How I tackled spider terror with hypnosis

Rebecca Danton explains how she ignored her inner critic and confronted her phobia through a technique usually associated with stage shows...

I never used to be that terrified of spiders. There was no denying I wasn’t their biggest fan; whenever I’d see their spindly little legs break into a run it was certainly enough to send shivers up my spine.

But after a bad experience in a rented house which even my spider-crushing dad admitted would be a great set for ‘Arachnophobia 2’, the word phobia took on a whole new meaning for me.

The mere mention of the eight-legged creatures could send me into a fit of tears and I began to compile a list of no-go holiday destinations after reading horror stories of species much more menacing than the average British house spider.

I decided enough was enough when I began to have second thoughts about buying a certain house with my partner because there were gaps in the floorboards. So, much to my long-suffering boyfriend’s relief I went to see therapist Christine Hines, who assured me she could help me through a combination of hypnotherapy and EFT (Emotional Freedom Therapy).

Settling down in a comfy chair in Christine’s beautiful house, with relaxing background music streaming softly from her stereo, I already began to feel better about the whole issue, although I couldn’t help feeling somewhat apprehensive about whether I was wasting my money on wishy-washy ‘alternative therapies’ that never do what they say on the tin.

The first part of my treatment was hypnotherapy-based and Christine’s aim was to help me unlock a key childhood event that could have caused me to develop my adult fear. The process of being hypnotised wasn’t that far removed from what I’ve seen at stage shows and on TV – counting slowly and relaxing my muscles one by one while listening to her soothing, mellow voice - although Christine had promised me that the chicken impressions and stupid dancing the participants often show is a result of them being exhibitionists rather than being hypnotised.

And sure enough, I felt simply a deep feeling of relaxation as I went into the first stages of my hypnotic state.

Christine then invited me to go through my earliest memories, and to pluck out any really vivid ones that came to mind. For quite a while, I had real trouble identifying anything more profound than running naughtily off when my mum was trying to brush my tangled hair. But, by trying to dig out similar feelings to those I felt when I saw a spider, I pinpointed a few events that I felt had left me in a similar state of panic and terror, the worst being lost in a shop after losing grip of my mum’s hand.

I explained to Christine that, upon finding my mum or dad again, I realised how silly I had been for getting so upset – they had been standing just yards away and were hardly going to go home and leave me wondering around on my own. And, looking back, I just thought: If only I had such insignificant things to worry about nowadays!

Realising these were the same feelings I had post-spider trauma, when I would think to myself how ridiculous it was to get so worked up over something so small, the pieces began to fit together.

Christine then asked me to give the girl in my memories a hug, and tell her everything was going to be ok, and that whatever feelings of panic she had would pass and she would survive. After analysing the way I thought at every stage at this process, and repeating some steps several times, I am brought back to full consciousness.

Christine asks me how I feel and I reply that I felt utterly relaxed but, if I am honest, I am extremely dubious as to whether the whole experience would have an effect on the way I reacted to spiders.

Assuring me that the effects are only fully felt gradually, Christine tells me to not dwell upon whether the first part of the treatment has worked or not.
Easy for her to say, but I’m not putting myself through all this soul-searching just to feel more laid-back with life.

Fast forward to a week later, and I’m back in Christine’s welcoming house, awaiting the second part of my treatment – the Emotional Freedom Therapy.

Christine invites me to relax back in the comfy chair and to think about how I feel about my eight-legged demons at this stage.

I take a deep breath – more with trepidation than due to my state of relaxation – and explain that I haven’t had the pleasure to test out my new, improved feelings over the past week owing to the lack of spiders in my brand new, high-rise city apartment.

But I do manage to ascertain that, while feeling considerably better about my phobia than I did a week ago, this could be simply a temporary glitch owing to the fact I had such a relaxing hour last week.

Undeterred, Christine encourages me to imagine my nemesis. It’s a dark night, I’m living in an old, country house, and my boyfriend’s away. And will be away for the foreseeable future. I spot two big spiders – the long-legged sort – on the kitchen floor.

Sure enough, my pulse rises and – in no time – the sweaty-palmed feeling I’ve come to know so well threatens to take hold of me.

She invites me to imagine their long legs, their beady eyes and the way they take me by surprise when I open the door and catch sight of them awaiting me.

I rate my fear on a scale of one to 10. It’s high – about eight or nine.

Christine asks me to think of some sentences that sum up the way I’m feeling right now. And then I recite them, while tapping gently on specific acupressure points of the body, such as the inside of the wrists and below the breastbone.

The theory is that you balance the body’s energy system and clear out the unhealthy feelings by channelling into them and turning them into positives.

So, I follow Christine’s lead and tap away while repeating mantras such as ‘I hate the way their legs make me feel’ and ‘They make me feel anxious’. After repeating this several times, I move onto the positive part, where I repeat phrases such as ‘I know I can deal with the spider, though’ and ‘I am strong and confident’.

Interestingly, the phrases don’t have to be too directly connected to the phobia, and they don’t, Christine reassures me, have to be so feel-good that they make me feel stupid.

The cynic in me makes me feel a bit like some US lifestyle guru as I repeat ‘I am a positive, happy person’ over and over again.

But, I’m encouraged to think about my feelings throughout the exercise, and – as is so widely claimed – I do feel the positive statements start to make me feel happier to think about facing a spider – even, dare I add, empowered.

The final part of EFT involves saying the negative and positive phrases in rotation; doing sets with one negative then one positive, while tapping away all the time.

When we finish our final set, Christine asks me how I feel and I honestly feel great. She then says would I like to put the treatment to the test, and – while she’s not an advocate of shock tactics – she does suggest it could be useful for me to confront my fear with her help.

She reminds me that, both throughout the rest of the session and in the future, I can return to EFT to get me through any negative feelings and turn them to my advantage.

So, amazingly feeling giddily excited at what’s to come, I allow Christine to bring in a large specimen of arachnid in a jam jar.

I look at it with a feeling of interest and also of stupidity; these tiny things are what I’ve just been through two sessions of therapy for? Christine taps into my newly humorous take on my problem and creates some new phrases for me such as ‘I’m not afraid of mr spider’s long legs’.

Before I know it, I’m holding ‘Mr spider’ in the jar, on my lap, watching it intently. I then go on to release the spider from the jar and catch it again, before letting it go again for a final time.

I feel incredibly proud of myself. I would have struggled to even look at a spider even half the size of that one before, and I it’s clear to me that in some capacity, somehow the therapy has indeed got through to me.

I wouldn’t say the experience made me the world’s biggest fan of the creatures, and – as Christine stresses – this is neither realistic nor the point of the therapy. Instead, I feel more confident about my abilities to deal with them and less worried that I will to pieces every time I spot one.

Unfortunately, my reactions to them aren’t always predictable, and there are still occasions when I do run away screaming at the sight of a spider, tears filling my eyes as I go over all the awful possibilities that can happen. But, a few minutes of EFT later, and on realising there really aren’t ANY awful possibilities - I usually manage to muster the power to perform the jam-jar-and-card-trick and send the little blighter packing.

It might not work for everyone, and you certainly need as open a mind as possible, but one thing the therapy taught me was that the only thing you have to fear really is fear itself.