The right way to deal with phobias

I have never been keen on New Year parties. All of that build up only to have to shake hands with a room full sweaty palmed, gin swilling weirdos. Or maybe that's just my family, writes columnist John Cooper.

Saturday, 12th January 2019, 2:12 pm
Updated Saturday, 12th January 2019, 3:28 pm
Dealing with phobias

I keep a low profile on the 31st but I’ve never had a panic attack as it approaches. Yet.

‘Neoannophobia’ is a thing, apparently. It’s the irrational fear of a new year, according to Wikipedia. This is a new one on me, but I’ve successfully treated people who are terrified of dogs, needles, open spaces, heights, balloons, germs, enclosed spaces and dentists. People get scared over things that seem strange or even funny, but that fear is very real to the person experiencing it.

Phobias are caused by accident. To create a phobia, you need three things: a sudden unexpected event, overwhelming fear and the feeling that you can’t escape.

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I had a client with a fear of fish. All fish. Cod in batter. Or in an aquarium. She could not even go into the sea because fish were swimming about.

Through hypnosis, I tracked the cause down to a childhood trauma. She won a goldfish at a fair and took it home in a glass jar. Somehow the jar got smashed and the glass went everywhere. She cut her hand, her mother started screaming, the fish is flapping about on the floor and it’s all her fault.

Twenty years down the line and anything to do with fish triggers that fear. Her mind wants to keep her safe, so it sends out the order to run away. If she does run away, then her mind has protected her. As long as she stays away from fish, she will never feel that awful feeling again.

A phobia is way of protecting yourself. The thing is, it has serious repercussions. It’s not the memory itself that’s important, it’s the way you remember it. You make pictures in your mind and talk to yourself. You probably see terrible outcomes and say scary things on a loop. It happens so quickly that you might not even know what’s going on. You’re probably too busy panicking to pay attention.

When you come to see me, I will jumble up the pictures, sounds and feelings so that your brain can’t process the trauma any more.

I install feelings of calm and safety where the trigger used to be. I’ve helped hundreds of people this way.

A phobia is faulty wiring in the brain and we can put it right with hypnosis. An appropriate amount of fear is nature’s way of keeping us safe. A little bit of caution when stroking a big dog could save us from being bitten. Sweating, shaking and crying when you meet a friendly puppy is not so useful. Re-wiring other people’s minds is quite straightforward to me. If only I were as good at DIY. Give me a plug and a socket set and I’m the one breaking out in a sweat.

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