There are many different approaches to treating phobias and the resulting panic that follows and some will be more effective than others depending on the individual.
If you are suffering from a phobia then you could try any of the methods outlined to see which one works for you. Because there are so many different types of phobia, we’ll give you one specific example, followed by another one to see how you can adapt this method to suit yourself.
Let’s take an easy one first – a fear of spiders. To desensitize yourself you could begin by finding a photograph or a picture of a spider and focusing on it for a few seconds, gradually building up to looking a the picture for five or more minutes.
When you feel comfortable with this, the next stage is to watch a film or a video (perhaps a nature program) with spiders in.
You could, perhaps arrange a trip to a natural history museum where stationery spiders are on display and progress to a wildlife centre where you can watch spiders (under glass), as they move about.
The next stage has to be the imaginary scene where you relax and think about a spider harmlessly scuttling around. When you are comfortable about this you can imagine picking one up or placing a glass over the spider and sliding a piece of card underneath it to rescue it and place it in a safe place outdoors.
As you progress you will finally expose yourself to a spider (by expose, I don’t mean that you’ll strip off, of course) – and will be able to pick one up, using either of the imagined methods you’ve previously visualized.
Adapting the Method
The same principle would apply to someone suffering from, for example, a fear of flying or a fear of heights.
You could begin by looking at photographs or pictures of airplanes or a view from a very high building and gradually progress to watching a film of the same object or situation to imagining flying on an airplane or being in a tall building or on a long flight of steps or an escalator (whatever the worst scenario was).
Note: Desensitization when used in conjunction with psychological treatment doesn’t usually involve exposing oneself to the phobic stimuli in one session – it can take place over a number of weeks or even months.
As the name suggests, flooding means being subjected the maximum exposure of the phobic stimuli in order to produce the conditioned response and dissipate any fear. This could be carried out with someone who had a fear of crowds, for example. They may be accompanied by a ‘helper’ who would stay at a comfortable to reassure the sufferer if need be.
Once it was realized that nothing awful was going to happen the fear should subside and the sufferer realizes that the fear is groundless. Likewise, our fear of spiders subject could be given maximum exposure to a roomful of jour eight legged friends until she realizes that she is safe and in control of the situation.
Practitioners of NLP use specific language patterns that communicate unconsciously to the subject. One of their main tenets of thought is that no-one is broken – we all have the internal resources to help ourselves.
A Fast Phobic Release program might involve the subject being asked to imagine the spider as looking quite ridiculous, for example, wearing a big hat and sunglasses, hobbling around on one leg and holding onto the rest, or carrying crutches. This method brings humour into the situation and helps to release the fear.
Another method might be to have the victim imagine the spider on a screen and turn down the brightness, size and intensity of the image, have it float up into the corner of the screen and project a more positive image into the centre. They would then use a ‘swish’ technique to replace any further images of spiders to the more desired one.
Hypnotherapists use different approaches to eliminating phobic responses. One method, known as Suggestion Therapy would be similar to the NLP method, by hypnotizing the subject into a relaxed state and offering suggestions to the subconscious mind that they are totally comfortable in whatever the phobic situation is.
For example, someone with a fear of flying could be directed to find a ‘safe place’ before embarking on a flight. Knowing they can return to this safe place at any time, they would be taken on an imaginary journey, commencing with purchasing the tickets for a holiday abroad, imagining themselves at home preparing for the journey, arriving at the airport, embarking the plane and eventually flying and feeling comfortable about it.
If at any time, an signs of anxiety were apparent, the subject can be taken back to the safe place.
This method aims to remove the original cause of the anxiety by taking the subject back to when the anxiety was initially felt.
One method is to use an ‘Affect Bridge’ whereby the subject is instructed to remember the last time she experienced such fear and trace it back the initial event. Another method would involve setting up signals with subject’s subconscious mind and asking questions about when the fear was first experienced, taking them back to that original event and reframing it or reassuring the subject.
An elderly lady had been afraid of flying for most of her life. Questioning her subconscious mind during hypnosis, revealed that this was not entirely her own fear, but had begun when she saw a photograph of her father, who himself suffered from a fear of flying, having a panic attack on an airplane. This had affected her so much that she ‘inherited’ her father’s fear and made it her own. It was not until, many years later, when this lady was able to see cause of her fear, she was able to release it.
Self Hypnosis and Affirmations
The easiest way to learn self hypnosis is to be hypnotized and receive a post hypnotic suggestion that you will be able to enter the hypnotic state at a given signal. This involves going into a trance state and giving yourself affirmations in the present tense, for example – I feel comfortable in the presence of strangers, I remain calm and relaxed whenever I see a spider, and so on.
The Affirmation can itself be turned into a symbol which the subject focuses on whilst inducing self hypnosis. This method involves creating a nonsense symbol (something he or she will not consciously recognize), perhaps made through writing a sentence on the desired outcome and eliminating all repeated letters and vowels, then combining them into an image of sorts. Because the symbol is illogical the subconscious mind can accept the meaning behind it without interference from the conscious, thinking mind.