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Bristol and Bath Hypnotherapy.

Help with Fears and Phobias

What is a phobia?

 The dictionary definition is: -

  1. A persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of a specific thing or situation that compels one to avoid it, despite the awareness and reassurance that it is not dangerous.

  2. A strong fear, dislike, or aversion.

We can elaborate on this definition too. We know it is not a “mental illness”, neither is it a sign of weakness. Phobias affect all types of people in all walks of life.

There are different degrees and forms of phobias. It may surprise some people to learn that phobias can be formed around literally anything. One of the questions I ask my clients during their consultations is whether or not they suffer with any irrational fears or phobic responses. About 60% of people I see will have something they dislike or fear. Of that 60% approximately 50% of those people will name spiders as the number one dislike. I point this out because if spiders trouble you, it may help to know that you’re not alone! Public speaking and social situations follow a close second. It may help others to know that people can develop phobic responses to everyday things like cotton wool, balloons, buttons, or rubber, for instance. The list is endless. If you’ve been worried about seeking help with your phobia, please be assured that these problems are extremely common (approximately 10% of Western populations), and usually respond very readily to a short course of treatment. Most of us will have a natural fear response towards snakes, sharks, heights, crocodiles, spiders, etc…anything which is (or is perceived to be) potentially life threatening. A phobia is simply an extension of this natural defence system to an object of focus where the response pattern is neither necessary nor helpful (and is usually therefore classed as “irrational”). This illustrates that far from being some kind of exotic affliction, phobic responses are actually a very natural part of being human.  

How are phobias created?

You can think of your mind as being both conscious and subconscious. There is a part of your mind that thinks, deliberates, and rationalises. This is your conscious mind….your intellectual mind if you will. Then there is your subconscious mind. Your subconscious mind operates instinctively, emotionally, and automatically. This is the part of your mind which makes your eyelids close automatically when there is an explosion in order to protect your eyes. This instinctive part of the mind can be considered to be quite primitive in its nature since it was the first area of consciousness to develop. Since survival is any organism’s first priority, then the primitive instinctive responses to danger will always override the intellect when the organism (you) is threatened.

Now, if we are unlucky enough to experience an event in our lives which is extremely stressful or frightening, then the subconscious mind can “read” that stress and fear as danger. A connection is made by the subconscious mind in light of the overloaded stress levels that the event or object in view must be something which is life threatening and this creates a template which is then stored in the subconscious mind for future reference. Now, anytime we are faced with a similar situation or object, the powerful instinctive mind recognises (pattern matches) the apparent danger and delivers a powerful fear response designed to remove us, or prevent us from entering, the situation.

This is the panic a phobia sufferer will experience. Sometimes, however, an incorrect connection is made, and this is how people can retain phobic templates around apparently harmless objects. The stress (perceived danger) levels at the moment that they were focused on that object were high enough to create the template, but the source of the stress may well have been something else. The subconscious mind being a non-deliberating mind simply makes the connection between what is in sight and what is being experienced, and assumes that the object or situation in sight must be the source of danger. Once this connection is made, it is difficult to remove it unless you know how to do so, since it is considered to be essential to survival that the template remains in place for future reference. This means that the matter is closed as far as intellectual intervention is concerned. Since the responses are instinctive, they override the intellect (our sense of control), and anyone who has ever experienced these feelings will know that they can be extreme and refuse to respond to rational intervention..

Phobias can also form slowly over time too. A vague concern can become an increasing worry as time passes. The same process of formation applies, but the template here is formed by repeated worry rather than a single event. The subconscious mind responds to what we think. Sometimes, we can create a phobic response simply with the power of our imagination…..simply put… we worry too much! The subconscious mind sees little difference between what actually IS and what we IMAGINE is. So, if we begin with a vague sense of concern about something and then go on to worry (imagine negatively) over and over about that something, then we are effectively sending a message back to the subconscious mind that this is something to be worried about! If it’s something to be worried about, then, the subconscious mind sensibly assumes that it must be dangerous. If it is dangerous, then it requires a response pattern which will ensure that we do not enter the situation…and there we have the fear. A phobia is born.

