This article discusses some of the techniques that hypnotherapists use to treat phobias. It is not intended to be a substitute for attending a well-recognized hypnotherapy courses.
Therapy sessions, regardless of the techniques chosen, should always begin by helping the client to understand that all phobias can be reduced to a learned and (temporarily) habitual fear response to a set of stimuli – the object of their fear. The client will recognize that it is often the anticipation or thought of the object or circumstances that trigger the fear. This is especially true for clients with a fear of flying where the anticipation of the event may last for several weeks.
In treating agents it is important to use the language of 'correcting habits' rather than applying a medical label. In this way a 'habitually fearful' client is more likely to see their phobia as a habit that needs to be broken rather than having a more complex illness.
While there are many approaches to phobia therapy, three are outlined below. Each should begin with an induction and deepening of the trance state.
A regression approach to phobia therapy is based on the promise that unaware of the root cause of the fear (the point from which the learned behavior stems) that allows the client to reflect on and extremely overcome their habitual response. This could have been used successfully with parts integration between the rational and fearful parts of the client's mind to acknowledge the reason for the fear and suggest alternative behaviors.
Systematic desensitisation (in the context of hypnotherapy) is an alternative approach to phobia therapy that uses visualization to gradually expel the client to the fear-inducing stimuli. When the client experiences catharsis, the process of gradual exposure is repeated until the fear response dissipates or is reduced to manageable levels. A client with a fear of flying would be asked to visualize themselves (with as much sensory experience as they are capable) planning a holiday, then looking at the calendar as the flight-date approaches, driving to the airport, waiting in the lounge as The watch the aircraft land and take-off, being called to the departure gate, boarding the aircraft, anticipating take-off etc. When there is a strong cathartic response the client will be placed visually back in the holiday planning to repeat the process as many times as becomes necessary. The session would usually end with future pacing and ego-strengthening to reinforce the client's success.
The Fast Phobia Model is often favored by exponents of NLP and lends itself well to hypnotherapy applications. After explaining the nature of phobia and the client's ability to learn new responses, the therapist establishes the behavioral scenario or strategy employed by the client during the phobic response. One way to do this is using the TOTE model. The client is then asked to replay a scenario in which the fear has identified itself, but to do this in a dissociated fashion by (for example) visualizing themselves watching the events on a movie screen. To emphasize the dissociation, the client would usually be asked to view the movie in black and white. After the movie has finished and the image faded to black or white, the client is asked to associate them into the scenario and to run the movie in reverse and in color to the beginning. For a client with a phobia of flying, the client would now for example associate them into a scenario where they are at some point flying backwards, then find themselves disembarking back down the aircraft steps before walking back to the departure area. The movie is then faded again and the process of association repeated with the movie once again run in reverse and in color. With each repetition, the client should see a reduction in their physiological fear response. The session would usually end with an assessment of the client's ecology and future pacing to evaluate the success of the treatment, followed by ego-strengthening to reinforce that success.
For clients that have identified their phobia with a specific event in their life, such as 'ever since I went on holiday to Spain as a child, I've had a fear of flying', the regression approach could prove effective. Regression to the particular event may prove beneficial in its own right but will at the very least provide a visual scenario as well as evidence of the strategy employed and will hence be of use if other phobia techniques are to be used.
Whilst parts integration will be useful for analytical clients, this may be less effective for clients that are less able to intellectualize or rationalize their fear. For these clients the systemic desensitisation or fast phobia cure are more appropriate.
If you are thinking about becoming a hypnotherapist please take time to research the type of accreditation and quality of tuition you will receive. Attending a well-recognized hypnotherapy training course is essential if you want to ensure you are safe and competent to practice.