Research shows that those who suffered significant trauma as children are at elevated risk of developing anxiety conditions as adults; simple phobias are one (amongst many) expression of such anxiety.
A simple phobia is an irrational fear of a single object, activity or situation (unlike complex phobias that may have multiple triggers, such as social phobia). The individual who has the phobia is fully aware that his/her phobia is irrational, but, despite this awareness, at the point of starting therapy has been unable to overcome it.
Whilst further research needs to be conducted on the effectiveness of hypnotherapy as a treatment for individuals suffering from simple phobias, several studies have shown it to be helpful (e.g. McGuinness, 1984; Rustvold, 1994).
How Is Hypnotherapy Used To Treat Simple Phobias?
One of the most effective ways of treating a simple phobia with hypnosis is to employ the method of desensitization and I explain the process below, using the example of arachnophobia (a phobia of spiders).
1) A deep sense of relaxation and safety is hypnotically induced in the patient.
2) The patient is instructed to visualize a small spider from a distance
3) The patient is instructed to visualize the same spider but from a closer distance
4) The patient is instructed to visualize an average sized spider from a distance
The final stage might consist of the hypnotherapist instructing the patient to visualize picking a large spider up with a people piece of tissue paper and dropping it out of the window.
The idea is that at each subsequent stage the patient is gradually exposed, in imagination only, to increasingly, potentially anxiety-provoking ‘encounters’ with the spider. It is unnecessary for the patient to come into contact with a real spider.
Throughout the process, the client receives suggestions that s/he will feel relaxed, safe and in control.
When successful, this process has the effect of gradually and systematically ‘desensitizing’ the patient to spiders (i.e .causing the patient to stop responding fearfully to them in a way that is TRANSFERABLE TO REAL SITUATIONS).
Phobias, Logic And Reasoning:
Many individuals who suffer from phobias become frustrated that they are unable to overcome their phobia through logical and reasoned thinking given that they know their fear to be irrational; repeatedly telling themselves the object of their fears presents no threat or danger to them tends not to work which means cognitive based therapies may be unsuccessful.
When individuals try to cure their phobia by logic and reason they are using the brain’s left hemisphere.
However, the benefit of using hypnosis to treat phobias is that it taps into the brain’s right hemisphere and this side of the brain is involved in emotional processing, feelings, instincts and visualization, all of which hypnosis harnesses to help the individual overcome his/her phobia.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).