A couple of years ago I was having a conversation with a psychologist who admitted Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) was only partially successful with the phobia cases he worked with. He wanted to know how a case of claustrophobia could be completely resolved with hypnotherapy. As I shared the following experience he took copious notes.
I explained that when a problem is rooted in an emotion it cannot be completely resolved solely through behavior modification or suggestion methods. You can’t suggest or reason away an emotion. Behavior modification only helps a person to cope with their fear. It doesn’t free them from it.
To illustrate, I shared with him a client case.
A case of claustrophobia.
The client had been diagnosed with claustrophobia. She avoided any situation which placed her in a closed-in space because any closed-in space would cause her to panic. The psychologist said that his strategy would be to systematically desensitize the client to each specific situation that would act to trigger the fear. And, in fact, my client had already been through this very approach.
After a course of treatment her therapy was successfully concluded. Success meant the client was now able to cope with being in an elevator. What this meant was holding her breath and closing her eyes.
The fear wasn’t gone. She was simply enduring it. Nor had this therapy helped her to deal with any of the other situations she had to avoid in daily life because of her fear. These included hallways without any windows, escalators, and airplanes. Even the back seat of a car was off limits.
The underlying problem is a feeling of fear. No surprise. But feelings don’t come out of nowhere. So, something must have happened to cause her to fear those situations. The question is, what?
Rather than try to teach the client coping strategies to manage her symptoms and behavior, my approach was to simply ask her Subconscious Mind to show us where the problem was coming from. What had happened in her past to cause her to have that fear?
What was revealed held the answer.
The solution to resolving the client’s fear of closed-in places was inside the mind of the client. The approach I used involves a simple, universal healing process that can be applied to any phase of the healing process using the following 4 Universal Healing Steps.
- Find it.
- Feel it.
- Heal it.
- Seal it.
#1. Find it
The first step in resolving the client’s irrational fear of closed-in spaces was to find the feeling. So after inducing hypnosis I asked the client to imagine a specific situation in daily life that would cause her to feel that fear. The situation she chose was her brother’s wedding reception which was held in a hotel.
Unfortunately, the banquet hall was at the end of a long, windowless hallway …
Her desire to be there to celebrate her brother’s wedding was strong – just not strong enough to override the panic that was welling up from within. Her heart was pounding. She was sweating. She couldn’t breathe.
Not being able to attend her brother’s reception was the last straw. And it was this that motivated her to try something as bizarre as hypnosis.
Describing this event brought back some of the uncomfortable feelings associated with that situation. So I then asked the client to describe the first time she ever had a panic attack.
Every client can remember this experience. The fear just seems to come out of nowhere and envelop them. What they don’t realize is it’s not the first time they felt the fear.
The next step is for the client to feel that feeling.
#2. Feel it
Feeling the feeling will provide an energetic bridge to the past. So I asked the client if it would be all right to let some of that feeling come up so we could release it. I reassured her that she was in control of how much she allowed to come up. And she agreed.
When working with intense fear a permission-based approach provides much-needed safety. Giving the client a choice regarding how much of the feeling to allow made it safe for her to feel it.
The easiest way to connect with the feeling is to focus attention in the body. So once I had the client’s permission to let the feeling come up, I simply asked her where in her body she was feeling it.
She answered, “All over.”
“That’s good.” I encouraged. “That feeling is allowed to be there. Where are you feeling it the most?”
To get a clear bridge to the past you need to connect with an actual emotion. Emotions are felt primarily in the throat, chest and gut.
Once the client had identified one of these areas, I asked her to keep her focus on that place in her body. I then asked for a Subjective Unit of Distress (SUD). “On a scale of 1 – 10, where 10 is the strongest it has ever been, how strong is that feeling right now?”
The client reported that it was about an 8.
Anything above a 7 is enough intensity to bridge back on. But I asked her if it would be okay to let it come up just a little bit more to give us a solid bridge.
While focusing on the feeling will bring up the intensity, on its own, the client’s permission can open the floodgates. Her breathing became noticeably rapid so I asked her for another SUD. “It’s a 10” she replied.
This is important. If the client is unable to speak you need to back off on the intensity. This will prevent bringing on a panic attack. Maintain control of your session to ensure your client’s safety.
Regressing into the feeling tracked back to an event in childhood. I uncovered enough detail to find a connection to her fear of closed-in places.
I then tested for the Initial Sensitizing Event (ISE). The ISE is the causal event where the fear got started.
Most of the time the intensity of emotion in an ISE is significantly less than what the client is experiencing in adult life. So doing the healing work in the ISE is much easier on the client.
Think of it as pulling out a seedling by the roots. It’s much easier than trying to cut down the whole forest.
I continued to regress back through earlier events until we located the ISE. It turned out that the problem got started during the birthing experience.
