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Can hypnotherapy really sort out my phobia?

I have a personal story about phobia. Five years ago, a zip wiring adventure high over the jungle treetops triggered a terrifying fear of heights.

A few months later, and the same symptoms of sweaty palms, churning stomach and fast heart rate were back with me when driving my car over bridges and up heights. I had two options - avoid driving - or get the problem sorted.

Avoidance is the number 1 tactic that most people use when dealing with phobias. For some this works, but for most the reality is that their phobia will get worse over time, and the ability to avoid the situation is not entirely controllable, and can feel exhausting. And some people only have to think about the phobia to feel the symptoms, so avoidance is not an option here.

For me, the logical, rational part of my brain was acutely aware that driving was a necessity. I knew how to drive, but something else took hold of me and I was filled with fear that I wouldn't be able to drive at heights and my feet would simply not be able to work the pedals.

The most known treatment for phobias is called exposure therapy. This is where a therapist helps you confront your fears by gently exposing you to what causes your anxiety, in a controlled environment. The idea is that with time, the thing or situation being feared will become normalised. You've probably heard of the example of a person with a fear of spiders (arachnophobia) having treatment by entering a room full of spiders.

Hypnotherapists do not use direct exposure but rather support a gentler way of dealing with phobias, where the person uses visualisation techniques in a calmer, safer way. This reduces their anxiety which is key to the success of the treatment. Research shows that when a person is in a relaxed state, they are more able to make change by accessing the subconscious mind. In this state, a person is highly focused and more receptive to positive suggestions because they are viewing the situation from the perspective of a detached observer. They can then unlearn the automatic panic response and replace it with a more acceptable response.

The typical treatment for a specific phobia is 4 sessions. Whilst hypnotherapy is not a magic wand that will erase the symptoms instantly, it does give the client a real chance to change the way they feel about the phobia and have control over it. Over time, as they practise more and more dealing with their fear, these symptoms will reduce and for some entirely disappear. A client with a fear of flying may feedback that they actually enjoyed their first flight after treatment, or feedback that the flight was manageable and they were able to watch a film or read a book. Both outcomes must surely be seen as a huge success.

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