A client phoned me and asked if I was able to help overcome a fear of dentists. This client has totally rotten teeth but just cannot bring himself to go near a dentist. Fear of dentists is basically a simple phobia. Phobias are created when something dramatic happens to you, that makes you experience a deep and sudden fear.
Your unconscious mind creates a powerful association between the event and that fear. And forever thereafter your unconscious mind does everything possible to keep you away from that situation, or anything that is similar to that situation. If it means that your unconscious gives you a terrifying fear of dentists, then that keeps you away from them, and your unconscious mind has done what it should do – it has kept you safe.
I have dealt successfully with many people with the fear of dentists. It is usually not a needle phobia, it is a generalised fear of being near a dentist at all. When I questioned the client about the origin of this fear in every case it can be traced back to a specific time in childhood. For some reason, the client was taken to the dentist and got spooked. The child did not want some stranger poking round his mouth, sticking needles in, giving him pain, whatever. The child just wanted to get out of there and go home with his mother.
The origin of the phobia
What actually happened next was that the child is forcibly restrained, held down and operated on. The result was a child who is frightened of a strange situation, by strange people, and a link to pain and the knowledge that he can't get away. It is the "can't get away" part which is most important. The phobia is a combination of feeling trapped and knowing that you are going to get hurt. Your mind knows that this is going to happen, and so does everything possible to stop you getting into that situation again.
It is no different from a fear of public speaking. Fear of public speaking can usually be traced back to an incident at school. The child was suddenly asked to say something, said what they thought was right, and then got humiliated by the teacher. The humiliation was totally unexpected, and undeserved, and every other member of the class laughed at them. It's the same combination of pain, unexpected, and being unable to get out of the situation.
The way to deal with the fear of dentists is to go back to the source. Using regression, or other techniques, you get the client to experience the fear in your chair. Then you lead the client through the situation again. But this time you allow the client to feel that they are in charge, that they can control it, that they decide what happens.
When you do that you get rid of the unconscious association and allow the client to react naturally and rationally. The phobia is then instantly cured.
Nothing to it really, when you know how to deal with it.
Gambling is reaching epidemic proportions in Australia. There are pokey machines (slot machines) everywhere. It is becoming a major social problem. There is a constant need for ending compulsive gambling.
I saw a client today who feels that her gambling is out of control. Even on the way to my office she passed the local pub and thought to herself "I wonder if it's open", so that she could go in and play the pokey machine. Last week she put the entire household shopping budget, over $400, into a pokey machine.
When we started talking about it, she told me that the noise, the lights, the high she gets just puts her into a zone. As long as she has money, she just keeps putting it in to stay in the zone. She said that she feels she is spiralling out of control.
Source of the compulsive gambling
In my experience gambling is always an aspect of anxiety.
I started asking her what it was that she was trying to avoid by gambling, and she told me that she was having troubles with her job, her marriage, and felt that she was failing her daughter. I asked her if she had always been anxious. She told me that since she was 11 she has been pulling her eyelashes, and goes through periods of trichotillomania. And to my surprise, took off her hat, to show that she was near bald.
She was clearly unhappy. So I asked her about her childhood. She told me that she grew up on a farm. She said that she had a very happy childhood. When someone tells me that a happy childhood, my heart fails, because usually they are deluding themselves. They would not be sitting in my chair if they had had a happy childhood.
I started asking about growing up, and it turned out that for her mother she was never good enough. Her mother was a perfectionist, her father was always working. Her sister was always academically bright. So she never felt good enough.
When she was 15 years old her father lost his job, and that was when the anxiety started.
To me the suggested that her mother had anxiety, and her father had some sort of need to be always busy. I asked her she had ever been diagnosed with depression and she said she'd been on pills for 20 years.
Digging deeper revealed a history of failed relationships, single mom, unsuitable relationships with married men. All of these suggested to me that her basic problem was insecurity.