As an infant about to be born, the client got stuck in the birth canal. She felt overwhelmed with panic because she couldn’t move. She learned to fear closed in places. And the fear of being trapped got stored in her body-mind system for future reference.
From that moment on, every time she found herself in a tight spot, the fear would grow a little stronger.
As she got older there were more and more tight places she needed to avoid so she could feel safe. Eventually, venturing outside of her comfort zone would bring on a panic attack. The next step was to heal it.
#3. Heal it
Having uncovered the cause of the fear, the next step was to release the feeling.
Insight alone is not sufficient to resolve an emotional problem. James Hillman recognized this when he said, “We’ve had 100 years of psychotherapy and we’re not getting any better.”
People can spend years, decades even, in therapy. They can tell you all the reasons why they have the problem. The problem is … they still have the problem.
To resolve the problem you need more than insight. You need to release the feelings trapped in the event. So we released the fear associated with being trapped inside.
Fear generates internal stress. And stress inhibits cognition. So, when you release trapped emotions the client will experience a release of internal pressure. As a result she’ll have more clarity with which to report what’s happening in the event. For this reason, it’s a good idea to rewind and replay the event following a release. This will allow you to get more detail.
There are two very good reasons for reviewing the event following a release.
- To test to ensure the feeling is gone.
- To uncover more unresolved aspects.
This will ensure a more thorough cleansing of the causal event. And being thorough will get you a deeper healing and lasting results.
Some of the remaining aspects had to do with the people involved in the client’s birthing experience. There was the doctor and nurses who handled her once she emerged into the world. There was the sense of emergency in the delivery room. And the delay in bonding with Mom. And then … there was Mom.
Mom was where the client had gotten stuck. Both literally and figuratively.
This was not a single session phobia resolution.
The reason this wasn’t a one-session miracle was because it had complexity. Getting stuck in the birth canal cut off oxygen to the baby. This caused epilepsy.
Regression showed that the child had a small seizure immediately following birth. It was mild but it acted to reinforce the fear because an epileptic seizure immobilizes the body. It’s a repeat of the feeling of being trapped and unable to move.
While clearing the ISE will certainly reduce the client’s symptoms, it’s not a guarantee that the problem is resolved. That was certainly the case with this client.
Epilepsy isn’t a one-time occurrence. Growing up she had many episodes. Several were life threatening. As a result, Mom became anxious and overly protective of her daughter.
While understandable, Mom’s anxiety only added to the child’s insecurity. And Mom’s need to protect was perceived as controlling.
Mom was smothering her. Did you catch the metaphor?
As the client grew older she began to resent Mom. By the time she was a teenager she was experiencing rebellious anger. But she was conflicted.
She loved Mom but she was also angry with Mom. And with nowhere to go, the anger got trapped inside, along with the unresolved fear.
When anger gets trapped inside it generates fear. So the initial fear of being trapped, compounded by Mom’s anxiety, now had another source of fear feeding into it. Anger.
There were layers of denial. But once the truth of her anger was brought to light and accepted, she was free to release it.
Releasing the anger restored peace to her mind-body system.
Peace restored her sense of safety. This safety allowed her to finally relax and breathe, again.
She forgave Mom. And then herself. That’s the healing.
While resolving the casual event set her free of the seeds of fear, forgiveness set her free from the past. As a result she was free to go wherever she wanted.
How do I know this? I tested the results. That’s the final step.
#4. Seal it
To test the results, I used Mental Rehearsal, prior to emerging the client. I asked the to client imagine being in each of the situations that, in the past, would have brought on the fear.
I encouraged her to try to find the fear. Each time I challenged her I hammered in a new response. “Try to find the fear. The more you try to find it the more calm and relaxed you’ll feel.”
When the client was unable to find any trace of the fear I then emerged her. She felt transformed. But we weren’t finished.
The only true test of your results is in the client’s waking life. So, following this session I decided to conduct a real-life test.
Proof is in the pudding, right?
I took her outside and opened the door of my two-door Mitsubishi Laser. I asked her to think about getting into the back seat. “How does that make you feel?” I asked.
She said that normally there was “no way” she could ever sit in such a tight space. But that wasn’t the question. The question was – as you think about getting into the back seat how do you feel right now?
She realized she was actually feeling calm.
I then asked her if she would be willing to get into the back seat. I assured her I would leave the door open. If she felt any discomfort she could hop right out.
She agreed and climbed into the very tight backseat of my sports car.
Normally, just the thought of getting into such a tight space would have brought on the panic. But, much to her surprise, the client continued to feel calm and comfortable.
Next, I asked if it would be okay for me to put the seat back up. This would create an actual barrier, blocking her ability to escape.
She agreed. I put the seat up. Still no problem.
I then climbed into the driver’s seat, started the car, and drove around the block with the client still in the back seat.
