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Sarah (not her real name) came to me requesting to deal with a traumatic experience she experienced when she was a child because it was causing her to avoid any situation that triggered that original experience. For Sarah, it was a fear of going to the dentist. This fear manifested itself in the form of a debilitating panic attack which prevented her from even organising an appointment with the dentist. This came to a head when she developed a serious infection in her tooth, the surrounding gum and the nerve. Because this occurred during the COVID-19 period general anaesthetics were not permitted. Sarah was in a lot of pain and saw no way out other than dealing with this phobia head on.
She recalled a time when she was 6 years old were she had to attend a pre-dental clinic visiting her school. She was so terrified that a nurse climbed on top of her, held her legs down with her knees and used the rest of her body weight to keep her arms and body down on the chair. As you can imagine, this was quite a traumatic experience and has stuck with her ever since.
A trauma is a very rapid learning experience, something that the mind does not want to forget and wants to avoid experiencing ever again. Of course, what a lot of people don’t realise, is that if it can learned very rapidly it can be unlearned very rapidly and a new learning can take its place. What ties a person’s traumatic episodes together is the emotion experienced; this acts as the glue between events. Therefore, by removing the emotion and “recoding” a person’s experience, the trauma disappears. The memories still exist but the intensity of the emotion is gone enabling the person to progress through life without a heightened emotional response to whatever triggered the phobia.
To help Sarah create a new view of the experience I asked her what’s known as the miracle question. “Imagine you went to sleep at night and, while you were sleeping, a miracle occurred. Now, imagine waking up unaware that this miracle happened. What would you be doing differently?” I guided Sarah through her morning activities, her thoughts, the things she’d be noticing, and so on, all the way up to and beyond her dental appointment. The overall response was one of calm; it was just a normal day like any other. The purpose of this exercise was to reframe the experience ‘as if’ going to the dentist was not an issue and “loosened” her phobic response a little.
Next, through a gentle trance, I asked Sarah to remember the first time she experienced the fear of the dentist. Her answer surprised her when she said she was 2 years old. Regressing to that time all those years ago, but fully dissociated (outside looking in), she imagined herself way above the event looking down on top of it. I asked Sarah to imagine a time after that experience when she was safe and comfortable. We placed that image on a cinema screen in black and white and she imagined herself sitting in the audience looking up at the screen. Here I asked her to imagine floating up out of her body in the seat into the projection booth. This causes a double dissociation which will allow her to re-experience the event without experiencing the emotional intensity. From here Sarah went to a time before the incident and, from the safety of projection room looking down on herself in the audience watching the screen, ran through the whole experience in black and white. Next I asked her to white out the image and bring it back in full colour, to imagine floating back down into her body in the audience and then into the colour image. Now I asked Sarah to rewind the whole experience (while she was in it and in full colour) from the end to the beginning in about 2 seconds. We repeated that exercise a couple of times which ended up recoding how her brain accessed this experience.
Traumatic experiences shouldn’t prevent us from moving forward in life but should be used as an opportunity to learn from them and tap into our incredible resources that may be lying dormant within us. Therefore, when I asked Sarah what she needed to learn from this early event to enable her to let go of it completely she responded that she was physically bigger now and had a feeling of being more in control and so could communicate any discomfort she was experiencing.
Using these new learnings we moved back along her ‘timeline’ of events clearing up any related emotions caused by similar events wherein she discovered a new lesson; “I will never make another person feel that way”. Lastly we focused on clearing out the kinaesthetic (bodily) feeling (she felt sharp painful feeling in her chest) until she was completely at piece.
When I asked how she was feeling, she shrugged her shoulders and said, “It’s just a thing. I’m at the dentist and I’m in safe hands. If anything goes wrong he’ll have a plan B.”
Many of us has suffered trauma in our pasts, experiences we wouldn’t wish on our worst memories. Experiencing them once is bad enough! Repeating them over and over is just torturing ourselves. By recoding the events it is possible to release the trauma so it never affects us in the same way. This is true for phobias associated with flying, elevators, bees, birds, water, animals, etc.
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