It’s that time again, folks. It’s time for another edition of The Therapy Diaries! Today, we’re looking at something a little different – my experience with hypnotherapy, which took place in 2015 during the run-up to my wedding to help me with my anxiety, emetophobia and (what was undiagnosed at the time but we now know was most definitely) OCD. The three musketeers. The trio of twats. Whatever you want to refer to them as. It’s no secret that during the run-up to my wedding I was an absolute state. I’ve written about how OCD and anxiety got in the way of my wedding planning before, but what I’ve yet to write about in detail is how I dealt with it.
Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional in any way, so any recommendations are based on my own personal experiences. If you are concerned about yours or a loved one’s mental health you should seek support from the links below. I will include links to further information at the end of this post should you wish to find out more about each type of therapy, but please bear in mind that this post is based on my own experience so will more likely differ from everyone elses. In addition, I’m looking back over the last 10+ years in some cases, so some procedures mentioned may be different to what they are now.
Let’s set the scene. I’m planning a wedding. I’m anxious about all the normal things brides would be anxious about, but at the same time, I’m anxious that illness in some form or another, will ruin my day. I’m mainly worried I’ll get ill. But I’m also worried Liam will get ill. I’m worried that literally every single person involved in my wedding will get ill. For me, the idea of having even something as minor as a cold on my wedding day fills me with dread to the point where I want to die. Don’t ask me why, but it did. Anyway, both Liam and my Mum were feeling the full brunt of this anxiety, where my Mum eventually convinced me to try hypnotherapy. It was something she’d mentioned over the years but I wasn’t convinced by it. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t believe it worked, but it was more the fact I’d only ever heard of it working for people who wanted to quit smoking, for people who wanted to lose weight and such. I didn’t see how it would work for a crippling fear of vomit and the two little bonus forms of mental illness that came with it.
I should mention that a few months prior to making this decision I had been to see my GP about my issues and was offered medication. I said no (spoiler alert), and you can read about my (heavily wedding related) reasoning in a post I wrote last year. Instead, I was slapped on the waiting list for an assessment by the IAPT Service (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies). Months passed and I was still on the waiting list, and it was becoming clear that I needed help a lot more urgently than what they could offer. Hence, more convincing, more breakdowns, and eventually, the decision to give hypnotherapy a try. Mum did her research, and booked me in with S (yes, my mother booked my 23-year-old-about-to-get-married-ass an appointment for me) – a local hypnotherapist in the area – and came with me for my initial appointment.
What it Involves
Mention hypnotherapy to anyone, and most will have impressions of Kenny Craig from Little Britain or that game show from a few years ago where people were hypnotised and did a bunch of weird ass challenges to win money (I believe it was called You’re Back in the Room). However, that’s not the case. The NHS describes hypnotherapy as “using hypnosis to try and treat conditions or change habits,” but what actually is hypnosis? Psychology Today defines hypnosis as “a mental state of highly focused concentration, diminished peripheral awareness, and heightened suggestibility.” The state is achieved with the help of a qualified hypnotherapist, and is used to treat a wide range of conditions including anxiety, phobias and substance abuse, as well as for pain management, sleep disorders and relationship issues.
There are different techniques to hypnotherapy, but generally the hypnotherapist will guide you into a deeply relaxed state, asking you to think about various situations and how you can adapt your thoughts and behaviours in a positive way. Contrary to popular beliefs, you’re not unconscious or asleep, and you have full control the entire time, to the point where you can bring yourself out of hypnosis if needs be.
Here in the UK, hypnotherapy isn’t typically available on the NHS, so most people usually have the treatment through a private therapist or organisation. The average cost can be anything between £50-£70 a session, and the amount of sessions required will normally be discussed at your initial appointment.
My hypnotherapy experience was a bit of a mixed bag to be perfectly honest, as you’ll soon come to realise, but initially things started out quite well. The first session was pretty much just looking at what my issues were, how the whole hypnotherapy thing worked, and what I could expect. S estimated it would be around 10 sessions before I saw any difference, and at £50 a session, this was quite a scary prospect. However, I was desperate. She gave me a CD that I was to listen to every night before I went to sleep. It was essentially a guided hypnosis that was supposed to aid sleep. It was 40 minutes long, so it was quite a commitment every night, but she told me if the hypnotherapy was to be successful, I needed to persevere. So I did. I was also given the task of writing down three things everyday that made me happy, that I had to bring to each session. They didn’t have to be big things, just literally anything that was good about my day. It was quite a nice way to get into that gratitude mindset, but at times it was very difficult – particularly after a shitty day at work.
