Earlier this week, my beloved apprentices and I shared the first project from our new YouTube channel, Your Mindful Place. Most of what I do with hypnosis is rather subjective, because it’s hard to consistently measure something like stress or anxiety. Since hypnosis is so foreign to many people, we thought it might beneficial to come up with ways to demonstrate hypnosis’ power on video. We figured conquering a phobia was going to be one of the easiest ways to do just that.
My apprentice, Charity, had been horrified of snakes as long as she could remember. She was telling my wife the other day that she loves running, but her phobia got so severe that it would keep her from going through parks. She was tired of the power that the phobia had taken over her life, so she was happy to volunteer herself for the project.
I’m fully aware that using people who are close to me compromises the integrity of the project. Anyone could watch the video and say, “She was just pretending to be afraid because she’s his friend.” So I wanted to be sure to explain my reasoning. As a therapist, I feel it’s crucial that I make ethics a priority. There are clients that I’ve had that I may feel comfortable enough to ask to help me with future projects, but for the most part, I’d rather not risk weakening the therapeutic alliances that I have already established by making my clients question my motives or the confidentiality of their treatment. That being said, if you would like hypnosis to help you over-come a struggle, and you think it would make a good demonstration for camera, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. You could get a free therapeutic experience out of the deal.
We did our best not to over-prepare Charity for the experiment. We wanted her to know it was coming, so as not to traumatize her, but we also didn’t want her to be over-prepared for the process. It was important to get a genuine reaction out of her. So we allowed her to know what was coming, but we didn’t let her know when.
When she first walked to the door, I was holding the snake out of view, and our friend and producer, Brittany, was holding the camera. When Charity saw Brittany (who happens to own the snake) with the camera, she immediately knew what was happening, and didn’t want to come into the house. Luckily, my other apprentice (and Charity’s boyfriend), London, was there to calm her down and help her understand that it was time to conquer that feeling.
It was crucial that I had her trust the whole time. While I wanted to challenge her, it was important that it didn’t seem like I was rushing her. Charity needed to know that she was going to hold the snake because she was ready and not because I forced her to do so.
The first thing that we did was work to measure the way that she felt. All emotions are subjective experiences. That’s part of what makes them so difficult to manage. So I gave Charity a few means to objectify her fear in hopes that she would be able to see her progress as well. In the video, I ask her how her fear is on a scale of 1-10 (she understood that 1 meant cool as a cucumber and 10 meant full blown panic). I asked her where she felt her fear in her body, and I asked her if that feeling had a color or a temperature. All of these variables gave her and me a more comprehensive understanding of what was going on within her mind.
Now, the entire video was filmed over the course of two hours, and Charity went from not wanting to come into the house to holding the snake in an hour and a half’s time. We wanted to include enough hypnotic work to give everyone a basic understanding of what was going on, but it would have been too much footage to sit through. Also, I can’t give away all my methods on one video. I would like to fill in the gaps, though.
After I had her objectify her fear, I did the “Color Spin Technique” with her, and brought the snake within closer proximity to her. Then, I had Charity close her eyes and I gave her a few other suggestions that made her more comfortable. I brought her back and told her to remember that comfort, and still giving hypnotic suggestions, she touched the snake for just a moment. I may have been sure to pace her, but it was really important not to rush her.
Eventually, I proceeded to do some deeper trance work with her, much of which you saw in the video. In the visualization that I led her though, she stood on a train track where she had to withstand the force of freight train after freight train that was loaded full of her fear. The point of this illustration was to give her a means to learn to withstand that fear, and in the process, your unconscious learns to sever the connection between the fear and it’s stimulus.
Another technique I used is known as anchoring. When I gave Charity a suggestion that specifically alluded to her inner-power, I touched her forehead. When I gave her a suggestion that alluded to her comfort, I touched her knee. These touches created pneumonic associations to the suggestions I was giving; or if you’d like, you could think of the touches as bullet points in an outline.
The most helpful tool I used for Charity was her mind-body connection. Charity happens to be a yoga instructor, so I used that to our advantage. Whenever she was most afraid she would shrug her shoulders, scrunch her face, and hold her arms close to her body. She was also moving further and further to the end of the couch. As soon as I pointed this out to her, I suggested that she control her feeling of fear by controlling her feelings within her body. When she would relax her body, the fear would almost immediately dissipate.
After she learned to hold onto that relaxed feeling in her body she was able to go from touching the snake, to petting the snake, to holding part of the snake, to holding the whole snake herself. By the time we were done filming, she still wanted to play with this new, fascinating creature. Now, you’ll catch her doodling snakes or researching pythons for sale. Not only does charity now have power over something that disturbed her, she has a new interest. We couldn’t be more excited about how this project ended.
Most phobias are treated with some combination of relaxation exorcises and progressive desensitization. Charity’s hypnotic abilities defiantly exhilarated her ability to learn. I hope this inspires others to conquer fears of their own.