Considerations

Though clinically, one can speak of all kinds of phobias, I find it helpful to simplify into two broad categories. A “simple” or “specific” phobia is a phobia such as fear of flying, or fear of snakes. As long as one avoids going on an aeroplane or travelling to the desert, then by and large, apart from the inconvenience of not being able to do these things, the phobia has a limited impact on that person’s life. One can easily avoid the phobic stimulus and lead a relatively normal life. The phobia really is strictly limited to one particular area of concern. Anxiety created generally in day to day life by such a phobia will usually be minimal and in most cases can be treated quite easily in a three session programme. (See Fear of Flying-Click here)

Then there are more complex cases. Phobias such as emetophobia, which is a fear of vomiting, can have a major impact on a person’s life. An emetophobe will worry constantly about running into somebody being sick, and this can result in not wanting to or not being able to leave the house. Agoraphobia, which is the fear of going outside….of open spaces and crowds, is common and obviously debilitating. Often these types of phobic responses are advanced and have been compounded over and over by repeated anxiety. In these cases, there is likely to be a high level of generalised anxiety, and it is necessary therefore to take some time to reduce the level of generalised anxiety before attempting to remove the phobic template. Depending on the seriousness of the complaint, one might expect to use between five and ten sessions of hypnotherapy to tackle this kind of phobic response, since essentially there are two jobs to be done here. Often, in a case like this the actual problem is anxiety generally, which has become “focused” on the phobic response, though it may not be obvious that this is the case. Each case must be assessed carefully according to the context of the problem.

Treatment

The good news is that all phobias are treatable. A simple phobia can be easily treated in a three session programme. The process involves reducing anxiety generally, disempowering the negative charge held around the phobic response template (using advanced effective NLP techniques), and then finally, replacing that template with a new image/perspective of the object or situation in question. This is a thorough approach which contains all of the necessary elements for success. If you have understood from reading the above how powerful the imagination can be in learning negative responses, you will follow the logic then that we also use the imagination to unlearn those responses, to learn positive responses instead. Essentially we are showing the subconscious mind that there is another way to deal with those situations which have been a source of concern, which is both effective, safe, and infinitely more pleasant. Your subconscious mind is your friend and protector, but its current belief is that the situation in question demands a fear response to ensure survival. This is a misunderstanding. Using hypnosis however, it is possible to communicate much more directly than usual with the subconscious mind, and we are therefore able to demonstrate that there is another much more effective way to respond!

As outlined above, if the phobia (anxiety) has spilled out into life generally, then it is necessary to ensure that the subconscious mind is returned to a place of feeling “safe” about life again before it will be willing to relinquish control to the intellect as far as the object of the fear is concerned, so here we will need to work on anxiety generally before addressing the template directly. This is also true for people with “simple” phobic responses who are very anxious generally. This is work well worth doing however, and it should be noted that these things cannot and will not be rushed….not if you want to do the job properly.

The information offered here is a basic understanding in principle, but is by no means exhaustive of what we know about phobias and their successful treatment. Hypnotherapy is a very safe and effective way of addressing problems with phobic responses. It is much quicker than desensitisation methods which involve you taking tiny steps to get used to your fear and overcome it by repeated controlled exposure. Desensitisation methods do the same thing that hypnotherapy does but in a much slower way…essentially drip-feeding the message to the subconscious rather than just coming right out and showing it directly. The programme I use is as thorough as one needs to be and includes the NLP techniques you will undoubtedly read about elsewhere, but also has the added dimension of re-framing which is essential for success and often overlooked by other therapies. As with all of the treatments I offer, the emphasis is on understanding, and self empowerment. I aim to ensure that you have a thorough understanding of your problem…..it’s origins, it’s continuation, it’s healing, and of course, most importantly how to prevent similar problems occurring again in the future.

If you would like to come in to discuss your problem with a view to getting started with treatment, then please contact me to arrange a free initial consultation.   

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