A man with a spider phobia walks into a room. His phobia means that he can’t even look at a picture of something that looks like a spider without having a panic attack. So he unconsciously scans the room for spiders as he sits down in a comfortable chair opposite a therapist. Twenty minutes later he is standing in the middle of the room with a spider on his hand and a smile of his face.
A remarkable therapist? Probably not. A fluke? No: this kind of thing happens all the time. A remarkable treatment? Yes: the man has just experienced the Fast Phobia Cure.
WHAT EXACTLY IS THE FAST PHOBIA CURE?
The Fast Phobia Cure is probably the single most reliable and effective tool in psychotherapy today. It is reckoned to be about 90% successful on most phobias because it does what it says – it cures phobias fast. The twenty minute example above is quite typical. And it does this without the scare tactics, psychological archeology, drugs and exposure used by the older and less effective phobia treatments.
HOW IT WORKS
Most of us have experienced traumatic and upsetting events in our lives. When we look back on these events, they are never pleasant memories but they don’t upset us to the extent they did at the time.
For the phobic, it’s different. Very different. When they recall their trauma, they feel pretty much the same as they did at the time it first happened, even if that was decades ago. They have vivid and affecting memories of the event.
It is these kinds of memories – held in the emotional part of the brain – that drive and maintain phobias. Such memories are so strong and present that just recalling them can bring on fear responses. That is, the phobic is associated into these memories so it’s almost as if they are in the situation again, experiencing similar responses – panic, pounding heart, shaking, sweating and an overwhelming desire to run.
For the rest of us, our traumatic memories are disassociated – they are more factual and carry less emotion – because they have, over time, been processed by the logical, thinking part of the mind. For the phobic, this disassociation hasn’t happen. But it needs to.
The Fast Phobia Cure is a process of rapid dissociation. It allows the sufferer to experience the traumatic memories from a calm and dissociated, or disconnected, state. The other part of the mind – the unemotional, rational, thinking mind – can then go to work turning the memories into ordinary, factual, neutral, non-threatening ones. Like the memory of what you had for breakfast. With the emotional tag unstuck from the phobic encounters, the phobia is de-conditioned. It’s gone.
The way to achieve this dissociation is to have the sufferer imagine watching themselves from a remote, third person or detached position going through the traumatic event.
The classic scenario is to have them imagine themselves in a movie theatre watching an old black and white movie of them going through the experience at very high speed (like watching a video on fast forward). The dissociation can be increased by having them imagine being in the projection booth watching themselves sitting in their cinema seat watching the film of their younger self going through the experience. This creates the distance and comfort for dissociation to occur.
They are then asked to step into the safe time at the end of the movie and imagine physically rewinding through the experience at very high speed. This step is repeated several times. It creates dissociation because the mind has never experienced the traumatic event backwards and thus has no prepared fear response for it, so they experience it in calm. The memory is recoded by the brain and saved with less emotional charge attached to it.
These steps are the core of the Fast Phobia Cure. They are run on the key traumatic memories around the phobia – typically three or four such memories are used – in a process that can take as little as five minutes.
Variations of the Fast Phobia Cure can involve changing the cinema scenario to just watching a television screen, or having them imagine witnessing the event as a bystander, from a helicopter or birds-eye view, or seeing it played out on a stage. Or, once the memory is more comfortable, having them watch a “director’s cut” by adding their own soundtrack (light or silly music is often used) and changing something about the way it looked in a creative and humorous way.
MEASURING AND TESTING THE CHANGE
Before, during and after the Fast Phobia Cure is run, the individual is asked to rate their level of discomfort around the traumatic memories. Very high levels of discomfort fall rapidly to zero or thereabouts when the Fast Phobia Cure is run. Such rapid change is often a shock and a delight to the subjects.
The final step is to test the new responses by searching out the old trigger (going on a spider hunt with the man in the example above). Again, subjects are usually surprised by how keen they are to do this and by the feeling of not being scared around the old trigger. To many it can indeed seem miraculous. But the Fast Phobia Cure isn’t miraculous: it’s just based on good brain science, on current neurology.
As well as its reliability, the Fast Phobia Cure has three key advantages over traditional phobia treatments.
Firstly, as the name suggests, it’s fast. The treatment usually takes only a single session. The mind learns very quickly. It learned to be phobic very quickly, perhaps in a matter of seconds. Learning how not to be phobic again can be, and is necessarily, equally quick. So long painful treatment is not necessary.
Secondly, it’s safe. There is no direct confrontation with the phobic trigger and the phobic is calm and comfortable throughout the treatment.
Thirdly, it’s non-intrusive. Because the “movies” are the patient’s, the therapist does not need to know the precise details of the traumatic memory or phobic encounters.
WHY IS IT NOT MORE WIDELY AVAILABLE?
The Fast Phobia Cure is a remarkable treatment that can be learned and used by any competent therapist. But it’s not being widely used. Why?
The answer seems to be that it works too well. And too fast. It can be done in minutes and easily within a single therapy session. And there’s the rub: therapists using the Fast Phobia Cure will probably need to see a client just once, so they don’t make much money. And traditional old-school therapists and counsellors when faced with fast, painless results start to question their own models of long, drawn-out painful therapy.