I think that her gambling puts her into the zone where she can forget all her worries. Her unconscious mind is driving her to do that because it doesn't have any other way of dealing with her overwhelming feeling of not being good enough.
Her gambling binge had only been going on for six months.
Six months ago, she and her husband went to a bar, for no particular reason put some money into a pokey machine, and won $900. This was a godsend and got them out of a financial problem. In her unconscious mind, she associated ending her problems with winning on the pokies. She started using them occasionally, and then continuously.
The solution to compulsive gambling
The solution was to deal with the anxiety. I asked her to relax, and breathe deeply. Then I got her to focus on her own feelings of insecurity, anxiety, and inadequacy. It was immediately obvious that she had found the feeling so I began to develop it as a metaphor. I helped her to develop it into an object. It was a grey object like a brain. I encouraged her to think about how it might change, and gave her suggestions as to how to do that.
She transformed into a very small green thing that she felt good about. I got her to take that somewhere outside where it could grow and flourish. Then I got her to fill the space where the brain thing had been with something nice. She chose her daughters smile to fill it with.
I use that feeling to fill the whole of her mind with a feeling of contentment. Then I use that new feeling to go fishing for the anxiety deep inside. I suggested that her mind had found the source of the anxiety, lifted it out of where it had been hiding, and destroyed it.
I then brought her back to the present.
She said to me that she felt as though she had been asleep for hours. She said she felt such a relief. And she was now ready to go back and get her life back on track.
Occasionally I get a client who gives me a wonderful example of how people naturally use embodied metaphor. In hypnotherapy, metaphors are usually discussed only as parts of speech. Metaphors are seldom discussed when they represents an embodied feeling. This is a case of using a personalised embodied metaphor to stop smoking.
I had a smoking client this morning who told me that she can stop smoking OK, but something always makes her start again. It's like this thing on her shoulder constantly egging her on to smoke. As the days and weeks go by of not smoking, it gets stronger and stronger until she just has to give in and have a smoke.
This kind of personalised embodied metaphor has always intrigued me. For some reason, I have always been attracted to metaphor therapy. I like the visual element to it, and I like the way metaphor therapy can remove even the most stubborn unconscious behaviour. In this case I did not have a client after this one, so I felt I had some spare time to experiment.
Developing a personalised embodied metaphor
I began the induction by asking the client to take three deep breaths. Then I stopped the induction and asked her to become aware of the thing on her shoulder. I got her to think about this feeling of smoking, this thing that was always on her shoulder when she stopped. I talked about noticing its colour, size, and how it felt physically on her shoulder.
Even after only three deep breaths, she was clearly in a light trance. She began to describe the thing that appeared on her shoulder. She described it as being a brown mass. Then she said there was white. She said it is tall. I asked how big it was. She told me "about the size of my finger". I asked what it looked like. She said "it's a cigarette", like I was an idiot.
This completely surprised me. Metaphors are usually just that, a metaphor. In other words, something that represents something else. This woman was experiencing it as the thing itself. Usually when I do this exercise I find an imp, or something like a gargoyle, something that represents an evil spirit of some sort. This woman was visualising just a cigarette with a filter tip.
Using the personalised embodied metaphor to stop smoking
However, a metaphor is a metaphor, so I just went with what she gave me. I asked her to confirm that this represented her feeling of needing to smoke, of having to smoke. She said, "Yes, that's what it is". So I asked her what she would like to have happen to it.
She said "I want to break it up into little bits". I told her to do that. I then asked "And what is happening now to that thing?". She said "It is scattered on the ground". I then encouraged her to squish it all into the ground, to utterly destroy the cigarette.
Then I went over it all again. I used the suggestion that any time in the future when she might feel like starting smoking again, she would become immediately aware of this thing on her shoulder. She would reach up, break it into little pieces, scatter it on the ground, and utterly destroy it.
I brought her back out of trance, and we discussed it. She said "I don't quite know why, but I feel that I'm in control of it now".
Metaphor therapy can be quite amazing. Fast, flexible and powerful.