I have developed a bit of a passion for working with sufferers from agoraphobia (a fear of being away from home/travelling/strange places).
It is a general principle that such people are often mentally very strong, intelligent, creative people who find it difficult to say “No” or who have been put into positions where they are under continuous stress and pressure, day in, day out.
They often want to please people and don’t want to let them down. They’ll often go the extra mile in their work and in their relationships with people. As a result, they can find themselves trapped in situations from which less determined people would walk away.
But because of their mental strength and determination to get through, to not back down, to deliver what they’ve undertaken to do, they find themselves becoming more and more exhausted until they finally have a breakdown through nervous exhaustion or come very close to the edge.
At some point in this process they might start to experience panic attacks, exacerbated by tiredness, stress, too much coffee/Red Bull etc. These add to stress and so a repetitive cycle begins to build, creating a desire for avoidance of panic/stress inducing stimulus. The client might find working from home less stressful than travelling to work; or they might try to minimise the amount of stressful travel undertaken. They might also notice that they feel sad when they leave home to go to work or anxious when away (properly known as separation anxiety). And so, they try to minimise their time out of the house or away from close family (wife/husband/partner). Their partner might also start travelling with them “to help”.
Without realising it, the agoraphobic is beginning to draw a mental circle – inside this circle they can move safely without stress; outside they become anxious and liable to panic attacks. They may live in London and have travelled the world in their work, but suddenly France becomes too far away from comfort, then anywhere outside the M25 corridor, then the top of the road, then their front gate and the back garden.
By the time they reach my door, they have usually had a psychiatric assessment, might be in touch with their local NHS Mental Health Unit, be on RSSI’s for depression or beta blockers for anxiety. They might have also had REBT/CBT therapy, again via the NHS, with little success.
I have to make it clear that hypnotherapy is no quick cure for their problem. By the time someone contacts me, they have usually had agoraphobia for a few years and it is quite deeply engrained. Usually I conduct home visits until they are able to visit my consulting room.
But such is the willpower of the sufferers, that they will gladly use the CD’s I tailor-make for them, do the silly exercises they are given and push themselves to take just one more step in a short walk to the front gate and beyond to aid their recovery.
Agoraphobia will rarely disappear completely, but these intelligent and resourceful individuals learn how take the best of what they are taught and use the most appopriate parts to rebuild their lives so that they can once again travel and function and feel comfortable and safe when away from home.
Working in this area has brought me to have a greater respect for the unconscious mind.
It can put up with an aweful lot of abuse, until it is brought nearly to the edge of breakdown or beyond, and then it rebels.
It creates fears and phobias which become defence mechanisms to prevent the body and mind being driven any further to the brink. Agoraphobia is just one such thing, but a fear of bridges might be just as effective in preventing someone doing a lot travelling, or a fear of public toilets, or people wearing uniforms. The list is endless.
But the unconscious mind is just so ingenious that it can create fears which it feels are best suited to that individual and their own circumstances. They feel the fear which will best protect them, despite themselves, and the fear will only abate when the unconscious is convinced that it can once again trust the conscious mind to take more care and be more sensitive to the needs and safety of the whole organism.