What is a phobia?
People who develop phobias have an irrational fear and ongoing dread of certain things such as living creatures: dogs, cats, insects; natural environmental situations: lightening, darkness, enclosed spaces, water; events such as flying, dentists and injections, for example. There are others who develop social phobias or agoraphobia and avoid being with other people or going out of the house so that they won’t be caught in a situation they can’t get out of and where they believe there is no help. Those who have phobias may avoid flying, using elevators, driving over a bridge or going out and socializing.
When someone suffers from a phobia, the perceived danger is much greater than the reality of the event. They will do everything possible to avoid the situation while suffering a great deal of anxiety and fear. Phobias that are intense can interfere with a person’s life. Under certain conditions, the person might experience feelings of panic.
These usually develop when the child is between four and eight years of age and may be the result of something very upsetting that happened. The trigger might have been an unpleasant experience in a confined space, which festered and developed into claustrophobia over time, for example.
Sometimes a phobia develops simply by witnessing a family member’s fear. A child, whose mother may have been terrified of dogs, will grow up fearing dogs without really knowing why.
These are considered to be learned fears.
Social phobia and agoraphobia tend to show up later. It is not always clear what the causes of agoraphobia or social phobia are. Some health care professionals believe they are caused by a combination of life experiences, brain chemistry and genetics. They can be caused by a stressful, embarrassing or humiliating experience; a frightening event, or by a parent or member of the household who has a phobia which the child becomes progressively aware of. In my view, they are for the most part, initiated by an inner mechanism that tries to protect the person from some kind of perceived danger.
The most common symptoms of a phobia are:
- A sensation of uncontrollable anxiety.
- A feeling that the source of that fear must be avoided at all costs.
- The anxiety is so overwhelming that when the person is confronted with the source of the fear, he or she is unable to function properly.
Even when the people can acknowledge that the fear is irrational, unreasonable and exaggerated, they are unable to control their feelings.
How does hypnosis help to reduce the fears that surround phobias?
Ericksonian hypnosis is a very powerful tool that reaches the unconscious fear and the source of the phobia. It is important to take a close look at every aspect of the fear and reframe each layer. For example with fear of flying, someone might feel out of control and unable to trust that the air beneath the wings of the plane will support such a large and heavy aircraft. Every bump and movement of the plane may be a signal that the plane is about to crash.
The most important thing that hypnosis can do for someone in that situation is to give him or her the ability to calm down with self-hypnosis. When possible, it is good to discover the source of the fear and reframe that experience. As an example, it is important to reframe the belief that every time the plane moves with air pockets the plane is out of control or in imminent danger. The person needs to believe that the pilots are experienced and in charge. Feeling the plane move in the air is as natural as feeling the road when driving a car. The person needs to imagine that the air beneath the wings of the plane is like a cushion that supports the plane. The client’s use of self-hypnosis along with the ability to access and reframe the fears, gives clients control of their perceptions, fears and beliefs.