The treatment of phobias often has to deal with two aspects of the condition: the physical symptoms; the psychological symptoms. On this page I break the treatment of phobias into three groups:
• Treatment of physical symptoms;
• Non-hypnosis techniques;
• Hypnosis and self hypnosis techniques.
For some of the individual hypnosis treatments, there is a link to a separate page that gives a fuller and more detailed description of the process. Having learned the process, it is then possible to adapt the technique to deal with any particular phobia. However, at this point, I must stress my belief that phobias are best treated by a professional therapist, and that self hypnosis should only be used to reinforce the learnings.
Treatment of phobias - physical symptoms
The methods used to treat the physical symptoms are outside the scope of this website but include drugs such as beta-blockers to reduce the heart rate, or tranquillizers such as diazepam to reduce anxiety (although these are used less frequently now due to side effects and concerns about dependence).
Treatment of phobias – ‘non-hypnosis’ interventions
As with the treatments of the physical symptoms, the ‘non-hypnosis’ methods of treating the psychological symptoms of phobia are outside the scope of this site, but include the following: psychoanalysis and psychotherapy; behavioural therapy (e.g. cognitive behavioural therapy); Gestalt therapy; NLP; counselling; flooding (being constantly faced with the phobia trigger, or being taken into the feared situation until the fear is ‘exhausted’ due to the absence of any adverse consequences).
Treatment of phobias - techniques that can use hypnosis and self hypnosis
There are five main treatments of phobias that can be used in hypnosis or self hypnosis. They are positive phobia replacement; positive visualisation; Hypno desensitisation (SUDS); flooding; regression. Let’s look at each of them individually – on this page I am quite brief, but if you click on the heading for each technique, you will go to a slightly longer description of each technique.
Positive phobia replacement
This is a technique for the treatment of phobias that I have always found highly successful as a therapist, and although it is used primarily to treat phobias, it can also be used to reduce the impact of negative memories or worries about future events. The basis for the process is that when experiencing phobia, a patient experiences three main emotions: anxiety; fear of loss of control; dread and seriousness. The process replaces these emotions by fusing the phobic trigger situation with three opposite emotions: calmness and tranquillity; confidence and control; laughter and humour. Follow this link for a more detailed explanation of the technique.
This is a fairly simple process. In trance (either hypnosis or self hypnosis) the subject visualises successfully being in the anxiety-provoking (phobic) situation. It is important that the subject also experiences the emotions of successfully being in the trigger situation so that the positive emotions overcome any negative emotions. Follow this link for a more detailed explanation of the technique.
using SUDS (subjective units of disturbance scale). This technique for the treatment of phobias is based on the systematic desensitisation approach developed by Joseph Wolpe and used in behavioural therapy. It is first necessary to construct an ‘anxiety hierarchy’ – the
An anxiety hierarchy is based on the person’s phobia and is a list of stimuli on the theme of that particular phobia. The stimulus that might produce the greatest anxiety is placed at the top of the scale (and ranked 100 on the SUDS), with the least anxiety-producing stimulus placed at the bottom (with a score of 0). In hypnosis (or self hypnosis), which has induced a state of mind that inhibits anxiety, the subject is then exposed to the weakest stimulus on the SUDS.
This is repeated until the subject feels comfortable with the exposure to the stimulus, which then loses its ability to provoke anxiety. The subject is then ‘led’ progressively higher up the SUDS, being exposed to successively stronger phobic stimuli, which are treated in the same way until they lose their ability to provoke anxiety. Follow this link for a more detailed explanation of the technique.
. In flooding, the situation most dreaded by the subject is presented in intense forms. When used in hypnosis, the patient is asked to imagine the feared situation while experiencing all the negative emotions that would normally be experienced in the real situation. The imagery is maintained until the anxiety diminishes. When the technique is used in hypnosis the patient does at least have the benefit of being relaxed before the flooding begins, but even so, the process can seem very real to the subject, and I do not recommend that this technique is used in self hypnosis, but rather that it is left to a professional therapist.
[I must admit, that I don’t like flooding as a technique used alone, because of the potential for further traumatising the patient. I have never had the need to use the process in therapy, although in some circumstances I have been able to reinforce the therapy I have used by taking a patient into the feared situation. (For example, after treating a patient with a combination of claustrophobia and acrophobia, which also manifest as fear of using elevators and escalators, I was able to take the patient down in an elevator into an underground railway station, followed by a short journey on an underground train, and the return upward ride in the elevator. Shortly afterwards, the patients successfully undertook a flight to go on holiday abroad!)]
The concept of using regression as one of the treatments for phobias is to take the patient back to the original trigger event – the event that led to the creation of the phobia – and remove any negative emotion from that event. Any learnings are then brought forward into the present. This is another technique that I believe is best left to a professional therapist, rather than being used in self-hypnosis.