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Overcoming Phobias with Solution Focused Hypnotherapy

Woman walking away trapped in a cage of negative thoughts due to phobias

Phobias are more than just a fear.

They are a debilitating anxiety that can significantly impact a person's life, limiting their ability to live life to the fullest.

Whether it's a fear of flying (aerophobia), spiders  (arachnophobia), heights (acrophobia), or something more unusual like a fear of buttons (koumpounophobia), understanding what phobias are and how they develop helps us grasp why they can be so paralysing and persistent.

Phobias can be broadly classified into two categories: specific phobias and non-specific phobias.

Specific Phobias - also known as simple phobias, involve an intense, irrational fear of a particular object, situation, or activity. The fear is usually limited to the presence of the specific trigger.

Woman scared of spider held in hand - overcome arachnophobia phobia

Examples of this include:

  • Dogs (cynophobia)

  • Spiders (arachnophobia)

  • Snakes (ophidiophobia)

  • Flying (aviophobia)

  • Belly buttons (omphalophobia)

  • Needles (trypanophobia)


A non-specific phobia also known as a complex phobia - involves a more generalised and pervasive anxiety that is not limited to a single specific object or situation. These phobias often involve fear of broader scenarios and tend to be more disabling.

Common examples I see in my practice are:

  • Medical phobia (Iatrophobia) - whether this is going to the dentist or doctors, fear of medical procedures and tests or fear of blood.

  • Fear of vomit (emetophobia) - being sick, seeing vomit, watching other people vomit, or even feeling sick.

  • Fear of heights (acrophobia) - this could involve going up in lifts, crossing over bridges or even thinking of being high up.

  • Claustrophobia - fear of enclosed spaces, which often results in people going out of their way to avoid confined spaces, such as lifts, tunnels, the tube/trains and public toilets.

  • Social phobia - commonly known as social anxiety – this is an intense fear of social situations where one might be judged, embarrassed, or scrutinised by others. This can include a fear of public speaking, meeting new people, or even eating in public.

  • Agoraphobia - a fear of leaving certain environments they consider to be safe (e.g. their home) and avoiding situations where escape might be difficult or help might not be available in the event of a panic attack or emergency. This can include open spaces, crowds, public transport or being outside alone.

So where do these phobias come from?

It’s interesting to note that everyone is born with the two innate fears: the fear of falling and loud sounds. 

This means that all the other fears and phobias we have are learned. We’ve picked up these other fears through our environment – which includes our parents, friends, family and TV.

Our experiences shape our fears as we get older. This means that an early encounter with an aggressive dog could affect how we view all dogs - our brain associates dogs with pain and danger and so it will alert us to this possible danger when it sees one, which can then lead to a phobia of dogs (cynophobia).

‘I know I shouldn't be afraid… but I just can’t help it.’

I hear this all the time. You know that you can potentially hurt the spider more than it can hurt you... living in England means we're quite unlikely to see a snake.... and you’re more likely to be run over by a bus than be in a fatal airplane crash...

Interesting fact: the chance of you, specifically, dying in a plane crash is about 1 in 816,545,929 according to the National Safety Council. To put this into perspective,  you have got more chance of winning the lottery (1 in 45,000,000) than being in a fatal plane crash.

I’ve had clients give me a bunch of statistics and tell me that their fear is ‘ridiculous’ so why is it that we can comprehend the facts but yet we're still utterly paralysed by our phobias?

Neuroscience of phobias: fear and the brain

This is because your fear doesn't come from the sensible, rational part of your brain.

When you’re in a stressful state, your prefrontal cortex – the rational, intellectual part of your brain -  goes on standby. This area is responsible for higher-order functions, including regulation of emotional responses, decision-making and social appropriateness.

When the fear response is activated, the irrational part of your brain is in charge, involving the amygdala, hippocampus and hypothalamus.

When you encounter a potentially threatening stimulus or a stressful situation, the amygdala activates and triggers a fear response. The fight or flight response kicks in and this sends signals from the part of your brain known as the amygdala to the rest of your body to react. Your sympathetic nervous system is activated and stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol, are released.

This causes your blood pressure and heart rate to increase, your breathing becomes shallow and you may feel faint, feel sick and get sweaty. Your awareness is heightened (which is why someone who has a fear of spiders is more likely to notice spiders more than someone without the fear) and that overwhelming anxiety kicks in.

You experience this response as a survival mechanism to keep you safe.

The issue we have is that this fear response can kick in even when you’re not in a life-threatening situation. In the case of phobias, the amygdala becomes hyperactive and over-reacts to non-threatening stimuli.

Remembering the fear

The hippocampus is the region of the brain that is involved in forming and retrieving memories. It works with the amygdala to encode the context of the fearful event and puts the fear at the forefront of your mind. This means that not only do you learn to fear specific stimuli, but you also remember the context in which the fear occurred. This is why certain places, sounds, or even smells associated with a traumatic event can trigger a phobic reaction.

Diagram showing what happens in the brain causing a phobia

How can you eradicate a phobia?

Phobias are complex and deeply rooted in your brain's fear-processing mechanisms. They are formed through a combination of neural activity, learned associations, and individual experiences.

But the great news is that since phobias are learnt, you do have the ability to unlearn them!

While traditional therapies can offer relief, Solution-Focused Hypnotherapy stands out as a powerful and efficient method for overcoming phobias.

Hypnotherapy for phobia - client relaxing during hypnosis

It is a gentle and relaxing process – where you are in full control – and it certainly doesn’t involve exposing yourself to that which you fear.

The process we use will differ depending on which type of phobia you have (specific or non-specific), as well as your overall anxiety and stress levels. Specific phobias are more simple to work with as they can be eradicated in as little as three sessions.

If you have a phobia that you’d like me to help you with, please contact me. We’ll have a confidential chat about the process and techniques we can use, and take it from there.

Feedback from phobia clients:


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