Why hypnosis can cure social anxiety
Why do you think we have emotions? Wouldn't live be simpler without them? Do we have emotions to give middle class people something to talk about or to provide soap opera writers with script material?
Of course not. As with everything else in human makeup, emotions exist to keep us safe and alive and able to thrive.
Emotions motivate movement
Embedded in the word "emotion" is another word: "motion". Emotions are there to make us move. Either towards something or away from it.
We all have deep basic needs - for warmth, security, love and connection and, of course, food and shelter. We have needs for status, significance, attention and to feel safe in our lives. We need stimulation, to exercise our creativity to learn and produce in the world. Some emotions drive us toward experiences that would help meet these needs and ensure our survival. And other emotions serve to drive us away from experiences or situations which, we feel, would prevent us meeting our essential needs.
But what happens when we get directed the wrong way by our feelings?
You are pulled towards social contact by your needs, and away from it by social anxiety
The "motion" in "emotion" has us moving either towards what we feel we need or away from what we feel we don't want. Think lust, love, anger, greed, hunger - all feelings that motivate us towards an experience. And think about feelings that drive us away from something - fear, terror, disgust.
Hopefully, our emotions get it right and drive us toward what is good for us and away from what is bad for us. But sometimes they don't.
The social phobic both wants and doesn't want social contact. They are pulled and pushed in different directions by their feelings. If social contact was bad for us, it would be great to be terrified of social events because it would be life saving. But a socially anxious person instinctively knows they need social contact at the same time as fearing it; they are pulled and pushed at the same time by their emotions... tricky! And it gets worse.
We avoid what we fear - but also fear what we avoid
One problem is that the more you avoid something, the more the fear around it increases. It's as if your "emotional brain" draws conclusions from your behaviour: "She's avoiding this situation all the time, so it must be genuinely dangerous. So I'll ramp up her fear of this situation even more to make sure she won't go near it."
On the other hand, people can switch off their fear around stuff they should fear simply because they have made themselves go towards it. I'm thinking of the old-time circus lion-tamer calmly putting his head in a lion's mouth, and of those perennial favourites, the human cannonballs, getting themselves fired from a cannon. Not hobbies I'd recommend. The point is that even dangerous acts like these can start to feel "normal" to your emotional brain if you voluntarily and repeatedly do them (the "emotional brain" concludes "This must be safe, else why are we doing it?").
So yes, we avoid what we fear, but we can also come to fear something just because we avoid it so much.
A number of approaches have been tried over the centuries to overcome the difficulties this presents. None are as successful as hypnotic therapy. Consider, for instance, what happens with "exposure therapy" and "cognitive therapy" in the context of dealing with fears like shyness and social anxiety.
Exposure therapy: A step too far?
The understanding that emotions are physical drivers away from or towards something is extensively used in exposure therapy. (1) This approach typically has you gradually having more and more contact with what scares you. So the spider phobic might on week one see a drawing of a spider, on week two see a photo of a spider, on week three see a toy spider, on week four touch the toy spider, week five has them seeing a movie of a spider and week six an actual live spider. This can be very effective if the person can be induced to remain calm through the gradual exposure (sometimes known as "systematic desensitisation"). (It would be easier and faster to use hypnosis and the rewind technique.)
The idea is that spiders need to start to feel a "normal" part of experience, and this is done through forcing oneself to go towards rather than away from; classic behavioural therapy, and probably what the lion-tamer did to get the nerve he needed...
Another kind of exposure therapy takes a less gradual approach and is known as "flooding". Yikes! This might see the spider phobic being put straight in a room full of spiders, with the idea that fully experiencing your worst fear - and surviving it - will put an end to that fear.
So does it work?
Therapy for the therapy
Yes, it can work - provided the person undergoing the therapy is taught to relax deeply. But (you knew there was a "but") I can't tell you how many clients I've had to treat to help them recover from the effects of this kind of therapy when it's gone wrong. These are the ones who didn't get better, the ones who couldn't get past the photo of the spider on week two, the ones who were deeply traumatised by being thrown in at the deep end of having to speak in front of a hundred people when they were still chronically shy.
There has to be, and fortunately is, another way.
The beauty of hypnosis when treating fears
Hypnosis, used sensibly, is the perfect way to expose someone in a safe and relaxed way to a situation they had been avoiding. As far as your emotional brain is concerned, if you have relaxed deeply and felt spontaneous at a party a few times while in hypnosis, this is a sufficiently strong indication that this situation is not dangerous, and that this kind of social event can now be "retagged" as something you can potentially go safely towards - before you've even been to an actual party. Someone who hasn't left the house for years can "leave their house" in hypnosis and "experience it" before they go out the door in real life. The exposure therapy is fully within their own control, in sync with a relaxed mind and body.
When they then "do it for real", it will already feel more familiar and therefore not as threatening. The previously dreaded social event may even, dare I say it, turn out to be relaxing and fun.
It's important to understand here that we are talking about more than just what a person believes.
