response is irrational, which makes it harder to accept. “Why am I reacting like this when I know it can’t hurt me?” is something most hypnotherapists hear from a client who has come to see them for treating a phobia.
Phobias are far more common than many people realise. It is estimated that more than 11% of the population have some kind of irrational fear.
Generally people manage their phobia on a day-to-day basis and only seek help from a hypnotherapist when it prevents them doing something they want to do, or when they know a situation will force them to face it. People are also aware of the possibility of unconsciously passing on their phobias to their children, who learn from their behaviour.
People often say to a hypnotherapist, “you’re my last resort” or “my final hope”. The most common phobias seen by hypnotherapists are:
- Fear of flying
- Fear of sickness (often linked to social phobias)
- Fear of insects
- Fear of heights
- Fear of needles
- Fear of dentists
- Fear of Pregnancy
- Fear of water
One of the hardest fears to resolve is a fear of clowns. But even for this, hypnotherapy has been widely successful.
How do people get phobias?
An irrational fear of something is a learned behaviour, sometimes from a parent or a respected friend or relative. It is part of the body’s natural defence system: often phobias are exaggerated fears of evolutionary memories; imprints on our brains that help protect us through caution, making us innately aware of something that could harm us.
For example, we know there are poisonous spiders in the world that can hurt us and even kill us, so we have an awareness of that on a primal level. However, a house spider in the UK is completely harmless. A person with a phobia is unable to make this differentiation.
As a small child we learn about fears from our parents, as they teach us (consciously and unconsciously) how to live and relate to the world around us. If you see your parent being frightened of a spider, your instinctive response and the message hardwired to your brain is that this is a threat and can harm you too.
Over time, when you see a spider that message is reinforced, so it is exposure to that fear which compounds it and makes it worse.
How do you treat phobias?
Generally, the solution is to see that phobia in a different context starting from an objective perspective and then gradually building up exposure from a minimal to comfortable level.
Using hypnosis this can be done rapidly as the unconscious is able to process information more effectively without the interference of the critical mind. This is a known as desensitisation.
Often phobias can be treated in just one session. There is, however, no guarantee as change depends on the individual’s willingness to embrace it. Most therapists will therefore give you a realistic expectation of how long treatment may last.
Each hypnotherapist may use a slightly different approach to treating phobias depending on whether you know when the phobia first started, how you view it and how receptive you are to change.
What will a session be like?
Your hypnotherapist will probably evaluate the level of your phobia and then use a combination of techniques to help you resolve it, gradually building up your confidence and your ability to stay calm when you are confronted with your phobia.
It may be hard to believe, but in just one session you could be able to hold a spider in a transparent container on your lap, maybe even hold it or see one cross the floor in front of you when previously you may have run screaming out of the room at the sight of one.