Banishing your demons

PUBLISHED: 12:25 26 October 2006 | UPDATED: 12:05 04 May 2010

SCALING THE HEIGHTS: Karen and Philip ready for their flight over Ely.

SCALING THE HEIGHTS: Karen and Philip ready for their flight over Ely.

A fear of spiders, heights or confined spaces can seem totally irrational to most of us - but for those suffering from such phobias life can be a nightmare. Hypnotherapist Karen Wickham has spent the last five years helping people come to terms with their

A fear of spiders, heights or confined spaces can seem totally irrational to most of us - but for those suffering from such phobias life can be a nightmare.

Hypnotherapist Karen Wickham has spent the last five years helping people come to terms with their worst fears.

LESLEY INNES talked to Karen about her work and the simple everyday objects and situations that can throw otherwise totally rational people into complete turmoil.

HYPNOTHERAPIST Karen Wickham has just taken a flight over Ely in a light aircraft.

Nothing unusual about that, you might think. Until you find out the pilot was a former policeman who wanted to thank her ... for conquering his fear of flying.

Philip Page is just one of many people Karen has been able to help overcome severe phobias which have affected their lives.

After just four hypnotherapy sessions, Philip has buried his fear of flying, lifts, tunnels and heights.

The pair discovered his phobias stemmed from a visit to the dentist as a child and a memory of being held down in a chair while a gas mask was placed over his face.

The experience led to a feeling of panic every time he was enclosed in a confined space, and developed into a major problem.

Philip, 62, said: "When you have got all these fears you try everything you can to get out of situations that frighten you.

"You find yourself making excuses. I couldn't go through even the smallest tunnel or travel in the back of a two-door car.

"When I went to Scotland and drove on roads that had a sheer drop down the side I would stop the car, get out and walk round the next bend to see if it were possible for me to drive on that stretch of road.

"My wife was flying to Australia to see her brother and to South Africa, and I would drive her to the airport and wave her off. I hadn't flown since 1965 and, over the years, my fear got worse.

"But now I have visited my son in Florida twice and plan to go back next year and I am taking my pilot's licence. My family are amazed. If you can confront your problems you are halfway there."

Karen, of Little Lane, Ely, who took up hypnotherapy five years ago, said: "We clearly need to be frightened of some things to avoid getting killed. But it is like side-tracking the very effective method in psychology which protects us. It backfires.

"Initially, I use techniques to overcome the issue and eliminate it. I look at the subconscious mind and take the person back to the first event which led to the phobia.

"As an adult, they have a different perspective on it. There isn't one technique that fits every situation."

Karen, who works from home, Newmarket Hospital and Bury Natural Health Centre, said because of evolution we are all predisposed to being wary of snakes and spiders, and it is sensible to have these fears.

Most of us faced with a situation which makes us nervous can gradually build up confidence and deal with the problem.

But for people suffering from phobias, exposing them to the situation or object that frightens them just makes them worse.

Karen has helped someone who was suffering from a fear of nails used in woodwork which started when she fell over as a small child and damaged her fingernails.

"The association between the two was enough to expand the fear," said Karen.

Then there was the person who was terrified of buttons, one who feared leaving a particular house, another with a terror of trains, and others who were afraid of driving in cars and the colour white.

"I helped one lady in her 60s who was terrified of birds," said Karen.

"When she was a toddler she was sent into the chicken house to feed the chickens and she was overwhelmed by them flying around.

"The fear expanded to cover all birds.

"Any extreme event can trigger this reaction. It is a good idea to have some exposure to difficult events, however, because it builds up resistance."

Karen, who has a degree in psychology, became interested in hypnotherapy after seeing it demonstrated. She underwent hypnosis and discovered how effective it was.

After taking a course for medical practitioners to find out more about the technique, she was encouraged to practise it by a number of GPs.

Now Karen not only helps people to face up to their phobias, but deals with anxiety and sexual problems as well.

FACTfile

# A phobia is an excessive or unreasonable fear of an object, place or situation.

# Phobias are extremely common, sometimes starting in childhood for no apparent reason.

# Almost two per cent of adults suffer from them and they are twice as likely to affect women as men.

# The more unusual phobias include a fear of bathing, fresh air, frogs and toads, fear of going to bed and, perhaps more understandable for some, the fear of the mother-in-law!

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