Feelings and thoughts can be at odds
You can fully believe something is good for you and still fearfully flee from it. You can fully believe something (or someone) is bad for you but still be emotionally driven towards it (or them). Cognitive approaches to dealing with fears often come unstuck over this, as fears aren't driven so much by "faulty thinking" as by more primitive emotional conditioning geared towards survival. It is much easier to access, and modify, these primitive drivers through the use of hypnosis than through reasoning.
When we help someone with social phobia it's generally obvious the phobia has gone the moment they open their eyes, because calm, disassociated hypnotic exposure to the previously feared trigger while feeling completely relaxed has transformed their response. They know it wasn't "real" - but nonetheless a new positive blueprint for responding with calm and being in flow when in social situations has become established in their subconscious. Being socially relaxed is the new "normal".
The new 10 steps to overcome social anxiety course, like all the ten steps courses, has a hypnotic download for each step of the way. This is partly because social skills can be developed and honed during hypnotic rehearsal but also because we want people to experience hypnotic "safe" social experiences before they go into these situations for real. In this way the horrible away from feelings of fear can gently be replaced with the happier toward feelings of pleasure and positive expectation when it comes to socializing and meeting new people.
When depressed teens receive cognitive-behavioral therapy in a primary care clinic, they recover better and faster that teens who do not receive the primary care-based counseling. A new study is the first to look at the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy in primary care for teenagers not taking antidepressants.
Moving care for depression into primary care clinics has been a goal of health reform as experts believe providing mental health services as a component of primary care will improve outcomes. Primary care providers, such as pediatricians, are often the first to identify depression in teens, but until recently, they have had few tools to treat teens.
Prior strategies include asking primary care providers to prescribe antidepressants, and make referrals to mental health professionals, but teens often decline medications or stop taking them before they can have an effect.
Teens may also be reluctant to follow up on referrals to mental health and it may take some time before they can get in for an appointment.
The new study examined a five to nine week program where counselors used traditional cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques to help teen’s challenge unhelpful or depressive thinking, and replace those beliefs with more realistic, positive thoughts.
The program also helped youth create a personalized plan to increase pleasant activities, especially social activities.
The CBT program was successful in helping teens recover faster from depression.
On average, teens in the program recovered seven weeks faster (22.6 weeks vs. 30 weeks) than teens who didn’t participate in the program. After six months, 70-percent of teens in the program had recovered, compared to 43 percent of teens not in the program.
“This study shows that youth who refuse antidepressants can still be successfully treated in primary care using cognitive behavioral therapy,” said Greg Clarke, Ph.D., lead author and depression researcher at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Ore.
“We know from previous studies that when kids aren’t depressed, they do better in school, are less likely to have sleep and substance abuse problems, and ultimately graduate high school more often,” added Clarke.
The research took place from 2006 to 2012 in Kaiser Permanente primary care clinics in Washington and Oregon. Clarke and his colleagues enrolled 212 teens, ages 12 to 18, who were diagnosed with major depression and either refused an antidepressant prescription or initially filled the prescription, but did not seek refills.
The teenagers were randomized to receive standard care plus cognitive-behavioral therapy in primary care or standard care only, which could have included therapy from Kaiser Permanente’s mental health department as well as outside therapy or school counseling.
Researchers followed the teenagers for two years and had them fill out surveys seven times during that period. By the end of the two-year study, 89 percent of teenagers who received primary care counseling had recovered, compared to 79 percent in the standard care group.
Recovery is defined as having no or minimal symptoms of depression for eight weeks or more. These symptoms include feelings of hopelessness, losing interest in friends and activities, changes in sleep and appetite patterns, trouble concentrating, and feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt.
Participants in both groups used about the same amount of health care services, except that significantly more teenagers in the standard care group were hospitalized for psychiatric care.
Mental Health First Aid
Mental health first aid (MHFA) has becoming increasingly popular over the last few years, with the increasing realisation of the prevalence of both long term and transient Mental Health Issues within the community and the decreasing stigma associated with them. MHFA is for the immediate support of people and doesn’t replace long term professional support.
Various 2 days courses are available through http://mhfaengland.org to the public to deal with adults, young people and members of the armed services that may require support.
Issues discussed include;
Course allows you to ;
Early intervention is crucial. You can find out more about how the Cognitive Function Test can help you identify early signs of cognitive decline. http://cft.foodforthebrain.org/
National Voluntary Organisation for people who self harm, their friends, families and professionals.
http://www.harmless.org.uk/ For therapeutic help contact us for a free consultation
Free course on Anxiety, Depression and CBT
https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/anxiety-depression-and-cbt/1 Contact us for free consultation.
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Chris Breen is a Clinical Hypnotherapist, Advanced Nurse Practitioner and Non-Medical Prescriber, Holding Diplomas In General and Gastric Band Hypnosis, He is registered with the General Hypnotherapy Register and the International Alliance of Holistic Therapists, We also have full indemnity Insurance.