Releasing the fear of fear

How hypnotherapy helped John understand and release his pathological fear of surgery in the face of urgent medical need.

John*, a fit and healthy father of two in his early 50s, contacted me because he’d been told ‘out of the blue’ that he needed open heart surgery. This was a huge shock for a man who relishes physical challenges, from hill walking to deep-sea diving. It did, however, explain why he struggled to run any distance – his arteries were almost completely blocked. His relative youth, his general health and the fact that his condition had been detected in time made him a perfect candidate for surgery, and his surgeon assured him the prognosis was excellent.

But there was a problem. Since early childhood John had experienced nightmares in which he woke up in an operating theatre, despite never having experienced surgery. Rather than reducing with age, by the time of his diagnosis this fear had built up into a full-blown phobia.

Logic versus imagination

“My logical mind knows that everything will be fine and my life will be better after the surgery,” he told me, “but there’s a part of me that genuinely believes I will die of fright on the operating table.” That part of him was now doing everything in its power to prevent him from exposing himself to this danger. 

What really frustrated John was that he couldn’t identify any obvious reason for his fear. This made his logical, rational mind angry, creating huge conflict around the issue. But there‘s always a reason behind our subconscious beliefs, even if the events that inspired them are long-forgotten. And hypnotherapy offers a wonderful means of carefully unpacking those beliefs, reframing them and clearing the way for new ones.

Unpacking the past

In our first online session, John finds himself sharing a little-known story from his family history that literally stops him mid-sentence. In this moment, he suddenly understands how this specific childhood experience has laid the foundations for his ‘inexplicable’ fear of surgery. 

As he pauses to absorb this new understanding, I watch a range of emotions play across his face. Simply gaining clarity into why he is so frightened has already made a huge difference. Not wanting to rush this important work, we agree to explore a little deeper in our next session. He experiences the deep relaxation of hypnosis and leaves with a recording to enable him to practice this daily.

When we meet again a week later, John tells me he is “in a surprisingly good place” but that he is still afraid of his own fear. Guiding him into hypnosis again, I help him explore those long-buried feelings, gain clarity about how they affected him and move through them to a place of acceptance and integration.

Preparing for success

Now we can move into preparing for his surgery. In his third session, John and I work together to create a bespoke script that reflects his specific circumstances and desires. This will prepare his subconscious mind and body to respond appropriately before and during the procedure, and to heal rapidly afterwards. I record this during the session and give him a copy to listen to daily. The procedure is scheduled for three weeks’ time.

In the end, John’s surgery is delayed by a few days and we have a final session together on the date it was initially scheduled for. I ask how he is feeling. “Honestly I’m a bit annoyed I’m not having surgery today,” he says, “And yes, I can hear myself… I’d never have imagined it was possible!”

*Name changed to protect client confidentiality

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Helen Davis

One Step Forward

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