Hypnosis for Fears and Phobia: Does it Work?

Our Anxiety Experts

Hypnosis for fears and phobia

If you’re struggling with a phobia, you are far from alone. Around 19 million people in the United States have at least one phobia, ranging from mild to severe.

In fact, phobias are one of the most common reasons new clients come to us. Sometimes they’ve sought more traditional therapy methods to deal with a fear of dogs, water, or heights, but either their experience with that therapy was uncomfortable or their previous therapists may not have known how to approach their phobia.

The good news is that you don’t have to suffer with phobias. While the remedy may not be instantaneous, like you might have seen on TV, help is available.

Hypnosis, particularly when combined with other therapies, has been shown to be highly effective in addressing and eliminating problematic phobias — so much so that it’s surprising that integrating hypnosis isn’t taught more often in traditional clinical psychology training.

What are common fears and phobias?

A phobia is a persistent, disproportionate, and irrational fear of a situation, object, or activity. You might have a phobia of spiders, for instance, or swimming. Your fear might be so strong that you avoid situations where you’re likely to encounter the source — like refusing to go down into basements or up into attics, or opting out of poolside social gatherings.

Phobias can take many forms, including fear of flying, claustrophobia, agoraphobia, elevators, heights, needles and medical environments, or even a can of soup.

A phobia can find its beginning in an unpleasant first experience with the feared situation or object — like a bad first visit to the dentist, being stung by a bee, or having a balloon pop in your face. Other contributing factors include environment and genetics. Children may develop phobias by watching adults react with fear to particular objects or situations.

When you have a phobia, you may react to the source of your fear with intense anxiety or panic. Your heart might beat rapidly and you might have trouble catching your breath. You might start to sweat, feel dizzy or nauseated, or feel tightness in your chest.

When your phobia is triggered, you might feel so overwhelmed that you have a panic attack, even when there is no real danger present.

Even though you’re sure your fear is exaggerated or unreasonable, you might feel powerless as your anxiety worsens, even as you do everything you can to avoid the source of your fear.

These phobias can unfortunately interfere with everyday life and hinder work, school, and personal activities. Phobias can cause social isolation. Along with feelings of embarrassment, shame, and no shortage of self-judgment, it’s sadly not uncommon for phobias to result in challenges with depression, obsessive disorders, and substance abuse.

Trying to dismiss or think your way out of your phobia rarely works. If your fear and anxiety are having a negative impact on your daily life, it’s important to reach out to a trained and licensed professional for help.

What are traditional or standard treatments for fears and phobias?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy are traditional methods of treatment for phobias.

Exposure therapy involves being gradually and repeatedly exposed to what triggers your phobia, so that you become desensitized and your fear begins to fade. Your therapist will also introduce you to relaxation techniques you can use to help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. 

Exposure therapy follows several stages, typically beginning with your therapist asking you to imagine the source of your fear, and then progressing you through drawings, photos, and real-time encounters while employing your calming techniques.

The goal of exposure therapy is to desensitize you to the source of your phobia. This treatment has been shown to be effective, but it can be an uncomfortable process. Understandably, some people aren’t able to tolerate exposure therapy long enough for it to produce positive results.

CBT can incorporate some of the same desensitization found in exposure therapy, with the addition of focusing on your thoughts and beliefs connected to your phobia.

When using CBT, your therapist will help you recognize and address the negative thought patterns that are getting in your way. This approach addresses anxiety related to any tendency you may have to catastrophize or anticipate the worst possible outcome associated with your phobia. You can then replace these unhelpful thought patterns with more realistic and constructive ones.

Another approach to treating phobias is mindfulness training, aimed at reducing your stress and fear. These techniques include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation. Mindfulness can be combined with CBT and exposure therapy to help reduce anxiety levels.

There are also medications that can be prescribed to reduce anxiety symptoms, but these don’t address the phobia specifically and can be accompanied by troublesome side effects.

How effective is hypnosis for fears and phobia?

If you’re looking to overcome your phobia without the discomfort of exposure therapy, hypnosis is a solid option — a 2011 research review concluded that hypnosis is “effective and efficient” as an additional element in the treatment of phobias. When combined with other methods like CBT and exposure therapy, hypnosis has been shown to increase treatment effectiveness.

Hypnosis offers a state of deep relaxation within the safety of your therapist’s office. Imagining the source of your fear in a calm and controlled environment provides the benefits of desensitization faster than traditional exposure therapy methods, and without the discomfort of the traditional approach.

An important element that research rarely touches on, however, is the reassuring experience of hypnosis itself.

Hypnosis is a calming and deep state of relaxation. Unlike more traditional treatment approaches to phobias — which can leave you feeling even more anxious — hypnosis creates feelings of peace and safety and can lower your blood pressure instead of spiking it.

Your knee-jerk, fight-or-flight reaction is reduced as a calmer and more measured response takes hold. Working with a trained therapist, you can also use hypnosis to “try on” more positive and constructive beliefs and to imagine your life moving forward.

With this change of mindset, you can confront your fears, embrace your inner strengths, and reclaim control over your life.

Integrating hypnosis into a traditional approach helps to head off feelings of panic and anxiety. Hypnosis supports the deep work of CBT and exposure therapy while cultivating calm. This not only makes for a more pleasant experience, but also helps you to stick with the therapy long enough for the process to be effective.

In the end, your commitment to therapy and seeing it through is often the most effective path to lasting change. Hypnosis not only makes that possible, but leaves you feeling more relaxed and confident in the process.

Our Anxiety Experts are Clinical Psychologists at NY Health Hypnosis & Integrative Therapy that specialize in combining hypnosis and therapy for issues related to stress and anxiety. To get in touch or learn more about how combining therapy and hypnosis can help you, please contact us here.

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