Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Don't look down! - Hypnotherapy on test

With the help of hypnotherapist Alan Wick and mountain guide Nigel Shepherd, reporter David Lawson gives hypnotherapy its ultimate test on one of Wales' highest and most exposed mountain ridges, finding out if it can really can cure a life-long fear of heights.

THREE-thousand feet above Snowdonia lies Crib Goch, a knife-edge ridge amongst the clouds, that last year I was prevented from crossing by my life-long fear of heights. Now though I was back, to see if hypnotherapy would finally allow me to conquer my fear.

The challenge began 12months ago after my first attempt on the mountain failed to even reach the summit, let alone its nightmarish mile-long tightrope ridge. I should explain that my fear is not strictly heights, but 'exposure' I love high places, but put me on a ladder and I freeze. Transfer that sensation to the top of Wales' most exposed mountain ridge, dropping away hundreds of feet either side and my legs trembled uncontrollably before grinding to a halt.
It was clear will power was not enough, I needed help, but as a hardened sceptic I had initially dismissed hypnotherapy. As I began to run out of options however, my research led me to hypnotherapist Alan Wick who immediately impressed me with his ability to
explain the logic behind his approach.

Alan explains our brains search for old memories that match the situation before us, to know how to act. In my case the only matches involved fear, so my brain's reaction was to hit the panic button, overloading me with adrenalin and fear, creating yet another destructive memory in the process.
Fortunately however, our brains cannot distinguish between a real and imagined experience and this was how Alan planned to help me, creating new positive memories for my brain to find.

Without exception, everyone I mentioned hypnotherapy to asked the same question; "What if he makes you think you're a chicken?"
It's amusing, but shows what Alan's profession is up against, thanks to TV and stage shows, and is the reason the National Council's code of ethics, prohibits members from performing hypnosis for entertainment.
Hypnotherapy itself felt like a vivid daydream, guided by Alan, visualising the environment that scared me but without the fear. As the sessions progressed the hypnosis became deeper and more effective as Alan built in tools to help me in case I started to panic, the most effective of which involved visualising a dial with which to control my emotions.

Under Alan's expert guidance it was a very enjoyable experience and at every stage I was in control and aware of what we were doing. The first time I was put into a relaxed state, I admit I was taken aback by its effectiveness, but immediately realised I could simply get up and walk away at any time.

Alan says most straight forward phobias can be dealt with in around four sessions and after five weeks, daily exercises and a nightly CD to listen to, I was ready. In the weeks that followed however, an unhelpful voice in my head kept asking "what if it doesn't work?"
Two of my closest friends have accompanied me on all my mountain adventures and had been with me on Crib Goch the previous year, but as desperately as I wanted them there this time, I did not want them to be responsible for me if things went wrong.
That said, I also realised this was not something I could tackle alone. Nigel Shepherd of Penmaenmawr is an international mountain guide and one of the UK's leading mountain experts, so I was delighted when he agreed to join me. With Nigel onboard my preparation was complete and there was only one thing left to do.

I had slept little the previous night and driving through Snowdonia beneath a darkening sky, was painfully aware that months of preparation were reaching their conclusion. As the road curved around the mountainside my heart skipped a beat, as I caught my first glimpse of Crib Goch sliding silently from the mist.

At a windswept Pen-y-Pass I was encouraged to find Nigel enthusiastic and cheerful, but he warned me that what would be a challenge for me in fine weather, may be impossible in high winds
I always thought I knew the mountains, but under Nigel's instruction they took on a new dimension and as we left Snowdon's easy paths, and climbed into the mist, he explained the different coloured rocks underfoot; which would grip even when wet, which would slide and which were likely to crumble at the slightest pressure.

Alan always stressed we were not trying to eliminate my fear, leaving me oblivious to danger, but simply prevent it overwhelming me, and as the route became steeper and we passed the point where I had stopped the previous year, the sensation was like a strong flu medicine. The symptoms were still there, but distant and blunted. No paralysing fear, just an awareness of increased risk.
With Nigel guiding me I continued upwards, making sure of each hold before reaching for the next, until finally we breeched the summit and could look out along the ridge.

Crouched low we waited, allowing the strongest gusts to pass, howling banshee-like as they whipped carpets of mist screaming over the rock edge into oblivion.
Moving along the steep left-hand side, using the peak as a handrail, we worked our way towards the Pinnacles. Even in my nightmares the ridge never held so much fear for me as the Pinnacles, three jagged outcrops guarding the ridge, threatening to ensnare the timid between them. With Nigel's help the first two proved straightforward, but I knew what was coming.

