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How to beat medical phobia

I've seen quite a few clients recently, and am working with two right now, with what's called 'medical phobia' - 'tomophobia' to give its unhelpful fancy name: in other words, the fear of surgical procedures or medical intervention. (So bad can this be that I've had to add an image that isn't really illustrating the point. Otherwise, all the tomophobes would have clicked away by now! Let's say she's a professional and leave it at that, shall we...)

So if you're worried about getting your vaccination, or about going to the dentist, or getting a blood test, this one's for you.

And I know how awful it can be. In one case not so long ago, for example, my client's fear in this area was so severe, she was visiting a relative in hospital and fainted, knocking herself out, doing a fair bit of damage to herself and finding that she was now the patient!

Often a person will avoid such procedures until they become necessary or urgent, at which point they're in such a state that they tremble and cry just thinking about it.

Well, the good news is that even severe cases can be successfully treated. I saw the client I mentioned above, for example, for just three sessions, the third of which was to confirm that she was fine. By that third session she'd booked, and had actually gone through with, a medical appointment, and was amazed at how well it had all gone. (I'm not promising you a quick fix in three sessions, though it's certainly possible. I mention this client because it was so quickly and thoroughly resolved.)

What's the secret? What's the magic that a Hypnotherapist can bring that can overcome this apparently lifelong fear? Well, as always, you need to be suspicious of anyone promising magic... unless they're a magician! (I am not a magician.) But while it's closer to psychology and therapy than it is to magic, the effects can certainly seem magical. I'll break it down into three parts to explain how it works. Anything that looks like magic soon loses its mystery when you know how it works...

Part One: Stimulus and Response

Any emotional reaction, not even just a fear-based one, really involves two parts. There's the 'stimulus' - what causes it - and the 'response' - how you react.

Now, when you think about it, anyone with a phobia of any kind, including a medical one, will be extremely unlikely ever to experience one without the other. They won't fail to respond to the stimulus with the response, of course; and they are equally unlikely to experience the response unless the stimulus is present.

Consider that for a moment. The experience comes as a bundle. Imagine if we could prise those two apart, and begin to experience one without the other...

Part Two: Experiencing Control

If someone with this highly unpleasant phobia were asked, 'Can you control it?' you'd get a pretty clear (and perhaps even exasperated) response: No! Of course not! If I could control it, I would do so!

And the reason why the person can't control it, of course, is because they can't face experiencing it. So if instead we create a gentle, calm, safe, reassuring space and very gently, subtly suggest the merest glimpse of the unpleasant stimulus, then what happens? What does the client learn?

Three things, actually. The first is an experience of control. Done in this way, the client is in charge. Too much? Take it away. Bearable? Bring it a little closer. The benefit of that is that now she's in charge.

The second the client learns is what happens first. This often comes as a real surprise, for the obvious reason stated above - they've never experienced the stimulus and the response in a safe, controlled way. The benefit of that is that she can brings skills to controlling the response when it's still at a low level, not out of hand.

Part Three: Bringing Skills

Now you might think that you'd give the person coping skills before getting them to experience the stimulus/response cycle in a controlled way. However, it's only when the person is able to have that experience and know that she'll be OK that she'll actually accept the skills. Otherwise, she'll feel that the skills are unrealistic and pointless.

What are the skills? These take time, but they're to do with dissociation - with getting a little distance between the body's automatic response and what the mind makes of it all; and with recognising that while thoughts are real, they're not reality.

(By the way, this is all not far from two standard oldfashioned treatment for phobias, one of which was flooding - immersing the person in the feared experience so that she realised she wasn't going to die. The difficulty with this, of course, is that it's horrible. The other one was systematic desensitisation. And the problem with this one is that it's expensive and time-consuming. In effect, Hypnotherapy does the same thing as this latter approach, but with the advantage that it's the client's own imagination that does the work. No need for expensive props, and the client can move closer and further away faster.)

Can you do this at home yourself? Probably. You could probably learn cooking, bodybuilding or riding a bike off the internet too, but I don't recommend it. Even more so than with these other things, addressing a phobia is best done with a calm, gentle, experienced guide who can help you through it and can bring something extra if you find it all a little overwhelming. We're social beings, and I know that when I want to work on something I go to a therapist rather than trying to operate on myself.

What's it like? It varies. Everyone's different. But what you can expect is that you'll quickly discover new things about your phobia and your response, and rapidly learn new skills for coping and reducing your fear and anxiety. How rapidly? That rather depends. If you wanted to get fit, you'd need to put some work into it, and the same is true with this. Those that are willing to put the effort in (and I'm thinking of one current client in particular) can expect to see much better results, much faster.

Anyway. If this sounds like you, book a free call and let's discuss it. I can tell you this: these things almost never resolve by themselves. It's not going to get better unless you take some action, and it may well get worse. So come on, let's have a talk and see how you feel about it when we've done so, yes?

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