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Phobias — Can hypnosis help me get rid of my fear of spiders and what’s it like?

Question:

I’m scared of spiders.  It used to be that if I saw one, I’d have a panic attack but now even a picture of a spider causes me to panic.  Can hypnosis help me?

Answer:

What you have is a phobia, specifically arachnophobia, the fear of spiders.  While fears and phobias are very similar, a fear is when you get panic attack symptoms that are triggered by something realistic while a phobia is when the panic attack is triggered by irrational and sometimes unknown factors.  Usually, as in your case, the phobia will become more and more easily triggered until it becomes a significant problem in everyday life.  However, for all the discomfort, a phobia is essentially a habit and very easy to handle in hypnosis.  At no point do we bring up the actual feeling of the panic so that the person feels completely safe and comfortable throughout the experience.

Phobias are usually created when someone experiences feeling panicked, terrified, physical pain, or the fear of impending danger and then associates it with something around them, whether or not what they’ve associated the feeling with caused or played a part in creating the negative feeling.  Very often the trigger is only marginally related to the original emotion.  Since you’ve been scared of spiders since childhood, chances are that it’s based on a psychological experience.  But phobias based on truly traumatic experiences, such as abuse or physical trauma are much rarer than people think.  You may have been scared by something other than the spider, saw a spider, and “pinned” the blame on it.  Maybe someone bullied you with a toy spider and you became scared of the toy and not the person.

However, phobias that develop in adulthood are quite often due not to something psychological, but physiological, i. e., due to hypoglycemia or a lack of sugar in one’s system.  This mimics a panic attack and the person associates that shakiness and panicky feeling with something around them.  People skip breakfast or eat poorly, get that panicky feeling later, and suddenly they begin to develop a phobia around whatever they were doing or where they were when the feeling hit them — driving, eating a specific food, or taking tests (when a person is already pretty nervous to begin with).

Ironically, for such a potentially life-disrupting condition, a phobia is fairly simple to manage.  The technique of systematic desensitization allows for the person to feel absolutely calm and then imagine that when they wake up they’ll no longer have any irrational responses to anything.  From then on when the trigger is referred to or seen they associate it with comfort and relaxation and the negative symptoms disappear.  The client is able to think about the phobia trigger and the fear is gone.

It will often take one to three sessions for a phobia to resolve.  A phobia that was produced by a significant trauma is very different since we need to diffuse the incident and all the additional damage it has caused.  This requires more time and may require working in partnership with a psychotherapist.

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