My first session where I went “under” was an interesting one.One thing that S always asked before I went under was “if I had a magic wand that would instantly fix anything, where would you want to be in your recovery?” I assume it was to get me into a positive mindset and get me to unconsciously work towards it or something. I’d usually say smaller victories rather than the obvious “to NOT have this stupid messed up brain.” I then had to lie on a couch and was covered in a blanket, and I had to close my eyes while she “guided” me into the hypnotic state. I was quite impressed when I came out of it, because it felt like I’d only been under for ten minutes, but it was actually a good forty. I felt unbelievably lighter and relaxed afterwards, and I left feeling as though this was going to work.
Fast forward to around my eighth session, and as my wedding drew closer, things seemed to have come to a halt in terms of progress. After one particular tearful breakdown, my Mum went with me to my appointment where she expressed her concerns that things weren’t working as quickly. S explained that the 10 sessions thing was indeed an estimate and in some cases things would take longer. She also explained that I needed to start thinking positively again, as over the last few weeks I’d begun to lose faith in the whole thing. In particular, the CD was seriously starting to piss me off. As someone who wanted to just snuggle up and go to sleep, having to lie there with earphones in for forty minutes wasn’t ideal. The whole point of the CD was to guide me to sleep, but I spent most of the time waiting for it to finish so I could take the earphones out.
Of course, my wedding went ahead smoothly, and my last couple of sessions beforehand went fairly well. However, I attended my final session, which was probably around the twelfth or so, and it felt as though I didn’t really need to be there anymore. I felt myself getting instantly irritated when she asked me the usual questions and when it came to lying on the couch I felt myself thinking about better things I could be doing with my time. By this point I was using my only day off during the week to attend the sessions, and even though each one was an hour, it was an hour’s drive there and back, and the timing of them meant I couldn’t really do anything else over the day. I spoke to my Mum who now also agreed things weren’t working, and that was that. Again, my 23 year-old-now-married ass got my mother to phone S and tell her I wouldn’t be coming again.
- Going privately for hypnotherapy meant that it was much easier accessible than any treatment I’d had on the NHS.
- The first couple of sessions truly felt as though they were working.
- I had a fairly good rapport with S.
- For a while the treatment had me thinking more positively which really helped up until a certain point.
- We’ll start with the obvious – £50 a session. Not ideal when you’re paying for a wedding. I was lucky enough that my Mum and Liam helped me out, but for others that may not be an option.
- Towards the end, things got a bit much. I was really struggling as the wedding drew closer and I think I was perhaps at the point where I was a little too far gone for things to be effective.
- It’s not my story to tell so I won’t go into detail, but S was going through a number of personal issues over the time of my sessions. How did I know? She told me. Numerous times. In a lot of detail. Anyone who has had any form of therapy will know that’s a rather unprofessional way to go. In particular, I had to go for one of my sessions at her house because she was moving and was unable to make the usual location where I saw her. There were one or two occasions where it felt as though things were all about her – I don’t necessarily hold it against her – we all have shit going on of course – but when you’re paying someone to help you with your own problems, it’s really not appropriate.
- One final thing – at my first session where we were discussing my emetophobia, S casually mentioned that two weeks ago, she had norovirus. Again – not the best thing to say to a client whose life is being ruled by a fear of vomit. It was a good six weeks or so before I could come home without feeling the need to shower.
I started off having high hopes with hypnotherapy and I think for a while, it worked. However, I think as the wedding got closer my anxiety got a bit more intense to the point where no amount of hypnosis or positive thinking would get through. I think given that S made things get a little more personal when she started to bring her own problems into the sessions, this also had a negative impact. I feel as though once the wedding was over my mind shifted and the fear of illness ruining things had pretty much gone. Instead, it was replaced with post-wedding depression and my brain had pretty much no room for positive thinking anymore.
I’m certainly not slagging off hypnotherapy, I just think for someone who is as set in a negative mindset as me, it’s very difficult to get out of that. I think I certainly would have needed more than the 12 sessions that I had, and a £50 each, it wasn’t an option. All in all, I wouldn’t go as far as saying it doesn’t work full stop, because that’s clearly not the case for many, I just think that for me personally, it didn’t. I think ultimately, I needed more help than what hypnotherapy was able to give me.
Additional Support and Information
The following contact details are based within the UK. If you live outside of the UK and need mental health support, CALM has a list of international organisations that you can get in touch with.
Mental health support and information. Use this page if you are in need of urgent help.
Free, confidential mental health support available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Call from the UK for free on 116 123.
Free, confidential support from trained counsellors for anyone under the age of 19. Call from the UK for free on 0800 1111.
Free and confidential crisis support available 7 days a week, from 5pm till midnight. Call from the UK on 0800 58 58 58 or use the free webchat.
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