The Phobia Reduction technique of NLP

Phobias are a significant problem that affects between 7.7% and 12.5% of the population. The bulk of phobias suffered by people are specific phobias, sometimes referred to as simple phobias. These are phobias to specific stimuli such as heights (Acrophobia), flying (Aerophobia), spiders (Arachnophobia), snakes, thunder, and lightning (Astraphobia), fear of water (Aquaphobia), fear of snakes (ophidiophobia), fear of birds (Ornithophobia), and fear of the dentist (Dentophobia). Specific phobias effect between 5% to 9% of the population

So what specifically is a phobia? Phobias are persistent and intense fears of people, animals, objects, activities, or situations. They are psychologically debilitating to the individual and typically have negative behavioural and financial consequences on the person’s life in general.

Typical treatments for specific phobias

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This is one of the most common treatments for specific phobias. CBT involves identifying and challenging irrational thoughts and fears, helping the person to see their fear from a more rational perspective. Exposure therapy, a form of CBT, involves gradually and repeatedly exposing the person to the fear-provoking object or situation in a safe and controlled environment. The aim is to help the person learn to tolerate the fear and anxiety and, eventually, to decrease their fear response.
  2. Systematic Desensitisation: This involves gradually exposing the person to the feared object or situation in a hierarchical manner, starting with the least fear-provoking scenario and progressing to the most fear-provoking. This is usually combined with relaxation exercises.
  3. Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET): For some phobias, such as fear of flying or heights, VRET can be a useful tool. It exposes the person to the feared situation in a controlled and safe virtual environment, helping them to face and overcome their fears.
  4. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): This is a type of psychotherapy used to help people process and reduce traumatic memories, which can be useful for treating phobias that stem from traumatic experiences.
  5. Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: These techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing exercises, and meditation, can help manage the physical symptoms of anxiety that come with phobias.

Most of these methods for treating specific phobias are time consuming and have mixed results in effectiveness. One of the more effect methods is EMDR. EMDR was popularised by the psychologist Francine Shaparo who was not only trained in NLP, she also worked in the co-creator of NLP, John Grinder’s office. The first version of EMDR was created by John Grinder. Interestingly in recent years John Grinder has developed a new process based on patterns of eye-movements called the S-Pattern that is effective in eliminating unresourceful states including traumas, anxieties and simple phobias. It’s a step up from EMDR and can be used to remove any undesired state from the context where it occurs. This is a very exciting development in NLP. I will be writing about the S-Pattern in a future article.

In Neuro-Linguistic Programming there are a number of methods that can be used to eliminate a specific phobia including patterns that use dissociation, anchoring, reframing and utilisation of eye movements. In this article I will focus on one NLP technique.

The phobia reduction technique sometimes referred to as the ‘fast phobia cure’ is a format designed specifically to eliminate specific phobias. The earliest version of this process can be found in Bandler and Grinder’s 1979 book “Frogs into Princess”. It involved a structured regression including a two part dissociation. An example of a two-part dissociation is imagining as if you are watching yourself watching yourself. In the original phobia reduction process the person takes a perceptual position of watching their current adult self watching their younger self going through the original experience of when they first developed the phobia. The dissociation is maintained while the memory of the event is replayed. 

Since 1979 this technique has been updated and significantly improved. I have used this format with many clients with various specific phobias including fear of dogs, pigeons, heights, flying, and interestingly one client who had a fear of immersion in water. I’m going to describe the current format for reducing a specific phobia and then describe how it works. Warning: don’t attempt to do this with yourself or other people unless you have had comprehensive training in this process.

Format for reducing a Specific Phobia

  1. Safety. Identify, establish, and anchor a resource state.A resource state is a state of mind where the client is comfortable and has even breathing. They have a sense of agency and capability. A state of relaxation is an example of a resource state. In fact a state of relaxation is the default state used by psychologists when applying behavioural desensitisation. However, in the NLP phobia reduction process, we will use a resource state of the client’s choosing. The client will have many potential states of resourcefulness that they could select from. Part of the art of NLP is assisting the client in choosing a suitable state of resourcefulness. Anchoring is the process of connecting a stimulus or trigger to the chosen resource state so that later, when cued, that resource state reactivates.
  2. Preparation.Imagine that you are in a movie theatre, sitting in one of the chairs, looking up at the screen.
  3. On the screen, place a black-and-white snapshot of yourself just before any example of a phobic event when you were perfectly fine.
  4. Creating a two-part dissociation. Mentally imagine as if you can step back from yourself and float up to a projection booth. So that you are standing next to the movie projector looking through the glass window down at your adult self who is sitting in the chair and is looking at that black-and-white snapshot on the screen. From the position in the projection booth, you are watching yourself, watching yourself. This is referred to as a two-part dissociation.
  5. Run the movie forward in black-and-white.Turn the projector on and watch yourself watching your younger self as the black-and-white snapshot turns into a black-and-white movie and runs very quickly through the phobic event to a point in time after the event where the younger self had recovered from the event and was in a resourceful state once again. At this moment in time, the movie is turned into a snapshot.
  6. Reassociate.Float down from the projection booth and reconnect with your adult self, who is looking at the ‘beyond the end’ slide on the screen. Now jump into the beyond-the-end slide fully associating to the now resourceful younger self.
  7. Run the movie backwards in colour.Switch the image into colour and then run the movie very quickly (a second or two) backwards to before the beginning of the event.The key is to fully associate into the position in time beyond the end of the phobic experience, where you have recovered from the event and are in a resourceful state once again. Once fully associated in the point in time, the movie runs backwards in colour very rapidly to a point in time before the phobic event.
  8. Test.Think of the stimuli that used to trigger a phobic response. You should now feel neutral in response to that stimulus.

I have used this format for reducing phobias with many clients with a variety of simple phobias to great effect. If you are considering consulting with someone purported to be trained in NLP, find out whether they have comprehensive training in NLP and if they have experience in assisting clients with reducing simple phobias with this format. Be thorough in your research. Unfortunately, there has been a trend for NLP practitioner training programs to become shorter in length and less comprehensive over the last few years. 

Learn more

We teach the Phobia reduction technique on unit 3 of our 10970NAT Graduate Certificate in Neuro-Linguistic Programming program.

(Note: If you would like to learn more about the New Code of NLP, you can get a copy of our latest Kindle book, ‘AEGIS: Patterns for extending your reach in life, work & leisure’ by Jules Collingwood, NLP Trainer. For only $4.99 here).

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