Alternative Therapies for Phobias
My client was a young woman who I saw previously about her problem with public speaking and dealing with authority. This week she said she had a problem with dating. Friends want to set her up on a date with a nice man. And she cannot bring herself to meet him. So we started talking about her reluctance to go on a date.
She hates the idea of being forced to do something. I began to explore this idea. "Why do you hate being forced to do something?" "I hate feeling judged." She then told me that her sister once said "I know exactly why you are shy in public".
Creating the phobia of authority
When she was 10 or 11 years old my client went with her school class to the swimming bath. The teacher asked "Can anyone swim a whole length of this pool?". My client tentatively put up her hand. The teacher told her to go ahead and try to swim it. She swam about halfway, then got tired, and pulled herself the rest of the way along the side rail.
The teacher said to her "No, you didn't swim the whole length. Go back and do it again". My client protested that she had done the length. But to no avail. The teacher made her get in again and try to swim the whole length again. She tried and tried, and then said she wouldn't do it. The teacher then said "well, no one else is going to go swimming until you have completed a length."
By this time the whole class was standing around the pool looking at her. All the kids wanted to swim. She was stopping them having fun. My client felt awful. No one else would be allowed to go swimming until she had completed a length unaided. So she tried again, and again, and finally was able to complete the whole length of the pool without touching the side or the bottom.
She got out of the pool and went to the changing room and just felt that she wanted to disappear. She felt humiliated. The teacher came along afterwards and said "Now, don't you feel much better knowing that you have done the length?" All my client felt was resentment.
One incident many phobias
This story perfectly illustrates how incidents in childhood can get converted into adult phobias. It explains the reluctance to go on a date. It also explains the fear of public speaking, and the fear of speaking to people in authority.
Her three problem behaviors are all metaphoric to the swimming pool incident. In the swimming pool incident there was an authority figure telling her to do things that she didn't want to. There was a whole group of people looking at her, and in her mind, judging her. She was under intense pressure, if she could not complete the length, no one in her group could go swimming. And in her mind, they would all blame her. She couldn't complete the length, she couldn't not complete the length. She was being judged by a teacher, and being judged by all her classmates. This is a perfect example of a psychological bind.
One incident, many therapies
What I thought was most interesting about this case is that we had already cleared most of her issues before we knew the actual cause. I had seen this client previously. I had used metaphor replacement therapy to deal with the feeling she had about speaking up in a room full of work colleagues. She had reported back the following week that the feeling of dread had disappeared and she was able to speak freely at a meeting that she had organised. At the second session, she wanted to get rid of a fear of speaking to people in authority. This was cleared by metaphor parts therapy. After the second session, she reported back that she felt entirely comfortable talking to her bosses now.
If I had known about the story of the swimming pool I would have used some form of regression most likely. I am fairly sure that regression would have worked just as well as the metaphor therapies.
Reframing as therapy
Just to make sure, I told my client to close her eyes and think about being back in that swimming pool. I told her to imagine that she is in the water looking up at the teacher. I told her to imagine the teacher is saying "You're not getting out until you do another length!". And then I told her to imagine reaching up, grabbing the teacher by the ankles, and tumbling her into the water, while saying "Now you do the length, bitch!".
My client laughed at this. And I told her that she would never be able to un-see that incident again. This seemed to afford her no end of amusement.
She later emailed me: "Over the weekend I traveled for a birthday weekend with friends. We visited a beautiful waterfall near Napa. As you know, I'm not the most confident swimmer and will avoid swimming over my head. At the waterfall, it had a giant rope swing for the public to do 'bombs'.
I walked up to take a look at the view (its very high). I decided I was going to do the cliff jump. This is by far one of the most terrifying things I've done. Particularly, as the water was well over my head below.
It took me a few minutes to compose myself, but my final words before jumping into the murky green waters were "take that *teachers name*" (or words along those lines). I was with a group of 5 friends who all cheered me on. It was an exhilarating feeling. Now, when ever I reflect back to that terrible instance at school, I'll be thinking of the new (more positive) experience I had."