I live in an earthquake zone, but up until today I had never actually had a client with a fear of earthquakes. My client was a young mother who had lived in New Zealand all her life. Earthquakes are a monthly occurrence here. But since the last big earthquake she had been getting more and more fearful. Her anxiety was now becoming a serious problem. To the extent that she was seriously considering moving her family to Australia to avoid earthquakes. Strangely, it was not the earthquake itself she was afraid of, it was not being able cope with the aftermath.
Not an irrational fear
She was very embarrassed about having such an irrational fear. She asked her husband if anyone else where he works was afraid of the next earthquake, and he said no. It was well is the fear is suffering from acute embarrassment.
I said that it seems to me like a simple phobia. She told me that her mother had also been terrified of earthquakes, and as a child, he had been disturbed by her mother's distress. It seemed to me that this might be a case of phobia by proxy.
I told her that as far as I was concerned, her fear of earthquakes was not irrational, although it was unusual. I told her that it wasn't irrational because it was actually based on a childhood fear that had never been dealt with. Something in the last earthquake had triggered that childhood fear, possibly about an earthquake, possibly about something else. And now, every time she thought about it, that childhood fear was triggered back into action. The way to treat her fear of earthquakes was to treat the childhood fear.
Treating her fear of earthquakes
She was easily distressed just by talking about it and so I explained about Gestalt metaphor technique. I talked her through feeling the fear and got her to feel it in her body. I developed it as an object. She told me that she felt something oblong in her stomach. It was black and wobbly and soft and cold like jelly. I asked what she wanted to do with it. She told me she wanted a stamp on it. Gradually, I got her to change the object until it became like a teardrop, but she could not change it any further.
I asked her if she had ever done any baking. I talked about rolling, spreading, flattening, twisting, to seed the idea in her mind. This worked and she said that it had now become like a balloon. I got her to expand it and expand it, until it popped. She then put it down the sink disposal unit.
Then I got her to think about the place where it used to be. I encouraged her to fill it with something nice, like a flower, or a candle, or a child's smile, or something else that she liked. He decided to fill it with the view from her new house.
Replacing the fear of earthquakes
I then deepened her into a safe place, where she had everything she needed, and felt safe and comfortable. I suggested that her baby was there with her. Together they were surrounded, protected, and loved. In that place they were not affected by what happened outside.
Then I added some personal resources for her. I suggested that she was the type of woman who shines in an emergency. The type of woman who takes control, the type of woman who is in charge of herself and everything else. I suggested that she was ready, and in control, and a survivor. That she was the type of person that other people rely on.
Then I allowed her to bring herself back to the present.
That she felt very tired, but now thought of earthquakes quite differently.
I guess we shall just have to wait for the Next Big One to find out.