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Fighting the Flight Response

Two case studies involving the hypno-desensitisation approach
to the treatment of simple phobias

By Karen Campbell M.A. (Hons), D.Hyp. MBSCH (Assoc).
Posted October 2006

In this article Karen Campbell, clinical hypnotherapist with a solid grounding in psychology, demonstrates some of the main advantages hypnotherapy affords over conventional treatments of phobias by way of two case studies involving a claustrophobic and a spider phobic.

Phobia essay

Karen Campbell is a First class Honours psychology graduate from the University of Glasgow where she won the Adam Smith prize as the most distinguished graduate of her faculty.

After many years’ experience in psychology and education research she specialised in hypnotherapy, training with the London College of Clinical Hypnosis where she gained both the Certificate and Diploma in Clinical Hypnosis. Karen is a member of the British Society of Clinical Hypnosis, she is registered to practice with the General Hypnotherapy Register, the registering body for the General Hypnotherapy Standards Council and is a professional member of the National Phobic Society.

Karen is registered with the NHS Register of Complementary and Alternative therapists and receives referrals from local doctors for a range of anxiety-based problems and from dentists for patients with, for example, dental phobia or teeth grinding.

Karen consults from her private practice in Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire and from Glasgow Caledonian University where she is also employed part-time as Research Fellow.

What is a phobia? Originating in ancient Greece, the word ‘phobia’ derives from Phobos - the god of fear.

Possibly the most comprehensive definition of a phobia is provided by Marks (1): A phobia is a special form of fear which is:

(1) out of proportion to demands of the situation,
(2) cannot be explained or reasoned away,
(3) is beyond voluntary control and
(4) leads to avoidance of the feared situation.

The DSM-IV (Diagnostic and statistical manual of Mental Disorders 4th edition) divides phobic disorders into three categories – simple phobias, social phobias and agoraphobia. In simple phobias the anxiety is provoked by a specific event, subject or situation, whereas social phobias are evoked by a social situation and agoraphobia is fear of being alone or in a public place where escape might be difficult or impossible.

What is common to all phobias is that the fear experienced is most certainly real as the sufferer usually feels ‘out of control’ in a particular situation. Phobias therefore can have very debilitating effects on that person’s quality of life as they go out of their way to avoid anything that might trigger it.

Harland (1989) (2) notes that the symptoms associated with the phobic reaction are so common that they their description is in everyday usage: sweating with fear, panting with fear, paralysed with fear, butterflies in the stomach, thumping in the chest, and so on. While we all experience one or more of these symptoms at some time when these become a ‘learned habit of reaction’, when they occur repeatedly in specific situations, when they are maladaptive and unacceptable to the person experiencing them then they have become pathological and must be treated.

Where do phobias come from?

Hadley and Staudacher (1996) (3) suggest phobias that may be the product of:

• severe stress
• a series of stressful or negative experiences
• a fear of fear
• transmission from someone else (e.g. a parent or sibling)
• past trauma

The aim of therapy is never to completely eradicate the fear since a certain amount of fear is usually adaptive since it allows the client to take sensible precautions to avoid danger. Rather the aim is to help the client to manage their fear. This is where hypnotherapy comes in.

What can hypnotherapy offer over and above other approaches?