I had always hoped videos I had seen of people climbing the third Pinnacle had been some alternate route for crazy people, but as we reached its base it was clear the only way up was a stomach churning climb out onto the sheer right side.
A few months ago the mere thought of this set my heart pumping. But now, while I could hear my brain's warnings that I was nearing my limit and any slip could surely only have one outcome, I was not paralysed by fear. I used Alan's techniques to calm myself, weighed up the situation and made my decision.
Stepping out onto the first ledge I was instantly aware of the drop beneath me. This was by far the most exposed position I had ever experienced and I paused instinctively, braced against the ice-cold fear sure to come shooting through my veins. But nothing happened. Up onto the next ledge, and the next, and the next and over the top. I could hardly believe it.

From there the descent towards Snowdon was a blur of elation and only when we dropped back below the clouds to Snowdon's gentle paths, did I finally stop to take it all in. Hundreds of feet below, the icy waters of Lake Glaslyn had never looked so blue

For days after I felt quiet, almost humbled. I had been unable to imagine life without this fear and it took time to adjust.
I was unprepared for how powerful and effective hypnotherapy could be, and this in turn impressed on me the importance of choosing the right hypnotherapist.

In the same way that you would only chose an expert like Nigel to guide you on the mountains, I believe you should only chose an expert such as Alan to guide you through hypnotherapy. Not only will this give you the best chance of success, but knowing you are in the hands of an expert will allow you to relax and truly enjoy the experience.


Hypnotherapy Diary

Week One: Initial consultation and given a CD to listen to as I go to sleep. Alan explained our brains naturally filter what people tell us, but as we drift off there’s a period when we still take in information though the our conscious mind is switched off (like falling asleep infront of the TV) this is the best time for that kind of suggestion to work and a similar state to hypnosis.
Week Two: First hypnosis. Lying listening to Alan, I wasn’t sure it was doing anything. Was only when he counted me back out of my relaxed state that I realised just how emersed I had been. Very pleasant. CD is proving effective. First time I used it was surprised to feel myself relaxing.
Week Three: More hypnosis. Listened to CD while properly awake. It’s designed to boost self confidence and I noticed I have been walking taller and feeling noticeably more confident (despite strangling myself with the headphones). Given new self-hypnosis ‘homework’ to do.
Week Four: Hypnosis much deeper and more specific to the mountain now. Building new ‘fake’ memories. Imagining it so vividly I actually felt the sick feeling in my stomach at one stage. Stopped and started again, repeating it until able to experience it without the fear.
Week Five: Developed an ‘anchor’ linking feelings from a happy memory to an action (pressing thumb and forefinger together). Allows you to trigger those feelings at will whenever you start to panic. Also learned to control subconscious by visualising a dial and simply an emotion up or down which seemed particularly effective.


Nigel Shepherd
MOUNTAIN expert Nigel Shepherd from Penmaenmawr is one of the UK’s foremost authorities with over 30 years experience.
- Qualified as a Mountain Guide 1979. Mountain Guides Association Training Officer 1986-1989. President 1993-96.
- Has worked everywhere from New Zealand and Australia to Greenland, Norway and Nepal.
- Author of books on ropework and rock climbing, his photography is also widely published.
- Available for off piste skiing, touring, alpine trekking and climbing.
A GRADUATE of Bristol's Clifton Practice Alan worked in nursing for 20years before using hypnotherapy to quit smoking. Realising its potential, he retrained, established Positive Hypnotherapy, and began refining his Solution Focussed Brief technique.
- A member of the National Council for Hypnotherapy, Alan recommends people only use therapists signed up to a strong regulatory body
- Says hypnotherapy can help with smoking, weight loss, problems sleeping, anxiety and depression, sport, performance, phobias such as flying, spiders and needles, compulsive behaviour, drinking, gambling or drug use, and can even aid pain relief in childbirth.
- Holds clinics in Wrexham, Chester and the Wirral, Oswestry and Nantwich


Claire Hast said...

For hypnosis to work in best way, the hypnotist should first put his/her customer into what is known as a "trance state." This is a condition of mental and physical unwinding in which the cognizant personality is urged to rest, while the intuitive personality is kept alarm.

Daniel David said...

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Hypnosis for Phobias