As we were returning back to the house I looked into my rear-view mirror.
Picture this. The client was wide-eyed, fists raised high, doing a Rocky Balboa victory cheer.
She was beaming!
Several weeks later, the client was able to enjoy a trip on an airplane. Her first ever. She stayed in a hotel. Rode in elevators and escalators. All without a whisper of discomfort.
Her co-workers were well-aware of her claustrophobia. They found it hard to believe that she was free of the problem and challenged her assertions.
One co-worker said, “You mean to tell me if we locked you in the closet you wouldn’t have a problem with that?”
The client retorted, “How would YOU feel if you were locked in a closet?”
She then stepped into the closet and closed the door behind her. “See?” she called out to her shocked co-workers, “No problem.”
So ends my story. Having shared this story with the psychologist he remarked, “I have to admit, there’s no way I could have done that.”
I’m not surprised.
Years later there was a reality series on TV called “Obsessed.” The series followed the treatment of people with different anxiety disorders such as:
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- General Anxiety Disorder
The first portion of each episode was dedicated to showing how each subject was suffering as a result of their disorder. The second portion of the episode showed the subjects undergoing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to treat their issue. Outcomes were sketchy.
Some clients saw improvement. Some bailed on therapy. Some learned to cope. Following a twelve-week standard protocol of CBT not one client was completely free. You can view a brief outline of each episode, client case, and outcome here. In the end, the series wasn’t much of a testimonial for the efficacy of CBT.
Things to consider …
When a client comes to you with an irrational fear like claustrophobia you need to do some preliminary uncovering work. Rule out any serious mental disorders and conditions that are outside your scope of expertise.
Many people turn to hypnosis as a last-resort. So, like my client, the person in your chair has often received medical attention before considering hypnosis. And it didn’t help.
The client is desperate which means they’re highly motivated. But there can be two more problems added to the mix.
Problem 1: The client has been given a diagnosis.
Fear of closed-in spaces carries a diagnosis. Claustrophobia.
A doctor is required to diagnose before he can prescribe a treatment, be it chemical, surgical, or psychological. So he is required to assign a label to the condition. The problem with this is two-fold.
First, the client accepts the label as a suggestion.
Second, as hypnosis practitioners we’re not qualified to treat a diagnosis. That could be construed as practicing medicine.
The label describes a symptom or pattern of symptoms. But the symptom isn’t the problem. The symptom is evidence of an underlying issue calling for healing. So treat the diagnosis as a label.
The label is suggestion that was given to them by a person in authority. That gives it power. Now it’s something “real”. It’s “their” phobia. It defines them.
It has become a part of their identity. That’s a problem.
It’s not merely their own feeling that has power over them. It’s a condition. That makes it a very sticky belief.
That’s a belief that needs to be removed before you go to work resolving the presenting issue. So before you begin addressing the fear remove the label.
You can do that by taking the time to educate the client. Educate the client about how their mind works so they understand there’s nothing wrong with them. Their mind is doing what it was designed to do.
Fear of tight places is simply a fear. Fear of flying is simply a fear. Fear of spiders is still a fear. And fear is a natural human response to the perception of threat.
When you’re walking through the woods, if you confront a bear, fear will get you moving to safety. So fear is a good thing.
Realize it’s there for a reason. Something happened to make them feel that way. They know this. The fear they experience is simply a learned response. And what has been learned can be un-learned.
You can’t change a diagnosis. But you can remove a label. So remove the label. This will give the client back the power to change and make your job easier.
Problem 2: They’ve already been through conventional treatment.
Many of these clients have already been through conventional treatments like CBT. And like the client I shared about here, conventional treatment only helped her to cope, at best. It came nowhere close to resolving the problem.
Even the psychotherapist with whom I shared this story with recognized the limitations of conventional treatment. But when a client has been through treatment without relief, they have learned that nothing can help.
They “hope” hypnosis will work. They “hope” you can help them get free of the fear. But they don’t really believe it’s possible.
Help restore their sense of possibility. Hope is good. Belief is better.
A client who believes that it’s possible to heal will go where you need them to go to find the solution. So remove any doubts or misconceptions.
Remember, the fact that someone else’s attempts failed has nothing to do with you. What you do is different from those other methods.
Tell them why those methods failed. They can sometimes help but complete resolution is not the goal of conventional treatments. Few people realize this.
Hypnotherapists live by the credo that all healing is self-healing.
The power to heal is within the mind of the client. Your job is to guide her so she can heal herself.
You can do that in a very systematic way by using the four universal steps of healing:
- Find it
- Feel it
- Heal it
- Seal it
What’s your take-away from all this? Did you find something that surprised you or got you thinking differently?
Ready to learn more? Check out the Ready for Regression Session course! It’s specific to regression to cause hypnotherapy.